#1
I got a Pocket POD for Christmas and so far I am quite happy. I don't need to plug into my amp I can just plug into the POD and practice. Although some of the controls could be a little overwhelming to a newbie I might be inclined to tell a beginner to forgo that cheap amp they are looking at and go for one of these. I also discovered that I can download additional presets as well as create my own. There is always that song that you like but you don't have the right effects for it so you don't learn it. With this I found I was digging out old song and giving them a run with the new effects.
#2
yeah the pocket pod is great for starting off I agree. When I had a 2.0 this is about 8 or so years ago I would just plug in headphones and play. That or computer speakers as I was too cheap to buy a 2nd guitar cable. But through a good amplifier it'll make a world of difference as you continue to develop an ear for the notes you're playing and say adjusting the smallest thing on your amplifier. Like the bass from 4 to 6.