The diePod

by Eszter Hargittai on August 17, 2004

I used to be an Apple fan (even own one of the original bondi blue iMacs) but my experience with the iPod has made me disgruntled with the company. I am among the unfortunate many (way too many!) whose iPod gave up service extremely quickly. The battery just died one day for no apparent reason. The iPod was still under warranty so I took it to an Apple store. It took some convincing for them to take a look without charging me the basic $50. Then, after several days, they confirmed that the battery had, in fact, died (brilliant!). Then, after another week or so, they let me know my new iPod was ready for pickup. Unfortunately, my new iPod gave up service soon after as well. By then I was past the warranty period (how convenient for Apple). This time I can’t even tell if it’s the battery. It just won’t recharge and won’t do anything. (It is almost as if there was something comforting about seeing something break in a physically visible manner so you have some idea behind the puzzle. I almost wish I had dropped the thing at some point so I would have something to blame.) I had not used it much, maybe about a dozen times before it gave up service. This whole experience has been quite frustrating, especially for a gadget that costs several hundred dollars.

I am now looking for diePod alternatives. Other companies have not done quite the same job in marketing their products so I am not sure what would be a good option. I am actually considering just getting a memory card for my Treo 600 (a positive review of which will follow at some point) and using that as my mp3 player.

Bottom line: to avoid frustrations, I highly recommend staying away from the iPod![1]

UPDATE: Clearly, Apple’s got battery issues all over the place. It looks like my experiences are not a fluke.

1 Of course, in the grand scheme of things I realize this is not that big of a deal. But if one can avoid such annoyances then why not do so?



micah 08.17.04 at 5:04 pm

It’s a shame the iPod didn’t work out for you. I’ve had one for almost three years now, and it works great. Maybe you should send it back to Apple and tell them your story. If it was a lemon, they should replace it.


George Williams 08.17.04 at 5:53 pm

Check out this blog entry.

You might also look into whether your insurance company has an electronics policy. Mine does, and it covers everything (laptops, desktops, pdas, mp3 players) except cell phones. If they die, the insurance company pays.


larry 08.17.04 at 6:01 pm

Try the new one.

After looking at the alternatives, I decided that nobody else has the “design thing” nailed down as well as Apple yet.

I picked up a 20GB Gen4 iPod for $269. They’ve improved the battery a lot too.


Cog 08.17.04 at 6:13 pm

Anyone buying a digital audio player these days should get a long-term aftermarket warranty. I’ve heard good things on the Riovolution forums about Viking, but there are probably other options.

Just consider it part of the price of the using a relatively new technology. I believe all the hard-drive-based players out now are prone to some flakiness (though in aggregate it’s still probably not that large a fraction of the users).


neil 08.17.04 at 6:14 pm

Tried to post this earlier, but apparently it didn’t take…

Anyway, I’ve always thought the iPod was a mess. A supposedly-portable device with a constantly spinning hard disk just rubs me the wrong way. And that non-replacable battery pack is just asking for trouble.

I’ve found a competing MP3 player that I’m quite happy with, though. The main thing I was looking for was solid state electronics — no moving parts. What I found is the Rio Cali. With an added on 512MB SD card, it holds 768MB of music — not as much as the iPod, but who can complain about having 15 CDs with them at all times? Since it doesn’t have a hard disk to spin, the battery life is huge: 10 hours on a single AAA battery. Carry a couple around with you and you’ll never run out. And since they’re solid state, they’re super-durable — when have you ever had a digital watch go DOA? (I’ve already dropped mine onto pavement a dozen times at least.) The cost for the above setup is comparable to an iPod, but it will last much longer.

Re: the design of the iPod: I’ve always wondered, isn’t it pretty much impossible to use those without looking at them? I don’t see how you could use that little spinny wheel to skip ahead precisely 5 tracks, but it’s easy to press a button 5 times.


Jane Galt 08.17.04 at 6:27 pm

I’ve had Rio’s 20 GB player for about six months now, and I love it. It’s not as visually sleek as the iPod, but you can cup it and operate it in the palm of one hand, and its software is great.


