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Goodbye PDA, Hello iPod?
Can a new iPod actually function as a PDA replacement?

by Terrie Miller

A few months ago, I heard someone mention the iPod's ability to store and synchronize contacts and events with the Mac OS X Address Book and iCal applications. I was intrigued. While I love my PDA, I use it almost exclusively to look up contacts, events, and short notes. I rarely use it for input (unless you count playing MineHunt while waiting in line). Slowly but surely an inner voice started trying to convince me that I really needed a cool and wonderful MP3 player as a replacement for my perfectly good PDA.

Though it required some patience waiting on new models, that voice finally won out. I'm the proud owner of one of the new, beautiful 10-Gig iPods that use version 2.0 of the iPod firmware. And I've been trying out the PDA features to decide if that inner voice was right.

Addresses and iCal

Getting your contacts and calendar onto the iPod is easy. iSync automatically recognizes the iPod as a device and gives you several options:

Screen shot.
iSync lets you choose which Address book and iCal items to synch.

You can pick and choose among the calendars to synchronize--a nice feature if there are calendars you access infrequently. Oddly enough, you can choose either all contacts or one group of contacts, but you can't choose multiple groups; and if you choose "All Contacts", your groups are not included, although the contacts within them are. I use groups in Address Book for categories like family, work, businesses, etc., and it would faster to browse the iPod for individual addresses if I could choose a group first and drill down from there.

The photos below will give you a feel for how the interface to contacts and calendars works. First, here's how the calendar interface drills down to an individual event:

Photo of iPod screen.
1. Select the calendar.

Photo of iPod screen.
2. The month view appears--select day.

Photo of iPod screen.
3. Events for the day are listed.

Photo of iPod screen.
4. Select an event for details.

Viewing calendars on the iPod can be slow. Sometimes you'll need to wait for items to be displayed once you've selected them. Also, don't expect to see your to-do list here: apparently to-do items from iCal don't synch, although I've heard some reports that manually copying your calendars over to the iPod disk makes them viewable (until the next synch).

Here's what the contacts interface looks like:

Photo of iPod screen.
1. Select contact from the list.

Photo of iPod screen.
2. Contact details appear.

By default, the contacts will appear sorted by first name, and listed "firstname lastname". However, in the iPod settings menu you can change this to sort by last name, and/or to display as "lastname, firstname". You can't, however, change the sort order on the fly while you're viewing the list.

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Using your iPod as a Hard Disk

Using the iPod as a hard disk isn't new, but it's worth a mention because it's such a useful feature (and it's necessary for using text notes).

You'll need to set your iPod preferences so that the device can be used as a hard disk. But first you'll need to find your iPod preferences, something I didn't find very intuitive. iPod preferences are actually found in iTunes, but not in the preferences menu. With the iPod connected, select it in the iTunes source list, and look at the bottom of your iTunes window: you'll see a small iPod-ish icon for "Display Options for Player". Click on that, and select "Enable Firewire Disk Usage".

Screen shot.
Enabling your iPod to be used as a hard disk is done through iTunes -- the iPod must be connected and must be selected under the iTunes "Source" list.

When you enable this option, you'll need to eject your iPod before disconnecting it from your computer, much the same way you eject a connected camera or similar device; for details, see this knowledge base article.

Once enabled, you'll see your iPod in the Finder and can browse it like any other disk.

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