iPods, Powerbooks Reloaded

More stylish than the Matrix: Apple's iPod and the Powerbook are reborn as Steve Jobs finds more gratifying ways to not only "free your mind" but "free your wallet."

After years of being a drab "Windows-kind-of-guy," I took the red pill and realized deep inside I was a Mac person. When the folks at Apple asked if I would "out myself" in their "switcher" ad campaign, I immediately wanted to agree: after all, my daughter's iMac is the only computer I really like working on. (Just ask my very annoyed daughter who can't get the rest of us off her machine.)

My Apple awakening first came two years ago in the form of a 5-gigabyte iPod music player. Then, I needed the iMac (with its crazy semispherical base and elegant clear, flat screen – oh, so lovely). As I was graduating to larger and larger capacity iPods (10 gig, 20 gig), I was also inexorably gravitating toward excellent music management software like iTunes. Then, iPhoto, for archiving images…iMovie for editing home videos… and iDVD to easily burn copies of my video creations. In short, I was iHooked.

But my love for the iPod never waned.

The iPod is "reloaded"
We've never been embarrassed to declare our love for what is undoubtedly the best portable music player available. Not only is the form factor fabulous, but it's as easy to use as it is beautiful. And now, it's even better. Why? Two big reasons: size, and size. The iPod line now reaches up tot 30 gigabytes (most of us have probably never heard 30 gigabytes of music in our lives), and it's all packed in an even smaller form factor that can fit inside your shirt pocket without weighing you down.

The new iPods allow you to create playlists on the fly. Very cool. The spinning control wheel of the original iPod is replaced by a solid state wheel and backlit buttons that feature no moving parts. The iPod comes in three flavors: a 10 gig version, which can hold 2,500 songs; a 15 gig which holds 3,700 tunes; and the big mama jama, 30 gig variety, which holds a whopping 7,500 songs.

Part of the reason why so many songs can fit into such a small space is the new standard for digital music: AAC (Advanced Audio Coding), also a component of mp4. AAC promises a 25% smaller file and increased fidelity over the mp3 format. To be honest, we didn't notice any change in audio quality… but we tested this on the streets of Manhattan, where you're lucky if you hear the cab that just missed you. Though there are other music players with similar or even greater capacities, none can compete with the overall elegance and ease of use. In short, if you so much as touch one of these new iPods, you will buy it. You just have to.

The iPods are available in Mac and Windows formats, with FireWire connection - USB 2.0 compatibility coming in June. Our only legitimate gripe is the battery power, which is diminished slightly from ten hours to eight. However, Belkin and other companies have come up with battery-powered chargers and car kits to keep your iPod powered while you're away from an outlet.

iTunes Music Store
Whatever change you have left over from buying your iPod, you'll blow here.

For the first time, all five major record labels have agreed to offer music for sale online in one place. Apple's iTunes Music Store offers more than 200,000 songs for sale at 99 cents each… most albums available for about $10. While that's certainly less expensive than buying most new CDs in the store, the still rather limited selection probably won't dissuade some from trying to find pirated music elsewhere.

The service is available only to Mac owners (for now) who use the iTunes 4 software. Once you set up your account, buying a song is a one-click operation. The entire process is fast, elegant, and as easy as Apple.

Shure E2C Headphones
While the style of the iPod's headphones is still better than most others out there, if you have elephant ears, like mine, the ear pods may flop out. If that's you, we recommend the Shure's new E2C earphones, which are isolating high-energy, in-ear earphones, which make you feel like a rock star. You may want to complain about the price tag of $99, but frankly, with these things shoved so deeply into our skulls, we won't hear you.

Burton iPod Amp Jacket
And what's the well-appointed iPod owner to do when he or she is out communing with the musical universe? Burton, the makers of great snowboards and outdoor gear, has something in just your size: the iPod Amp Jacket. Naturally, it's an all-weather, three-layer Goretex shell that can protect you from the elements… but nothing can protect you from the ingenious design of the iPod housing and rich sounds. Simply tuck your iPod into the special sleeve… connect the wire… and off you go. Your headphones won't get caught, and your player controls are sewn into your sleeve. It's amazing, it's wonderful, and it's ours forever. Attention Burton: Don't even call us… we're not here. We've moved to Snowbird and are snowboarding at this moment and our music is blaring. La la la la…. We can't hear you… la la la la.

17" Powerbook G4 Notebook
As I descended deeper and deeper into the clear and clean-white plastic world of Steve Jobs, I soon found that I, too, was happiest in Jobsian blue jeans and black mock turtlenecks. I also found that, like thousands of somewhat unwashed yet very hip Appleheads before me, I soon started hanging out at Macworld expos, yearning for the next big thing.

It doesn't get much bigger than the 17-inch 1 Ghz Powerbook G4… and it doesn't get much more expensive either… $3,299. It's huge. In every way. By design. In fact, design and creativity is what it's all about. This 17-inch anodized aluminum monster is targeted towards multimedia professionals who need a big screen and a super fast processor. But I think its main appeal is, as the kids say, to pick up chicks. Don't underestimate the power that whipping out 17-inches of super crisp, 1440x900 pixel, 16:10 ratio, TFT beauty have on an assembly when jaw-dropping graphics are pumping through this bad boy.

Its light up in low light, it's got built-in Bluetooth and 802.11g wireless networking and a slot-loading, DVD-burning Superdrive. You'll run out of hyphens before you finish describing all of its treasures. I don't care if I can't find a computer bag big enough. It's easy enough to find someone willing to carry it for me. (Getting it back is the problem.)

12" Powerbook G4 Notebook
For those who feel size isn't a problem, they'll surely enjoy the more diminutive and affordable 12-inch version.

Not nearly as large as its big brother, this Powerbook still sports the G4 processor, although at 867 Mhz. With its lid closed, the 12" Powerbook can hide underneath a standard piece of typing paper. (Do they still call it typing paper? Does anyone type anymore?) It's light and it's lovely. Powerful enough to run Photoshop, small enough to stash in your weekend bag to edit those vacation movies while you're still on vacation.

The base model starts at $1,799. Add another $100 for 802.11g wireless, and another $200 for a DVD burner. My producer bought one... he loves to show it off and hates to share it. High praise indeed.

By Daniel Dubno and Bob Bicknell