Nomad User Speaks

From bump: The Nomad Jukebox eats batteries very quickly, and I got about two hours of playback at the most out of it. The interface on it for navigating music is sometimes maddening, other times barely usable. Finally, transferring music takes forever.

Yeah, I didn't have room to rant about battery life in my column for this Sunday's Seattle Times on the iPod. The Nomad uses four AA batteries, which it can recharge internally, to run its rated four hours of service, which Robert Occhialini says above is really two. Managing AA's is a pain in the butt. None that I've seen are intelligent enough to have current levels or other markings on them to help differentiate them. They're a commodity you're supposed to buy in endless quantities and throw away.

Never mind that they're full of toxic chemicals and should be disposed of as hazardous waste if we lived in a society that dealt with the real cost of its consumers' actions.

A brand name 4-pack of rechargeables is $13.00 from Amazon.com. Let's say you get three sets to allow for some going bad before their time, rotation, and having an extra set. So that's nearly $40 without a separate charger - you're relying on the Nomad's built-in ability. The reviews at Amazon.com indicate that these batteries really last through hundreds of charges. Great!

So you're walking around for a cross-country trip with at least 12 batteries to get at least six hours of continuous play...huh, okay, maybe you need 16 or 20 judging by Robert's description. And maybe they will last years and years: in three or four years, you're still using the same set, still getting good life out of them. But they've raised the price of your "$250" 6 Gb Nomad well over $300, maybe to $350 between losing batteries, chargers, replacements, etc.

The iPod, at $400, has a 10-hour lithium battery. I was using the hell out of it this weekend on a long road drive and couldn't run the sucker down after hours of continuous play and backlight use. The deal is that the iPod precaches about 20 minutes of music on a rotating basis in its 32 Mb of static RAM. During part of the drive, I was jumping around from album to album (don't worry - I was the passenger - never, ever control the iPod while driving - you will die). This reduces battery life by requiring hard drive seeks and frequent spin up/spin down. Still, over a five-hour drive, I couldn't drain it more than half.

And one more detail. Let's say I'm travelling with my iBook, a likely combination. I'm stuck in an airport with no A/C adapter nearby and my iPod starts to reach the end of its charge. I plug it into the iBook, let it charge, and get several more hours while only winding down the iBook's battery life by a fraction. (Even better: I also got a USB charger cable for my cell phone. Investing in a second iBook battery now makes much more sense than investing in multiple AC adapters, batteries, and cables on disparate devices.)