Maynard Handley 08.17.04 at 6:36 pm

1st question, Esther. Can you get it to do anything useful while it is plugged into a Mac providing it with firewire power? Presumably that answers the question of whether the battery is broken or not, since it should still work as an HD with bus power. If that works then next issue then is have you tried the various reset options (first the mild reset, then the serious super-duper one that wipes out the hard drive)? The keys for these seem to vary from model to model but are things like make sure the “lock” slider is unlocked, then hold down fwd, bwd, menu and select all at the same time for three seconds.

Regarding neil’s comment; I guess it all boils down to how you use the device.

I use my iPod as much if not more for audio books as for music. 15 CDs might (in your mind) be a great choice of music, but it’s maybe two mid-length audio books, ie not much choice.
Obviously we’d all prefer solid state devices, but until they reach perhaps 5GB, at least for me, the HD is a necessary evil.

As for controlling the device, I use the “remote control” thingy that came bundled with mine that clips onto my collar. Doesn’t require looking at, and the standard actions (play/pause, vol up/down, fwd/bwd) are all button presses.

As for the larger breaking down point. This does seem to be luck of the draw right now. My iPod, touch wood, has no problems after what, at least 15 months. Now my brother had problems recently soon after buying a PowerBook and has had a lot of trouble getting Apple to own up to this and look at it, but after enough phone calls he did get something to happen. That does appear to be your only choice.
I suspect, as others have said, that this is all part of the price of the leading edge. On the one hand Apple aren’t sure yet how badly customers will treat the devices, explicitly going against the various rules Apple gives (things like avoiding extremes of heat [don’t leave iPod in parked car in LA summer] or cold), on the other hand customers don’t yet have a set of expectations for in what ways the devices are fragile; the end result is both sides constantly feel they are being cheated and exploited by the other and lots of genuine complaints get ignored.

Of course Apple have in the past made some pretty questionable decisions for the sake of style (remember that ridiculous round mouse of the first iMacs), and a built-in battery may count as one of these—or it may not. That’s the problem with new things, no-one knows enough about the failure modes.


Lindsay Beyerstein 08.17.04 at 6:41 pm

I am a huge iPod loyalist. I got mine as a graduation present last year. It’s still going strong after thousands of miles on the road, a move, dozens of freelance assignments, and more. My boyfriend’s iPod is now almost three years old and it’s as reliable as the day he got it.

Has Consumer Reports reviewed mp3 players lately?


neil 08.17.04 at 6:46 pm


Audio books are usually not coded at as high a bitrate as music — one can usually fit twice as much spoken-word as music.

The slight advantage gained by not having to rotate your music selection is more than nullified by the fragility and poor battery life of the iPod. For decrepit old 24-year-olds like myself who remember when people had to carry a CD around with them all day if they wanted to listen on the go, this does not seem like a huge sacrifice.


Duane 08.17.04 at 6:49 pm

I bought an iRiver iFP-595T for my wife for xmas, and she has been very happy with it. Battery life is excellent, the design seems fine (to this non-design type person, at least), memory is sufficient, plus it has FM radio. That one is solid-state, but they also have hard-drive based models if you need more room. Newer models (or old ones with a firmware upgrade) support Ogg Vorbis as well as MP3, or can function as a USB mass-storage device (so you can use it under Linux), although last time I looked not both at once.

BTW, the forums on the site I bought it from are an excellent source of information about different MP3 players (or at least the ones that they carry). One thing that is mentioned there is that the iRiver series also have built-in batteries, so maybe in the circumstances they wouldn’t be best for you.


paul 08.17.04 at 6:50 pm

To avoid frustration, I recommend staying away from technology.

I have a G3 iPod and I have had it replaced due to some weird and not always reproducible behavior. It wasn’t that hard to get is swapped out, though I did have to pay shipping costs.

As for the “constantly spinning hard disk” argument, it doesn’t. The disk only spins to load a solid state cache with enough “read-ahead” data to avoid skips.

