Review: Apple Computer iPod 5G with Video (30GB/60GB)
Pros: An attractive, thinner-than-ever iPod enclosure with a bright, detailed 2.5” display. Three major audio bugs fixed (and only one minor new one introduced), resulting in best-sounding full-sized iPod yet, plus optional on-screen lyric display. Over fifteen-hour music play time for 30GB model beats Apple’s estimate, 60GB model runs nearly 20 hours. New clock, lock, and timer extras. Dramatically enhanced recording capabilities. Includes good starter case to protect against scratches.
Cons: Implementation of video functionality is incomplete, lacking hardware support for popular standards, and free software to convert existing videos. Though detailed, screen is smaller than both competitors and consumers’ expectations. Discontinuation of top-mounting accessory port precludes use of most prior iPod microphone, remote, Bluetooth, and FM transmitter accessories, and dropped FireWire data support obsoletes existing computer data cables and certain third-party accessories. No longer includes wall charger. Interface is largely unchanged from older iPod interface, and games are getting old.
We could write four different reviews of Apple Computer’s fifth-generation iPod (30GB/$299, 60GB/$399) - one from an audiophile’s perspective, one from a photographer’s perspective, one from a movie lover’s perspective, or one from a mainstream consumer’s perspective - but no single one of those reviews would do full justice to the company’s latest handheld creation. Like every iPod that has come before, this “iPod with video” is a surprisingly enthralling digital music player, somehow physically smaller than you’d imagined, better feeling in your hand, and just plain cooler than the sum of its features.
But because of its increasingly ambitious design, it will be reviewed differently by audiophiles, photographers, movie lovers and mainstream consumers - or at least their media proxies - with each finding things to like and dislike. For instance, as a digital music player, it is unquestionably superior to each of its full-sized predecessors, but it also drops support for certain top-mounted accessories that have become extremely popular. Similarly, it is even better at displaying photographs than last year’s iPod photo, but remains slow at direct-from-camera photo transfers, and drops compatibility with two of the iPod’s three bottom-mounting photo add-ons. And as a movie player, it is several major steps shy of what video fans have been hoping for. Yet for new iPod buyers and mainstream consumers - people who were willing to line up by the millions to buy a $299 20GB iPod last month with lesser specifications, it is a better value in almost every way than before.
Which of these perspectives is right? All of them. Your appreciation of the new iPod will depend precisely on the lens through which you view it. If you are a new iPod buyer looking for a “music player with video as a bonus,” as Apple has pitched it, you will love it. By the same token, if you are expecting a sophisticated portable video player, you will most likely be disappointed. In our comprehensive review, we look at each of the new iPod’s features in turn, so that you can make the best decision about whether it’s right for your needs. Expand as many or as few of the sections below as you like.
What Is the Fifth-Generation iPod? (Click here for details.)
Box Design and Contents (Click here for details.)
What Software Comes With the iPod? And What’s Missing? (Click here for details.)
The New iPod: What’s Outside (Click here for details.)
The New iPod: What’s Inside (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus: Audio (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus: Photos (Click here for details.)
New Interface Features: Video (Click here for details.)
New Interface Features: Extras (Click here for details.)
Familiar Features, Revisited and Expanded (Click here for details.)
Battery Performance and Transfer Speeds (Click here for details.)
Audio Quality (Click here for details.)
Value (Click here for details.)
Compatibility of Existing Accessories (Click here for details.)
Compared With Other Devices (Click here for details.)
As suggested at the beginning of this review, rating the fifth-generation iPod is by no means an easy task: it is an outstanding music player and organizer, an increasingly impressive photo player - a beautiful piece of technology. And regardless of its only acceptable video performance, there is no device at its size and price that does all of these things as well as it does, or looks as elegant doing them. For first-time iPod buyers, especially those focused on its audio functionality, this is an exciting new product.
But there is also no getting around its omissions as a video player, or pretending that it is the sort of true Video iPod that would merit our unabated excitement and an unqualified high recommendation. Apple knows as much, having set the bar for itself since 2004 with accurate public statements it has since uneasily sidestepped. Specifically, though its 4:3 screen is better than expected, it is still too small, and the device is further limited by its short on-screen video playback time, inability to play existing videos in already-popular video standards, and its lack of free, fast tools to convert videos into its own formats. In essence, it is for video what the original iPod would have been like without MP3 support, a CD ripper, a good battery, and good headphones.
Though we entirely understand Apple’s “get video into people’s hands” strategy on the new iPod, we (and existing iPod owners) get excited when the company pursues the impossible, not just the practical. As with the iPod shuffle, it would be in our view a Pyrrhic victory if the company’s fortunes were built on “pretty good” implementations rather than “insanely great” ones. So while we acknowledge that this new iPod will sell in the millions, and may achieve Apple’s short-term goals, both it and the current state of video downloads from the iTunes Music Store have left us wanting more. Today, the new iPod is recommendable almost entirely on the strength of its stellar audio functionality. Our sincerest desire is that its successors become equally proficient in video.