The iPod is one cool gadget; in fact, it's the best-selling hard drive-based music player in the world, with millions of units sold since its release. So chances are either you or someone you know owns one. Use that to your advantage this holiday season and buy your favorite music lover (or yourself) something to accentuate their iPod.
To help you decide on such a gift, the following are some of my favorite iPod-related products. (Unless noted, I've actually tried every item.) I've divided them into some logical categories, and included approximate U.S. prices for each. You may be able to find items for less; sometimes significantly less. I've also noted whether each product is available for the older (FireWire port) iPods, the newer (dock connector) iPods, or both. One topic I don't cover here is headphones. For recommendations on those popular iPod accessories, see last year's "Music to Your Ears: 2002," and an update that will appear in TidBITS soon.
(While writing this article, I grew tired of writing variations of "your gift recipient," so I often use "you." You can pretend I'm talking about the rhetorical "you" - meaning the recipient of your gift - or you can 'fess up and admit that you want some of this stuff, too.)
The Basics from Apple -- Everyone can use an extra cable or dock. Here are some of the more useful Apple-branded gift options.
PC Cable for Windows users ($40, dock connector): If your lucky iPod user wants to use a newer iPod with a Windows PC that has only USB ports (i.e., no FireWire), they need this cable.
Extra dock ($40, dock connector): Although the dock cable works just as well for recharging and transferring data to your iPod, the dock base has a significant advantage for hooking an iPod up to a home stereo - it has a true line-level output. A second dock lets the user keep one permanently connected to the stereo.
Extra dock cable ($20, dock connector): If you connect your iPod to more than one computer, or want to recharge while on the road, a second dock cable can be handy. Users of older iPods can use any FireWire cable.
Extra power adapter ($50, both): The iPod's AC adapter is a bit pricey, but it's nice to have an extra at the office, or wherever your second location may be. Keep in mind that you can use a computer with a powered FireWire port instead.
World Travel Adapter Kit ($40, both): If your favorite iPod user is a frequent traveler, they'll appreciate being able to recharge their player wherever their travels may take them, within certain geographical limits. Apple says the World Travel Adapter Kit supports outlets in North America, Japan, China, United Kingdom, Continental Europe, Korea, Australia, and Hong Kong.
Remote and Earphones ($40, both): The less-expensive iPods don't include a remote, so you could buy your favorite iPod user one as a gift. Unfortunately, the price is inflated because you can't buy the remote by itself; you're stuck buying another pair of the stock iPod earphones, as well.
Apple also sells their own iPod case for $40; however, if you're in the market for a case, I recommend one of those discussed below instead.
Take Precautions: Cases and Bags -- The iPod is a stunning example of industrial design, but one bad drop or bump can turn it into a shiny (and expensive) paperweight. Here are some ways to keep it safe. I've tried most of the cases on the market, and could recommend a few others, but the ones below stand out. Because not everyone has the same needs when it comes to an iPod case, be sure to read the description of each to find out what type of protection it provides. All the cases listed here provide access to FireWire/dock ports, headphone/remote jacks, and hold buttons; I've noted when they don't provide access to the front controls.
Note that the hard cases like the Showcase and iPod Armor only come in one size, which means that smaller iPods will require a foam insert or similar spacer - which are included - to fit snugly. Also, hard cases can make it difficult to use some accessories that connect flush with the iPod's remote jack - such as Belkin's voice recording unit and the iTrip, mentioned below - when the case is on. But that's the trade-off with a hard shell case.
RadTech PodSleevz ($20, dock connector): Most cases offer some degree of protection, but do so by bulking up, leaving you with a big, fat iPod instead of a sleek, svelte one. If you're not concerned with protecting your iPod from drops and hard knocks, the PodSleevz are a great option; they protect the iPod from scratches and scrapes while retaining its slim profile. They also deaden the touch-sensitive controls just a bit, which is a good thing, in my experience.
WaterField Designs iPod Case ($40, both): A step up the protection ladder, the WaterField case offers a flip-open front which hides the controls when closed and provides a pocket for earbuds. The WaterField case also includes a sturdy, rotating belt clip and is one of the more stylish on the market.
Marware SportSuit Convertible ($40, both): The ultimate "active" case, the SportSuit Convertible provides a thick layer of neoprene with rigid side and back inserts for protection, and rubber edges for a secure grip. The hard-shell, flip-open cover is detachable and provides a pocket for credit cards/money and earbuds. In addition, the Convertible uses the popular Multidapt clip system, which means you can buy any of a number of attachments that allow you to mount your iPod in your car, on your bike, on your belt, etc.
Contour Design Showcase ($40, dock connector): If you want excellent protection in a case that lets your iPod look like an iPod, the Showcase provides a white, rubbery enclosure with clear plastic panels on the front and back so you can still see the iPod's shiny surfaces. It includes a unique horizontal belt clip that doesn't leave any protruding posts behind when you remove it. The Showcase also allows you to take the iPod out of the case quickly, which is a hassle with many other cases.
Matias iPod Armor ($50, $55 with belt clip, both): Like the Showcase, the iPod Armor encloses the entire iPod in a hard shell. But because it's "full body armor," it doesn't provide holes for the front controls, so you need to use the iPod's remote while it's in the case. You can still access the headphone and remote jack and the hold switch on the top of the iPod, though. Made of rigid aluminum, it's a great case if you want serious impact protection.