And if all you want is the amount of music you fit in a flash-based player, by all means get one. The iPod can hold a lot, perhaps all the music you own. The ability to rate tracks, make custom playlists, stream music over my home network (OK, this is an iTunes function more than the iPod) all adds up to a better experience than just a device that plays music.

This post seems more a complaint about Apple’s customer service or a case of buyer’s remorse.


Scott Martens 08.17.04 at 6:54 pm

I bought an old 4 gig iPod on eBay, and I love it. It’s never given me trouble. Of course, that’s the benefit of used. If it was going to break, it would have broken.


Brian 08.17.04 at 8:21 pm

I’d have to agree with those folks that love their ipods. I love mine. I’ve had it since last christmas (the 15Gb one) and the battery is fine, the user interface is great, and 6 CDs is nowhere near enough. I just put on my whole collection on there, slip on on random play, and I get to hear songs I like, but haven’t played for myself in years. Excellent!


Delirious D. 08.17.04 at 8:25 pm

Instead of getting a cool MP3 player I went low tech and got a cheapo portable CD player that can play MP3 disks. It was about $35. Two AA batteries can power it for up to 12 hours (I use rechargables). It takes a lot of jarring to make it skip. iTunes can burn the MP3 disks.


john b 08.17.04 at 8:30 pm

The iPod wouldn’t necessarily work with a knackered battery when plugged into FireWire/the AC supply – mobile phones usually don’t, certainly.

I’m starting to feel glad I bought the two year extended warranty when I bought my iPod mini last week… It’s far too excellent a piece of kit to dislike, though. And if you’re going on a week-long trip without a computer, then there’s a big difference between 512mb of storage and between 4-40mb…


Anthony 08.17.04 at 9:03 pm

Not to mention a summer abroad. With two months away from my computer, I have no regrets about a purchase that enabled me to carry the bulk of my music collection across the Atlantic.

Mine has suffered some strange and inconsistent behaviour problems, though, for which I sent it in for servicing before I left, but got it back in exactly the same condition. I’m going to wait until I return in two weeks to contact Apple about this, but we’ll see just how inconsiderate their customer service is.


Fresh 08.17.04 at 10:20 pm

I have a first generation, 5 gig iPod, and it is still going strong. If and when it goes out, I’ll be getting another one. Could be the best consumer electronics device I own. iTunes makes it awesome too.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 08.17.04 at 10:25 pm

In fact, the iPod battery is user-replaceable, for some values of user-replaceable; all you need is an X-Acto knife and nerve. The batteries themselves can be purchased for $50 or so from a variety of vendors.


JC 08.17.04 at 11:33 pm

Well, my Nomad Zen just died. And it’s not the battery. The drive is just wiped, and I need to reformat, or something.

1000 songs down the drain.

We’re just unlucky, I guess.


Stu 08.18.04 at 12:09 am

I’m listening to my iPod right now while I write this at work. It’s plugged into the extra power cable I got (like most everything Apple based, it’s expensive, but very useful), and so I’ll listen to it on the subway ride home, and while I do laundry tonight, and probably up until I go to sleep. I love my iPod, which, along with iTunes, has completely revolutionized the way I listen to music. I have never owned anything else by Apple, and thoroughly mocked my roommate’s devotion to the copmany, but I love my sleek little device. I think it’s downright foolish to use anything but iPod/iTunes. I have the 20GB iPod, which holds about 4000 songs (with one GB devoted to being a portable hard drive: carrying around all my documents and some of my digital pictures).

But you can safely discount what I have to say…owning my iPod turned me into a fanatic. If yours didn’t turn you into one, you might be a lost cause. But seriously, the next generation stuff is supposed to have most of their problems conquered.


Karim 08.18.04 at 1:39 am

I have a 512MB card with my treo600 and it does the trick for me – enough music for traveling and getting around time – but not my entire library — works well for me!


fyreflye 08.18.04 at 2:19 am

To avoid these frustrations just give up the idea that a steady burble of silly love songs is preferable to silence.


