Review: Apple Computer iPod with video (Enhanced Fifth-Generation 30GB/80GB)
Pros: Better-featured, less expensive updates to last year’s top-of-line iPods, featuring brighter 2.5” screens, superior video playback time, a new search feature, superior earbuds, and the option of up to 80GB of storage capacity. Fourteen- to 20-hour audio run time and three- to six and a half-hour video run times are supplemented by new downloadable movies and games, ever-growing collection of compatible car, home, and portable accessories, including several audio recorders. Fully compatible with existing 5G iPod cases. Top-priced model’s overall battery and storage capacity is wonderful.
Cons: Though improved in brightness and color accuracy over prior version, 2.5” screen is still too small for long-term video viewing, and users still must convert videos to one of only two compatible video formats. Unlike photos and videos, games can only be played on the iPod’s small screen, and sometimes with poorly implemented controls. Users must download iTunes themselves prior to using iPod. Interface is in need of further visual updating.
After years of suggesting that its iPod platform was "all about the music," Apple Computer eleven months ago released its first iPod with video playback capabilities, the fifth-generation "iPod (with video)" (iLounge rating: A-/B+). A still image from U2's Original of the Species live music video graced the original 5G iPod's box, and Apple began to sell music videos and TV shows through its iTunes Store.
This week, the iPod's transformation from music player to multimedia device throttled forward. After touting the tremendous growth of its TV show library - but hardly mentioning music videos - Apple added both movie and game downloads to the iTunes Store, and offered newly "enhanced" fifth-generation iPods to take advantage of the new types of content. Packaged in boxes featuring Johnny Depp from Pirates of the Caribbean on one side and the song Dani California from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Stadium Arcadium on the other, the Enhanced 5G models promised superior screen quality, video playback time, a new search feature, and superior price-to-capacity ratios than their predecessors.
In short, the new 30GB iPod ($249) and 80GB iPod ($349) deliver entirely on these promises, and though they still fall short of the larger screen viewing experience that movies and other forms of video content unquestionably deserve, they are better values than the original 30GB and 60GB iPods that came before. This article updates our earlier 5G iPod review with tests of the new models' batteries, screens, and other features; if you're familiar with our previous coverage, our drop-down text lets you read the entire update review, or easily skip to the Interface and Menus: New Features and Conclusions section below.
What is the Enhanced Fifth-Generation iPod? (Click here for details.)
Box Design and Contents (Click here for details.)
What's Missing from the Box (Click here for details.)
The New iPod: What's Outside (Click here for details.)
What's Inside (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus: Audio (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus: New Features (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus: Photos (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus: Video (Click here for details.)
New Interface Features: Games (Click here for details.)
Interface Features: Extras and Settings (Click here for details.)
Familiar Features (Click here for details.)
Battery Performance and Transfer Speeds (Click here for details.)
Audio Quality (Click here for details.)
Value (Click here for details.)
Accessories (Click here for details.)
When we rated the original fifth-generation iPod as an A-/B+ product last year, our feeling was that Apple had created its best audio and photo device ever, with cleaner audio, more features, better photo quality and special transition effects than in any prior iPod. But by taking a baby step rather than a full leap into the video market, it had only barely tapped the surface of what it could and should be doing with visual playback functionality. Though it was attractively priced and tied to iTunes' great media management software, the original 5G iPod suffered from too-short video playback times, hard drive capacities that wouldn't totally satisfy power users, and limited support for popular video formats.
Nearly one year later, the Enhanced 5G iPod is an unquestionably better offering, inexpensively offering considerably better storage and video/photo battery life if you need it in the 80GB model, and noticeably better screen and search functionality even in the 30GB model. Both models benefit from other tweaks added via firmware to original 5G iPods, such as gapless audio playback, support for better-quality, downloadable games, and user-configurable brightness controls, each of which further enhances the iPod experience - and without any mandatory extra cost for the user. As such, today's 5G iPods are better than their predecessors, and especially because of Apple's lower prices, we have no hesitation about highly recommending them to all of our readers as truly great devices. They're also significantly better values in most regards than the $249 8GB iPod nano, and in all ways save size, technologically closer to the "ideal" iPod in features and capacity.
But as a 2.5"-screened video player, the 5G iPod - enhanced or original - can't help but leave users wanting more. When playing back short-duration TV shows, games, or music videos, or when inside a separate accessory with its own larger, integrated screen, the iPod does a good job, but for feature-length movies and long-term viewing, the screen is obviously sub-optimal and needs to be replaced - or at least, offset by a separate, more video-centric iPod model.
As it stands, the choice between today's full-sized 30GB iPod and new 8GB iPod nano is, in our view, a draw: if you're trying to decide between them, it should be fairly easy: if small size and audio run time are your key considerations, go with the nano, otherwise, pick the higher-capacity, video and game-ready 5G. That said, new iPod owners will be thrilled with either 5G model's performance for the dollar - especially the capacious, long-running 80GB; unless a bigger screen is a requisite, existing iPod owners will find these models exceptionally tempting.