Yesterday I said that Apple was going to come out with an iPod with touchscreen similar to the iPhone, but that if it had WiFi, they wouldn’t allow you to surf over it. Well, I’m completely wrong. Today they announced the iPod touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the phone part that many people were clamoring for. I actually can’t believe that Apple did it. They’re not known to make devices that people ask for, rather they make a device and make you want it. I thought they would limit WiFi usage somehow so that the iPhone is still their “high-end” offering. Perhaps they know that they’d get a lot more sales of an iPhone-like device without the phone, and are using the touch to make up for a slow down in iPhone sales? Or they’re just making sure all bases are covered by offering the iPod touch to users (like me) who really didn’t want to move over to AT&T? Whatever the reason, I’m very glad they made the iPod touch. In fact, I pre-ordered the iPod touch today. This is the first time I ordered a device online on the day of the announcement.
If you’re not as interested in the iPod touch, the rest of the iPod line got a nice refresh/update. The “regular” iPods are now called iPod classics. They got a bump in capacity up to 160GB, which is awesome. They also have a new metal casing, which I think looks pretty sleek.
The rumor of the “fat” iPod nanos turned out to be true! Luckily the devices do not look ugly. They have a bigger screen, video and game capabilities, and they have an upgraded UI like the iPod classic does. It seems both iPod classic and nano are running the normal iPod OS, but with different menus/display modes, while the iPod touch is running OS X. Don’t quote me on that, though. The nanos are also amazingly thin. I am a little wary about how fragile they could be in a pocket.
The shuffles are essentially the same, but there are 5 new colors. And one of them is purple! Purple is my favorite color, for those of you who don’t know. There aren’t many purple gadgets out there, so I may pick up a purple shuffle just because. Oh yeah, there’s also a Product(RED) edition of the shuffle and the nano.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the iPod touch and iPhone will get 3rd-party apps. If they do, they could be very close to becoming the Newton’s successors. As it stands, it looks like the iPod touch will have basic calendar and contact syncing. Combined with Gmail and Google Docs, the iPod touch could be a decent PDA-like device, or multimedia computer to compete with devices like the N95.
So now we have Leopard to look forward to sometime in October (hopefully), and perhaps around that same time, some MacBook or MacBook Pro refreshes will also be available. Still holding out for my ultra-portable MacBook with the 10″ screen… Very fun stuff for Apple enthusiasts.
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The release addressed a few functional items we felt were important to get out there, as well as a couple bug fixes. Here are the highlights:
1. Improved MTP error handling on the player that was causing some PC connection problems.
2. File transfer performance between the player and PC was
significantly improved allowing for much faster transfers of both DRM and clear tracks.
3. Improved streaming performance of the LAUNCHcast radio stations – this will minimize dropped connections and buffering.
4. Corrected an issue that was causing some track downloads to fail. These tracks were showing up in the “Unable to Download” queue.
5. Added an on-screen indicator for when your player is connected via USB to the PC. You’ll notice that the player is still fully functional when connected to the PC.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a newer version of the YMJ PC software than what was shipped with your player. The new release is significantly enhanced from a stability and performance standpoint and we highly recommend that you complete the upgrade.
While I applaud that Sandisk/Yahoo addressed these issues (several of these were issues I didn’t like during my short review of the Connect), I would much rather that they fix these problems before it goes out to the customers. I don’t like this trend of releasing products before they’re truly complete and fairly rigorously tested. Customers should not be beta testers. If they want us to be beta testers, they should be paying us for the time spent testing the product! The problem with this approach is that customers might just assume that, “Oh, yeah, there are issues, but I’m sure they’ll release a firmware update to fix this stuff,” and realize the company isn’t actually going to do anything of the sort (*ahToshibaGigabeatSem*!).
Again, I am glad that Sandisk hasn’t just put out the Connect and left customers to fend for themselves. If they fix more issues like being able to search Yahoo Music Unlimited directly from the Connect, or opening the WiFi support to other subscription services, and tweak the hardware a bit to fix the touchy scrollwheel, I might just consider their 2nd-gen product. So far the Connect’s net radio streaming has been a better experience than Rhapsody streaming on the N800!
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I just wanted to post a quick “final thoughts” entry about the Sansa Connect.
Firstly, I think its WiFi functionality is the best implementation so far. The ability to stream LAUNCHCast radio stations and then use the Zing menu to get mixes of songs similar to what you’re listening to is an awesome feature. And the fact that you can not only rate individual songs, but also albums and artists is a very good way of tailoring your music recommendations even further. Also, downloading songs or albums directly to the Connect over WiFi was a great feature. It would’ve been even better if the interface to the Yahoo Music Unlimited library would’ve been more full-featured, but as is, the connection to the YMU library was okay. If you’re a big streaming music or subscription music user, I think the Sansa Connect would be a great portable music player for you.
