Nano and Classic: What’s the Deal?

first and foremost, hello to you dear reader! Before I begin delving into today’s great topic (which you may of guessed has to do with Apple Inc. and their famous and marketable product, the iPod), I thought it would be nice to share with you the current status of my physical being. Ok. So I am sitting in a nice armchair, in front of this computer screen. In my ears is a pair of apple headphones — and on my lap, an 8 GB iPod nano 4th generation. If you are a complete iPod and computer geek and are now wondering “is he using rockbox?” I here by wish to answer that thought with an assuring “no!”.
But alas, I know that my past ramblings have already caused confusions. So let me explain the story line behind my new and refound iPod involvements.
A week ago on this day — that is, Sunday — I found myself at Costco and with that, an iPod classic located in the Audio section of the store. There were only 2 on the shelf, and therefore these sort-of-new products were priced down. I assume that Costco was getting ready to bring in the newly-made iPod nano (which, by the way, was literarly released a few weeks ago), so of course they priced down the product, to $179. Online, the same 80 GB Classic costs around $250 or more. I went and brought it, as the previous month, I found myself with an iPod video in my hand, only to know that it’s hard-drive was broken. I was thrilled to have finally purchased a new music player and at the cash register gladly thought to myself, ” Man I must go home and download the latest version of rockbox.”
I think I was also confusing this classic iPod with the iPod video (5th gen), thinking that it’s simply a rebranding of that product and that Apple only changed the name. So I didn’t much think to the idea that Rockbox might not even detect or run on this iPod.
I found this exact thing out once I got home and downloaded ipodpatcher.exe, which is the file you run to update your iPod’s boot sector to match that of running Rockbox. It simply. Would tell me that “No iPods found.”.

What is Rockbox?

Now, to those who are reading one of my reviews for the first time, let me explain what rockbox is briefly. Being visually impaired, it is a necessity that I be able to use my electronic devices in some form — and since I can’t see the screen at all, voice output of some sort is my way to go. Rockbox provides that, but it is really more. You know how your iPod runs some kind of software? You know, the menus. The options. What it can do. It’s called a firmware really, because it “operates” your iPod. Think of it as the brains. Well, rockbox is a firmware replacement. You install it, and the look and feel of your iPod is completely different. Not only this, but it supports many more video/music formats than what comes with your iPod. And of course, for the blind, it provides the option of “self-voicing”, where you can simply place a file in a folder and the menus would be spoken outloud through your headphones.

So. Where did I leave off in the story… Oh yeah. How did I feel after finding out that Rockbox didn’t work on the classics. Well. 3 major feelings arose in me at the time: one of anger, one of disappointment, and one of perhaps optimism. For angry I was at apple, since they created a whole new firmware for basically a product which quite resembles the old iPod video. I was also disappointed that there would be no real way of me installing and running the Rockbox software, unless somehow I turned into an expert hacker right on the spot. And I held optimism, thinking that maybe some hacker, in deed turned into an expert after purchasing his iPod Classic and figured out a method of running Rockbox. Sadly, neither was the case.
After doing great amounts of research on the internet and calling blind friends, I gave up hope. According to some sources, not even the greatest of all hackers were successful at modifying the complex and encrypted firmware Apple placed in their product. It was encrypted, meaning that complex complex mathimatical equations and algorithms were used. Remember your Algebra class? Yep. Encryption is the key. Apple seemed to have “deliberetly” placed an encryption on their product. Why would they do this?
First, companies generally don’t like when you replace their firmware. I mean, I can even understand that. These guys spent hours creating and testing their firmware, and then you throw it away by using some other replacement? On the darker side, they like to keep you locked in. You know, so that you only use their formats and what they like (the iTunes store of course!). and more.

Sadly I gave that iPod to my mom, as she was also keen on getting one. In return, I purchased her 160 GB Western Digital hard-drive, for $50. Good deal!
I didn’t think much of iPods for the next few days. That Sunday I basically went through the disappointment of my life. But reading upon the latest news got me excited again.
According to a blog, the iPod nano 4th gen, which was released early this month, has “spoken menus”, allowing someone with a disability to “hear” what was on their iPods, including many of the menus, and also all of their song titles, albums, and files basically. This sounded cool, though before wanting to invest $140 in at least the 8 GB model, I wanted to find out what it couldn’t read.
Most sources told me that a lot of the “extras” would not be spoken. These are things like the alarm clock, the calendar, contacts, notes, and more. That was nothing major to me, though I would of really enjoyed using some of that functionality (no, I pass. not games). But still, it looked promising.

So today, I purchased my iPod nano. After seeing the great improvements the NFB (national federation of the blind)’s settlement brought to the table for blind people and iTunes, I was quite satisfied. Now, iTunes at least was 90% accessible with screen reading software, and the second public beta release of JAWS 10 yielded more improvements to the interface and easier navigation. Of course, it was iTunes 8 which did most of the accessibility work, as Apple is required to make most of iTunes accessible by March of 2009. Great progress so far!

Now, the meet of this review: How accessible is it?

I would say, though Rockbox was always a better choice, it could be worse. Much worse. I mean, with the iPod classic, I was very desperate — so desperate that I even began memorizing the menu choices. That’s actually like beyond desperate. But then I’d realize that never will I be able to see which song I’m going to play, so there really was no point.
Now at least with this Nano, all menu options are spoken and all of my song information as well. Well, most of the menus, as the blogs did say it right: The extras menu does not at all function properly.

When it comes to physical appearance, the Nano is very, very slim and has nice-looking curved edges. Compared to the classic, which is slightly thinner than the iPod video 30 GB, but of course nothing can beat the thinness of the nano. Packaging of the 2 products is quite different, and I found it harder to unpack and cut open the Nano’s box. Ah well. The click wheel also seems quite sensative. More so than what I was used to with Rockbox or maybe even the iPod video I owned. It is a nice size, actually. Fits my hand perfectly.
In this Nano, there is a sensor built in which allows you to shake the iPod and your songs will automatically shuffle. Very nice feature. Using this sensor, the device can also tell the orientation of your screen, and if you have it facing counter-clockwise, you are shown the coverflow of your albums. Basically album art. Of course, the shaker can be turned off very easily through the menus, and it does not work when you have the hold switch placed on.


Ok. My recommendations. I’ve tried 3 iPods before, and I have gained a lot of experience with what’s the best for the visually impaired. Of course if you are sighted, go with your heart and what you think will suit you best.
Well. If you don’t much care for oldness and maybe being a few years out-of-date, get the iPod video 5.5G. Even the 80 GB, (which I think is rather thick), will work with Rockbox. The iPod nano First/second generation is also supported, so is the iPod photo and mini releases. Go with rockbox (
) , and use it. It’s not hard to install at all and if you need assistance in configuring it, feel free to ask me.
If you want your share of chalenge and frustration, get the iPod classic. You will have to memorize the device like an Algebra test (without complex formulas).
And if you want the latest but something which is below Rockbox standards and is considered “average” to the sighted, get the iPod Nano. 8 GB should at least give you 2000 songs in your pocket. And maybe a few videos if you can fit it. If you are high on money, I don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t go with the 16 GB release, but that is mainly your business. Be assured that both support spoken menus, and for now, both should satisfy your needs. If you are a high music geek who cares for the audio and sound, don’t got with Apple. I think even iRiver or the xen players are better as they all support Rockbox. For me though, the iPod Nano was the best deal for a music player to date.

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