Let me start by recognizing that this is a lopsided comparison – a device designed from the ground up to listen to music being compared to a multipurpose device that, among many other things, lets you play music. So, why do it? I’ve been using iPAQs for a number of years and one of the things I do with them is listen to music. When I got the chance to play with an iPod, I was really curious to see how the experience would compare: Can an iPAQ do everything that the iPod does and how does it do it?
Before we turn to the music, let’s first have a look at a few specs. In the silver trunks, the iPAQ. In the other corner, wearing the the white trunks, we have the HP iPod.
To listen to music on my iPAQ h2210, I use either TodayPlayer (which is unfortunately no longer being developed) and more recently MortPlayer. Both are freeware. You can also use Microsoft’s Media Player (version 9 on my iPAQ). Headphones are also a good idea – the iPAQ has a speaker but it’s not really up to playing music. To store my music, I typically use CF and SD cards.
In the other corner, the iPod is a device designed completely to enjoy music on the go. The model I borrowed is the 20 Gb HP iPod. You don’t need to install software on the iPod – everything is there and controlled through the very cool click wheel. Headphones are included and CF and SD cards are not needed – not with that spacious little hard drive inside.
The iPAQ is the larger of the two devices. The iPod measures 10.4 x 6.1 x 1.45 cm (4.1 x 2.4 x 0.57 inches) whereas the iPaq 11.54 x 7.64 x 1.54 cm (4.54 x 3.00 x 0.61 inches). The iPod weighs in at 158 g (5.6 oz) compared to the iPAQ at 144.2 g (5.1 oz) – A little surprising but I figure that the hard drive is what packs on the weight. At first, the iPod felt very much smaller than the iPAQ but when I took the iPaq out of its case (doh!), the difference was not that huge.
Comparing the displays – the iPod steps up with a 2-inch (diagonal) grayscale LCD with LED backlight. the iPAQ blows it away with a 3.5 inch (diagonal) QVGA screen capable of over 65,000 colours. But when either device is in your pocket, the display is pretty much a moot point (except for the extra battery power that the colour screen uses)!
When it comes to storage capacity, the hands down winner is the iPod. 20 gb (or 40 Gb if you want to get the higher-end model) vs my current 512 Mb of CF storage. Even if you were to get the largest CF card currently available, you’d still only get about 8 gb of capacity. But have you seen how much that would cost? The price of several iPods. Another option is a 1-inch CF microdrives but those top out at around 4 gb right now. Again, not even half of what the iPod offers. Recent announcements should mean that by year’s end, we will see 1-inch microdrive capacity hitting 10Gb. Around the same time 1.8-inch drives are expected to offer up to 80 gb! And I would not be surprised to see those make their way into future iPods!
Before you can play your music, you have to get it on your device. So, how do the two fare against each other?
For the iPod to work with my computer, I had to install additional drivers. And if you don’t already have it, you’ll also need to install iTunes. You can connect your iPod to your computer using USB or Firewire. Once connected, iTunes will recognize the iPod and loading music is as easy as dragging playlists or individual songs. And it’s fast! Using USB, it took about one minute per 1 gb. Firewire (cable included with iPod) is even faster!
A couple of warnings though: USB 1.1 is not supported and you must use iTunes to transfer your music to your iPod. Loading songs any other way will result in the songs being unplayable.
On my iPAQ, I simply drag and drop files using File Explorer. But after using the iPod, it’s a positive snore-fest! Before seeing how fast the iPod is, I had no problem selecting my songs, dragging them over and walking away for a cup of coffee (or two). Now I’m a little more impatient.
The winner: The iPod by a few hours!
Time to get down to the fun part. Let’s spin some tunes! Having never owned an iPod, I’ve never purchased music on iTunes and my music (from my CD collection) is either in MP3 or OGG format.
The hp iPod will play a number of different formats: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3, Audible, AIFF, Apple lossless and WAV. And it is the only device that will let you play music purchased on iTunes. Unlike the iPAQ, you will not have the ability to download your prefered music-playing software though.
On the iPAQ, TodayPlayer also supports multiple formats: MP3, OGG, WAV and Shoutcast. MortPlayer supports MP2, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WAV and Shoutcast. No Apple format in view. And if neither of these programs are to your liking, you can use another one (there are plenty of alternatives out there, free or otherwise).
Once the music is playing, I did not find any real difference in sound quality. Good MP3s sound good on both devices. But I found the iPod headphones much less comfortable than my cheap Radio Shack ones.
Both the iPod and the software on the h2200 feature equalizers. The iPod equalizer comes with some presets specific to different music genres. MorPlayer comes with "effects" that serve the same function. TodayPlayer has an equalizer with preamp level and multiple presets.
Both iPAQ softwares allow you to do some configuration with the hardware buttons. This feature makes controlling volume and playlists a lot easier than just using the screen controls. But neither comes anywhere close to Apple’s click wheel. The click wheel is very intuitive and one impressive piece of human interface engineering (yes, I really like it!). But even the click wheel is not perfect – I could not figure out how to turn off the iPod without having to go online and look at the manual (Press and hold down the play/pause button, for those who care).
Again, I’d have to give the edge to the iPod.
Managing music lists
On the iPAQ, music list management will depend on the software that you use. I found TodayPlayer’s playlist management clunky. MortPlayer does a much better job.
Playlist management on the iPod can be done through iTunes or using the iPod itself. iTunes playlist management is quite good – I really like the rules-based lists that you can use to quickly create a playlist. For example, I can create a list that only plays songs in the Jazz genre. You can drag that list over to your iPod and all the songs will get copied over as well. Or you can create and manage playlists directly on the iPod using the click-wheel (a less intuitive process).
In the end, the iPod still has to get the win but this time mostly because of the iTunes software.
More than just music
This is where the iPAQ gets to shine. Although the iPod will function as an additional drive (allowing you to store data other than music) and will act as an alarm clock and calendar/contact manager, it offers limited functionality when compared to the iPAQ and other Pocket PC PDAs. There is no substitute for having the option of installing different programs.
No contest – the iPAQ wins here.
The most important conclusion I have come to is that I should not compare such disparate devices. The iPod is one sweet little device. I am left with my iPAQ and a keen desire to go and get myself an iPod now that I have returned the one that I had borrowed. If you’re looking for a mobile device to listen to music and not much more, the iPod is one tough contender. If you want a multifunction device that will play music but makes a few concessions in order to deliver multifuction use, then the iPAQ or another PocketPC PDA is what you’re looking for.