However, because I am mainly a podcast listener, the Sansa Connect lacked some key features in this regard:
- bookmarks, so that even if I decide to listen to stop listening in the middle of a podcast and listen to some music, I can resume where I left off when I return to the podcast
- treating podcasts differently from the music content, so that if I shuffle all of the music on the Connect, I won’t get podcasts mixed in (unless I want that)
- separating out podcasts in the music library so that I don’t have to wade through a bunch of artists or song titles to get at my podcast content
- no on-the-go playlist creation
- on the PC side, there was no integrated podcatching functionality in the syncing software for the Sansa Connect
If the Connect had bookmarking, on-the-go playlists, and was able to download podcasts directly to the device, it would’ve been a definite keeper for me. The added benefit of streaming online radio and downloading music once in a while to the device would’ve been icing on the cake. I already thought that the external speaker was awesome for listening to podcasts, since the transition from my car to listening to the Connect on my couch was minimal, no need for a speaker dock.
Some other miscellaneous observations:
- The mechanical wheel had little detents (I think that’s what they’re called) — little stops around the circle that meant to coincide with individual items on the Connect’s menus. So if you scroll slowly, each little click around the wheel will bring you to the next menu item. However, if you’re scrolling moderately fast, the wheel becomes less responsive and will sometimes not register movement, so that’s when navigation gets frustrating. Not good if you have lots of albums/songs on your device.
- It seemed like the headphone output was softer than my iPod. I use an audio cable in my car to connect the headphone jack of my iPod to the aux-in jack on my stereo, and when I was using the Sansa Connect, I had to crank up the car stereo volume a lot more.
- A nitpicky thing, perhaps, but while the curvy shape of the Sansa Connect looks nice, it doesn’t make it easier for accessory manufacturers to make cases or other types of accessories for the Connect. I’ve always been a big believer in the idea that the mere lack of accessories for a device — cases, docks, audio/video connectors, etc. — can really turn off a consumer from buying said device. It may be shallow, but I at least want to be able to buy a case for my player (and not just some cheapo neoprene junk that barely accommodates the device), as well as some other things to personalize it. Lack of accessories can put a damper on the consumer’s experience with the device, so manufacturers would do well to appease their buyers in this respect.
- Sandisk would do well to create their own syncing software to interface with Yahoo Music Unlimited (or untether themselves from Yahoo and support all of the music subscription services over the WiFi connection, as well as adding Pandora, last.fm support for streaming radio). Yahoo Music Jukebox software is a total joke.
- The Flickr connectivity was really really cool, especially for someone like me, who likes to check out the Flickr Explore page semi-regularly for photographic inspiration.
- The large screen had very good resolution and color rendition. When I compared pictures from the Flickr Explore set on the Connect to the same picture on my iMac, they looked very close in tone. The pictures looked very sharp on the Connect.
The first-gen Sansa Connect is a pretty good device. Despite its locked-in nature with Yahoo services, the Connect’s WiFi features still kick the Zune’s butt. Perhaps the second-gen device, or even some firmware updates will address some of the issues I mentioned above, maybe it won’t. Either way, I think Sandisk did an admirable job creating a product that can seriously compete against the iPod nano and other flash-based mp3 players.
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Update: After you read this entry, check out my “mind map” reviews for the Sansa Connect and Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription service, as well as the final thoughts post about the Sansa Connect that I just posted today (4/16/07).
Hey, Kids! I recently purchased a Sandisk Sansa Connect, a portable audio player that’s WiFi-enabled and can stream internet radio stations as well as play mp3s/WMAs and view photos from Flickr or on the device. It’s a pretty interesting device, and I plan on writing up a review for it soon, after I’ve had a few days to play around with it. You can check out my unboxing pictures on Flickr.
A few quick notes:
1. Probably the most important point: the Connect device does not just connect to unprotected, open WiFi spots like all of the literature implies. You can connect to a WEP-protected WiFi access point. This was a concern of mine, since I couldn’t find any mention online anywhere about this. I wasn’t about to leave my WiFi open just to use this device!
2. The player gets its net content from Yahoo Music Unlimited. So if you have a subscription to this service you can fill the Connect player with songs from YMU. What’s cool is that you can download YMU songs directly to the player over WiFi, without needing to sync with your PC. The internet radio stations that Connect streams are also from the Yahoo music service. As far as I can tell so far, you can’t input your own online radio station links.
3. Connecting to Flickr is pretty cool. You can view the public photos chosen for the Explore page, or view pictures from your own photostream, if you have a Flickr account. You can view slideshows from either the Explore gallery or your photostream, and play music in the background. I compared the colors of the display on the Connect to my iMac monitor for the Explore gallery, and they are very close, which is impressive. Very cool if you’re a Flickr junkie.
4. Yahoo Music Jukebox is the software used to sync music to the Connect. As far as I know at the moment, you can’t just drag and drop music to the device, but I’m going to explore that further. So far the Yahoo Music Jukebox software has been rather sluggish. Syncing the subscription music (or even podcasts from my laptop) is a slow process. I think part of this has to do with my unfamiliarity with how the subscription service works (I eventually figured out to change the settings so that when I mark an album from Yahoo Music Unlimited to add to “My Music”, it automatically downloads the songs instead of just bookmarking them), so I will play around with it more. But so far, even just copying a playlist of podcasts to the Connect seems a lot slower than syncing my iPod with iTunes. And there’s no integrated podcatching feature in the Yahoo Music Jukebox software.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth review, along with menu walkthroughs (and perhaps some videos), coming soon.