Sunday, February 27, 2005

iTunes New Music Sampler reviewed

"Blow It Out" by The Features
This one's like a cross between Weezer and The Cure. Despite the promising beginning, the song really doesn't go anywhere and the lead singer's squeaking voice quickly goes from quirky to just plain annoying.

"All At Sea" by Jamie Cullum
How this guy got a record contract is beyond me. He must be the song's writer. The tune itself isn't bad – something you might expect to hear from Michelle Branch. The down side is that this guy is about as good as I am when it comes to carrying a tune.

"Sunshine to the Rain" by Miri Ben-Ari
Yet another rap-over-sentimental-oldie tune. So unoriginal, you'll quickly hit the skip button to see what's next.

"Lonely" by Akon
What is this – the chipmunks? As a back up track for the kind of snoozy ballad that Motown is cranking out by the dozens these days. Makes you wonder how many of the R&B greats are spinning in their graves.

"Golden Touch" by Razorlight
A Beatles-esque beginning turns into a fun modern pop song. One of the best from the "album". I definitely will be adding it to my collection.

"Every Time You Go Away" by Brian McKnight
Remember those earlier comments about snoozy Motown ballads. Here's another one, 'though at least without the chipmunks track. Sample cheezy lyric: "I don't give a damn what my homies say." Puh-leeze.

"Bigtime" by The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Not a bad song, but another one that doesn't really go anywhere. It sounds so much like so many other rock bands today that I can't even come up with an appropriate archetype.

"Laura" by Scissor Sisters
It's sorta original, but once again it doesn't really go anywhere.

"She Said" by Brie Larson
Okay. Here's a song that you'd expect to hear on the soundtrack for the latest teen movie sensation. Far from original but, gods help, me I like it. Call it one of my guilty pleasures.

"Jus Anotha Shorty" by O'Ryan
O'Ryan? Should be "Oh, please". More Motown ballad crap.

"Sleeping with the Lights On" by Teitur
Teitur doesn't have Sting's voice, but this tune is very reminiscent of his more recent stuff (which is not necessarily a complement)

"Reach Out, I'll be There" by Michael McDonald
Wow. This cover may be a little too faithful to the original, but McDonald has a classic R&B voice that certainly does his predecessors proud.

"TKO" by Le Tigre
Girl punk à la Bif Naked or L7. Not the best of the genre, but still fun.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

My iSkin Arrived

The iSkin eVo2 I ordered for my iPod arrived today. I got the charcoal one with the set of five colored screen protectors. With shipping, that came to $45. Happy birthday, me!

I'm a little disappointed in the color; it's… duller… than it appears on the web site. Thankfully, I got the screen protectors to jazz things up a bit. My DW thought I should get the wasabi skin, but (as most of the members of my family will attest too) I'm not quite that daring in the color department. Also, the Wild Sides weren't yet available when I placed my order, but I did time it right to get one of the new click wheel covers.

In addition to protecting my iPod, I got the skin for it's additional "grippiness"; I was always afraid the iPod was going to slip out of my hand. As a lot of the forums indicated, the silicone does tend to pick up dust, however it comes off easily with a damp cloth and folks say that the tendency goes away with use.

The colored screen protectors make the screen a bit harder to read, so I may need to use the backlight more often than I currently do. I haven't had an issue with battery life so far; we'll have to see if this has an impact. On the plus side, the darker screen means more privacy for those times when your listening to guilty pleasures at work!

I did make one modification to the stock skin: it comes with "an integrated docking port cover to keep dust, dirt and liquids out of your iPod's docking port, preventing permanent damage." It does seal well enough that it probably would keep out liquids; however, I'm not quite that casual in my treatment of the iPod and I plug in often enough that I could tell the flap would be a major source of frustration, so… snip!

Speaking of plugging in, the extra thickness of the skin means that I can't use my iPod dock at this point. Don't know if I'll try modding it, or if I'll just stick with the cables.

Update: I ended up chucking the click wheel protector that came with the iSkin -- it was constantly interfering with the "hold" commands (backlight & off). I know they added it 'cause a lot of reviewers lamented its absence, but for me I really didn't add much other than annoyance!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

An iPod Update

I've been living with my iPod for a while now and I continue to be impressed. I frequently think "it'd be really useful if it could…" only to find out that it can. The latest of these was when I wanted to rate the songs I was listening to; lo and behold, you click the select button twice and rate the song by using the scroll wheel to select 1 to 5 stars.

Nonetheless, there are some things that Apple could do to make the iPod even better – most of which could be accomplished by an update to the iPod software.
  • The main non-software update I'd like to see would be to the case. Yes, the shiny chrome looks really cool with the iPod's white front, but it picks up fingerprints and tiny scratches like crazy. Apple should either go with a matte finish or apply some sort of clear veneer to fend off smudges. I recently ordered an iSkin, so this is soon to be less of an issue for me.
  • iTunes has an option to "Group compilations when browsing" that Apple should really carry over to the iPod. I noticed that a lot of CD's are incorrectly identified as compilations by CDDB, so you may have to edit your library for this to work correctly. As an alternative, Apple could provide a setting that lets you specify the minimum number of songs for an artist to show up in the list.
  • The scroll wheel is way to sensitive for effective input of song ratings. Trying to dial in a three requires a lot more time and attention that it should.
  • I'd really like some way to specify an MPAA-style rating for songs, particularly if iTunes had a master list and was able to assign those ratings to your songs. As a parent of young kids, I'd like to be able to screen out some of the more "colorful" songs in our collection when we're all riding together in the car.
  • Lastly, I'd like to see Apple come up with some way of allowing you to shuffle playlists – either by invoking something from the playlist itself, or by extending the "Shuffle Songs" option to allow you to select "all" or one of your playlists.
My final beef is not really for Apple, but a plea to the Mozilla community. I would really like something that could sync my contacts & calendar from Thunderbird to my iPod. Maybe if I weren't spending 2½ hours a day on the road I could take the time to learn XUL and write one myself, but for now...

Update: My Apple-hip bro-in-law pointed out that you can actually shuffle playlists by setting the "Shuffle" setting to songs and then playing the playlist; my sis then came up with an excellent replacement: being able to access a "more from this artist/album" option when playing back songs -- particularly during shuffle mode! I've also sent these suggestions to Apple via their feedback page.