Pelican 1020 Micro Case ($15-$20, both): Pelican cases have long been known for their capability to keep the elements away from your gear, and the Micro series is perfect for personal electronics - the 1020 is big enough to hold an iPod (even inside one of the cases above) and some earbuds. If you or your iPod-loving gift recipient is an outdoors/adventure type, consider a Pelican case for those times when the iPod needs to be protected from Mother Nature. You can't use the iPod while it's in the Pelican case, but for keeping the iPod safe and sound in transit, it's ideal. It even floats, and it has a purge valve to equalize pressure.
Incase Designs Belt for iPod ($25, both): If you walk or run with your iPod and prefer not to carry it in your hand, the Incase Belt is the best of its type that I've seen. It's lightweight and comfortable, with a pouch specifically designed for the iPod. It also has a separate pocket for keys, money, cards, and the like, and a handy access hole for the remote/headphone cable.
HeadRoom iPod Bag ($40, both): If you're serious enough about your iPod sound quality that you've purchased a portable headphone amplifier - like the HeadRoom AirHead - the HeadRoom iPod Bag is for you. It holds your iPod, portable headphone amp, and a pair of earbuds/canal-phones in a handy bag that you can clip to your belt or hang from a strap.
WaterField Design iPod Gear Pouch ($35, both): The iPod Gear Pouch is one of those "Who needs that?" things that ends up being quite handy. If you know a hard-core iPod user who takes all their iPod gear with them when on the go, check it out. It holds an iPod, AC adapter, dock, earbuds, and all cables in padded compartments inside a stylish pouch that you can throw in your travel bag. It even has an external, zippered pocket for storing other small items.
Burton Amp Pack ($200, dock connector): The Amp Pack is a semi-rigid backpack that works just like Burton's jackets (see below) - you place your iPod in an EVA molded pocket between the straps (where it's safe, sound, and inaccessible with the pack on), and then connect the built-in headphone/remote cable. The right-hand shoulder strap then provides Burton's SOFTswitch iPod controls, and the left strap provides a headphone jack, so you don't have to weave your headphone cable through a bunch of holes and tunnels. Your iPod is fully protected, yet you can still change tracks, adjust the volume, and even turn it off. The other nice thing about this arrangement is that you can quickly disconnect your headphones, which can be a pain on some other backpacks; the shoulder strap even has a small pocket for storing your earbuds.
Dress for Success -- If your gift recipient would rather carry the iPod in a pocket, then perhaps a coat that hides the iPod while still providing access to its controls is the way to go. Or maybe your recipient would like a jacket that accommodates a bunch of gadgets. Either way, there are some good options available.
Burton Jackets (Men's Shield, $380; Men's Ronin 2L, $360; Women's Radar 2L, $360, dock connector): Burton now has three snowboard/ski-focused jackets that incorporate their SOFTswitch iPod control system. They're a bit pricey, but not outrageous as far as snow gear goes. Like the Amp Pack above, all include an EVA molded interior pocket to keep the iPod safe and warm, with a SOFTswitch remote control built right into the sleeve. All three jackets are "active" snow jackets - two-layer, waterproof/breathable shells - but differ slightly in their styling. If someone out there has me on their holiday gift list, I wouldn't turn down a Shield - the iPod controls are very cool, and the jacket is great.
SCOTTeVEST ($80-$450, both): SCOTTeVEST make an entire line of "technology-enabled clothing" - a buzzphrase that basically means "lots of pockets to store all your gadgets, and holes and tunnels to connect their wires." For example, you can store your iPod in any of the multitude of pockets, then route your earbud cables through the jacket and exiting from holes near your neck/ears. In fact, many of the jackets even have earbud pockets in the collar, so you can stow your them away, still connected, when not in use. You can get both vests and full jackets, from lightweight windbreakers to limited edition leather coats.
What about Software? Because the iPod is so versatile, a cottage industry in iPod-related software has emerged. You can find products that sync news headlines and email with your iPod, transfer files to and from it, and much more. Consider buying your iPod lover some helpful software. Because there are so many titles, I haven't listed any here. I instead recommend doing a search for "iPod" at VersionTracker, MacUpdate, or MacShareware.net via these links.
<http://www.versiontracker.com/php/search.php? plt%5B%5D=macosx&mode=basic& amp;action=search&str=ipod&x=0& amp;y=0>
<http://www.macupdate.com/search.php? keywords=ipod&os=macosx& amp;button.x=18&button.y=16>
<http://macshareware.net/modules.php? name=Downloads&d_op=search& amp;query=iPod>
Give the Gift of Music -- I'm always amazed at how infrequently music lovers receive music as gifts. Instead of another gadget, consider giving your favorite iPod owner some CDs or an iTunes Music Store Gift Certificate ($10-$200, both). The iTunes Music Store lets iPod users buy individual songs (99 cents) or entire albums (usually $10), download them to their Mac, and then transfer them to their iPod. By giving gift certificates to the Music Store, you don't have to worry that your recipients won't like the CDs you bought them, and they can use the credits whenever they want - all at once or a little at a time.
An iTunes Music Store Gift Certificate could be good for encouraging someone to try an audio book now that Apple carries thousands of books from audio bookseller Audible. But if you know they're already fond of listening to recorded books while driving or commuting to work, consider a gift subscription to Audible, whose books are compatible with iTunes and the iPod.
But Wait, There's More! Stay tuned next week for the best in third-party iPod add-ons, car accessories, speakers, reading, and repair options!
PayBITS: If Dan's recommendations helped you find the perfect iPod
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