Keith 08.18.04 at 2:32 am

I baught a Gen2 iPod and it was fantastic. Alas, it was stolen. I then tried one of th enew mini iPods, but it didn’t work all that well. As Larry suggested abovge, try the new gen4 iPod. 12 hour battery life, they’ve solved some of the other bugs and unlike th enew sony 20 gig walkman, iPods double as storage devices, calendars, contact books, etc.

The thing with Apple products is, when they tweek, they tweek hardcore. Likewise, though, when they work, they are excellent.


John Quiggin 08.18.04 at 2:47 am

I got mine replaced, no questions asked when it died – and it had had a bit of a bump. So I’m with the happy users on this one.

Like stu, I keep all my files on the iPod, in fact that’s the primary use for me.


cafl 08.18.04 at 3:40 am

My elder daughter just bought an ipod with her first summer earnings, and we all think it’s great. I read about the battery problems (look here for more info).

When my younger daughter yearned for an ipod equivalent of her own to take on a trip, we settled on a hack. Like delirious d I went with a cd player that we already had that understood how to play mp3’s from a data cd (many but not all portable cd players can do this). Then I ripped 15 or so of her favorite cd’s at a low bitrate using our audio software of choice (jet audio) and burned her a data cd to take on her trip.

She was initially worried about the sound quality, but decided it was just as good as car radio, especially given the likely ambient noise. The cd was only about 1/4 full…I ran out of time. So for people who just want the convenience of lots of music without having to haul around a lot of cds this is a viable choice. You can trade off quality for length of play.


Doctor Memory 08.18.04 at 4:31 am

As Patrick Hayden mentioned above, there are cheap third-party aftermarket batteries available for the iPod, and some of the companies will even install it for you for a small extra cost.

Alternatively, Apple will sell you a brand new battery, installed, for $99. I can understand not wanting to give Apple any more money after your experience though.

Or you can just do what I did and buy a Rio Karma, which is about the size and weight of a 4G iPod (differently shaped), supports Vorbis audio, and can sync over ethernet.


Persimmon 08.18.04 at 6:06 am

Apple makes wonderful products, in many ways, but you should definately include the extended service plan in any purchase from Apple.

That’s the smart thing, with Apple. Yes, it adds to your cost (and no, generally I’m not big on extended warranties…but realistically, that’s how it is.) Perhaps it’s one price for the innovative products they keep making us happy with?

Less than ideal, I’d rather they did more QA, myself, but there you are.


eszter 08.18.04 at 1:26 pm

I appreciate people’s suggestions. I don’t know if some missed the fact that not only one, but two iPods have given up service in my case. I can’t imagine spending more money on Apple products at this point (for iPod related gadgets in any case, although I’ll think twice before going with another gadget from them as well). I will check out the alternatives. Thanks.


BTD Greg 08.18.04 at 4:26 pm

I really like me Archos Gmini 220. It’s very convenient, especially for a PC user. It basically works like a portable hard disk (and I’ve used it that way many times). It pops up as removable storage on WinXP, and you don’t need any special software to play music or copy files off of it. It also has line in recording/mp3 burning (which I have used—for example, to record this John Kerry “hair pollution” sound clip—and a built-in Compact Flash reader (which I have not used.)

It’s not as sleek or trendy as the iPod, but I like it.


Reuben 08.19.04 at 4:52 pm

I would certainly recommend the Creative Nomad Zen player. I have been using it for 10 months now without the slightest problem. True, the Ipod is better looking, but is it worth paying $250 more just for the looks?

The Zen 60GB player is now available at several stores for around $250, which is about the best buy there is.

The only downside of the Zen is that you cant play stuff downloaded from the Itunes store, unless you’re willing to transfer the AAC files onto a CD as audio files and then rip back as MP3. I personally pick up all my music from Napster and the new Real store which offer songs for $0.49 and albums for about 5 bucks. A not to be missed deal :)

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