NEW iPODS NOT NECESSARILY IMPROVED

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The 15-gigabyte iPod introduced April 28 with a couple of cousins,
one bigger and one smaller, is impressive. It can hold and play back
thousands of songs, can perform somewhat like my Palm Pilot, is
formattable for either PCs or Macs, and is impossibly sleek and light.

I would probably want to run out and get myself one, if not for one
thing: I have a 10-gigabyte model from the line's first generation, and
it's better. After 10 days testing an Apple Corp. loaner, I can only
vouch for the first half of that American ideal, "new and improved."

Conditioned by decades of corporate marketeers, we demand that
standard, and it's usually not a problem: Most products could stand
some improving. Undoubtedly the iPod, already acclaimed as the best of
its type, could get better, too. But so far, it hasn't.

It is a given that "new and improved" requires "more," but these
designers gave more of the wrong thing. The largest of the new models
is said to hold up to 7,500 songs, which is impressive but also
preposterous. My home computer's iTunes, the Macintosh desktop
music-management and playback software that so seamlessly meshes with
iPod, has "only" 4,583 songs, and I've been stocking it with the zeal
of an unmarried hobbyist for almost a year. I could have more, but I've
already ripped every CD in my collection of 500 that has even one song
I want to hear.

When I decided I should try to listen at least once to the 3,200 or
so songs from the group that I like, it took me nine months! When I
went on vacation for a week, able to carry "only" 1,500 songs, I
returned having barely ruffled the stack, despite plenty of flight and
drive time. Sure, I had the freedom of options, and I reveled in it,
but the law of diminishing returns had been invoked long before the new
iPods appeared.

What I want more of is battery capacity. But in service of sleek,
they reduced it from 10 hours' time to 8! What good is a gizmo that
holds even, say, 100,000 songs if it's always needing more juice to let
them out?

Here are some other reasons that give pause before purchasing:

* Most iPod add-ons that I bought, such as the cord that lets me
charge it while driving, won't work with the new models. The same goes
for the Griffin iTrip, a highly praised peripheral that sends iPod
output to FM radio, allowing playback on a car radio or home stereo.
Even the basic Firewire cable no longer fits.

* It seems almost silly to say, but I had trouble handling the
little sucker, not because it is smaller but because of its new layout.
Previously, all the functions were performed by a center button and a
shuttle wheel circled by four bars. Now the bars are hypersensitive
buttons aligned between wheel and display window, and I accidentally
triggered functions I didn't want - usually ending what I was listening
to - often enough to make me think it wasn't just an issue of growing
accustomed.

* My friend Doug, even an earlier adopter than I, owns the 15- gig
model I've been testing. He says he has to reset his player once or
twice a day, and points to discussion pages at macintouch.com that
reveal plenty of other buyers with the same or similar problems. Apple
spokeswoman Lara Vacante says the company is aware of the problem but
won't discuss it.

I won't be surprised if one day I own one of these. Even a slightly
less likable iPod is still better than its peers. But the satisfaction
of having the best will always be tempered by the memory that it was
better.