Why I didn’t jump on the iPod bandwagon.

Recently in an online chat channel, I made a confession that I own a creative zen micro. The reaction I got to this surprised me. “I can’t believe it. Isn’t each state only allowed to have one zen owner?”

The next morning the news articles started coming out with rumors of Microsoft’s “Zune” player and those articles put Apple’s share of the mp3 player market at 80% of all mp3 players owned. It made me think hard about why people wanted an iPod, and why I didn’t choose to get one.

The biggest reason is probably that I already owned a Sony PSP. The PSP is a supreme device for watching portable video on, with great sound and even better video. The video iPod did not tempt me with its small screen and sound quality that true audiophiles rate as being not bad, but not all that, even with high quality headphones. So when I went looking for a device, I didn’t need an all-in-one. I had the PSP for that, the only complaint I had with the PSP is that it’s almost too bulky to be portable for someone who wants music on the go, and the remote is poorly designed for a driver to mess with while operating a vehicle.

I needed something that fit in my pocket with clean menus that you could navigate at a stoplight without having to dig six layers deep and push numerous buttons. That’s when I started looking at the other music only players on the market.

First, I took a long hard look at the iRiver H10. It’s a nice player, loaded with features and has a color display. Great sound quality, nice player. But after playing with the device at an electronics superstore I found that I hated the slide bar navigation. It was difficult to use because the device did not fit comfortably in my hand. I have small hands. I even had to buy my own separate controller for our PS2 because the standard PS2 controllers were too bulky and made my hands hurt. The other thing that turned me off of this player was the price. 300$ is a chunk of change for a portable music device that I could easily lose. I wanted to spend less than 200$. This meant that I had to look at players that sported less than 20 gig hard drives, which was fine by me. I didn’t need 20 gig of portable music on me at all times anyway. That’s when I started looking at the iPod.

The reviews of the iPod had some info in them that really turned me off. Shipping the entire unit back to Apple and paying 59$ to have the battery replaced when it started to flake out (and they do flake out after about a year) by Apple wasn’t something that made me happy. Especially since I’d been able to buy replacement lithium ion batteries for my cell phone ever since I bought my first one. This seemed like a raw deal designed only to get more money out of consumers on Apple’s part and in my opinion was a low blow. Especially since it was possible to design the device with a battery compartment that was separate from Apple’s precious DRM technology.

Since portability was important and video wasn’t something I was interested in, I looked at the iPod nano. At the time, Apple had just discontinued the mini, which might have been a great fit for me, but I wasn’t about to purchase one off eBay without a warranty. The iPod nano seemed like it would have been perfect. I carry small purses, the nano fits well with my need to carry impossibly tiny hand bags. I had nearly decided that I wanted one of these cute little devices when I started reading up on iTunes.

The iTunes software is proprietary. Good for it, I kind of figured on that. What I didn’t figure on was that I would have to suffer through software that was nearly as bad as Sony’s SonicStage for its line of digital media devices. No drag and drop file transfer, all transfer would be through iTunes only, and heaven forbid that I ever had a hard drive failure… if the hard drive on my laptop ever failed then I would lose every song I’d ever downloaded from iTunes and the minute I plugged my iPod into a computer with a newly installed iTunes, all of my music would go away. I don’t know that this is still true of iTunes, but it was at the time that I was looking at mp3 players. Every computer I have ever owned has had a major hard drive failure in the course of its life, including the one I am using now.

All of this is well and good, but there were three final strokes that explained to me that I just didn’t need an iPod. The first, was the audio-phile frequency ratings on the iPod and the zen micro. The zen micro has a wider frequency range than the iPod, which means better sound quality over all. The final stroke… is that iTunes does not sell Japanese Pop Music. I’ve looked through their catalog, I haven’t found Gackt or Hyde or Boom Boom Sattelites or any of the music that I listen to on a regular basis. So either way, I’m stuck importing CDs from Japan.

The last stroke was the price. My zen micro was 169$ for a 6 gig player. The 2 gig iPod nano is currently 179$.

Do the math.