Review: Apple Computer iPod U2 Special Edition (with video)
Pros: A cosmetic update of the standard black 30GB iPod, featuring a red Click Wheel, engraved U2 band signatures, and darker-colored top, bottom, and rear metal/plastic components. Includes a “free” code for an iTunes download of a 33-minute U2 video.
Cons: Identical in all other respects to Apple’s standard 30GB iPod (with video), which sells for less. Loses prior U2 pack-ins - a U2 poster, and a discount coupon towards purchase of U2 music. Not as appealing to crossover (read: non-U2 fan) buyers as past models due to release of all-black standard iPods.
Is it an encore? A snore? Apple Computer’s third edition of the iPod U2 Special Edition ($329) is here, and not surprisingly, it’s only a modestly different version of Apple’s standard black 30GB iPod (iLounge rating: A-/B+). Like the first U2 iPod, debuted in October, 2004 and released that November (with a black and white screen, as well as the subsequent color version), what you get for the premium price is a black and red iPod with the signatures of U2’s bandmates on the back, and a token U2-specific pack-in. As before, there’s no bump in storage capacity over the standard $299 iPod - back then, it bought you 20 Gigabytes of space, now, it buys 30. We highlight the new model’s various differences below, and refer you to our earlier October 2005 review of the standard iPod for everything else save our rating.
Changes: the iPod, Box, and Pack-Ins
There’s no need to rehash the obvious: this is a black iPod with a bright red Click Wheel, its icons still spelled out in white rather than black. And it’s the first U2 iPod with a video screen, capable of playing back videos for a bit over 2 hours on a single battery charge, with audio running for 14-15 hours if you don’t play with equalizers or the backlight. But there are a couple of differences between this model and all of its predecessors. First, it is the first iPod to feature a black metal rear casing, still mirror-polished like all full-sized iPods and nanos, but now noticeably darker than before. Other manufacturers have referred to this as “mirror black” finish, as contrasted with the brighter, neutral-mirrored finish of earlier iPods. The only surprise here is a second change: Apple has carried over the darker color to all of the iPod’s other light components, save the lettering on its Click Wheel: the top headphone port, Hold switch, and Dock Connector ports are all now matte black. While we think the new back and black parts are a better match with the black front iPod casing than the brighter original components, and hope to see them trickle down to standard black iPods and nanos, we don’t think they’re worth a price premium, especially with all the signatures engraved at the top. You’ll need to be a U2 fan to really prefer them there - no surprise - and if you’re not, will wish they were absent.
Also included in the package is a matching black carrying case, which will serve as a temporary holder until you buy something better. As noted in a recent iLounge news story, this case is the same as the ones now included with non-U2 iPods, and thus no special bonus for U2 buyers.
As compared against the earlier U2 iPod’s boxes, the latest version is pretty plain - nearly identical to the standard 5G iPod’s. Bono’s visage is still on the iPod’s screen, the new black back is highlighted on the rear, and iPod U2 logos appear on the front and back. Like the logos, a “Special Edition U2” tag appears on the box’s top in silver foil.
This time, two photos of the band - one in its early days, one contemporary - are hidden on the sides of the interior box that slides out to reveal the iPod and its pack-ins. That’s pretty much all you’ll see of U2 inside: Apple has removed the “$50 off” coupon previously included for The Complete U2 Digital Box Set, as well as the oversized U2 photo poster that featured musings from Bono on its back. You can see shots of the poster in our earlier U2 reviews; it wasn’t anything great, but gave U2 fans something tangible to collect besides the iPod.
The box’s other pack-ins are nothing new - the USB cable, headphones, and Universal Dock Adapter are all in white, along with manuals, warranties, an iTunes disc, and Apple stickers. This will come as a disappointment, but no surprise, to the myriad iPod fans who have been waiting for black accessories to match their increasingly black iPods. Your option remains the same: buy them separately, and not from Apple.
It’s worth a brief note that Apple’s front design has become pretty predictable through two prior generations of this design, so much so in fact that the company Moshi actually beat Apple to a 5G release of that design with iGlaze video, a black and red face plate that achieves a virtually identical front look, lacking only the new U2’s rear and port recoloration. If you’re really jonesing to replicate the U2 iPod without upgrading, iGlaze video sells for the same price as the $30 premium you’ll pay for the new U2 iPod over an identically equipped standard black iPod; a comparison photo is below.
Finally, here are a couple of comparison shots showing the fourth-generation and fifth-generation U2 iPods next to each other. You’ll note that Apple has deleted the U2 iPod’s storage capacity designation from the newer model - presumably because U2 iPods only ship in a single, 30GB capacity - but left the signatures and other iconography unchanged.
The “Free” Exclusive Love U2 Video
The past two U2 pack-ins have been replaced with a different promotional item - the first “exclusive” video content to be offered as a premium with an iPod - a color, card stock iTunes Music Store card with the words “Free exclusive music video from U2” on the front, and a redemption code on the back. We’ll skip the snarky comment on the use of the word “free,” which we’re assuming was done for legal reasons - the same Apple Corps-related ones that precluded Apple Computer from shipping the iPod with the video preinstalled or on a disc. Regardless, we doubt Apple will be giving away cards without the U2 iPod attached. You’ll need the code to enter at the iTMS - once it’s entered, you’ll receive via immediate download a 33-minute, 42-second video called Love U2, featuring a mix of live music and interviews with the band.
The video’s contents have all previously aired in separate places. At the beginning, and in keeping with the Love theme, Bono sings “Love, Love, Love” from Until the End of the World, which fades into a series of interview snippets from the band discussing their evolution into more dance-friendly music. Then there’s an extended performance of Mofo from Mexico City in 1997, followed by a very young band performing I Will Follow in 1981 from the Queens University Students Union. Up next is a mid-career interview and performance of God Part II, and an interview discussing the band’s attempt to challenge fans with its evolution and Zoo TV production. U2 performs Where The Streets Have No Name as part of Zoo TV, then later career interview clips follow, with a performance of Beautiful Day. The video finishes with How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb-period discussions of tour production experiences, and a live performance in Milan of City of Blinding Lights, complete with a massive display wall behind the band. Credits at the end note all of the video’s contributors.
Since nothing’s changed under the hood of the U2 iPod, we’ll refer you to our October 2005 fifth-generation iPod review (iLounge rating: A-/B+) for all the other details but one: our overall rating. The differences between U2 iPods and their standard edition brethren have always been three in number - cosmetics, token pack-ins, and modestly different pricing - and in the past, we’ve generally not felt them deserving of different ratings. However, though the U2 iPod hasn’t changed much, the world has changed around it - Apple now sells even more attractive all-black iPods, eliminating the single biggest draw of past U2 Special Editions, and leaving most new and current iPod buyers saying the same thing: “the black rear casing’s great, but who wants to pay extra for a red Click Wheel and a U2 video?” The answer is fairly obvious: U2 fans. Who don’t have one of the past U2 iPods. Maybe.
Like many of our readers, we view the new U2 iPods as interesting, but ultimately disappointing in the sense that they come so many months into the 5G iPod’s life but bring so little additional value to the table. It’s not just that the video clips blended into Love U2 are previously aired material, or that there’s no poster, coupon, or other special U2 item in the box, but that the cool factor of a black-and-red iPod has sunk over three generations, and needs replacing. Why not a red iPod with a black Click Wheel? We can only speculate, and note again that while adding the black rear metal was a nice touch, it’s not one we’d pay extra for. That change aside, for new users, the higher-priced, red-dotted iPod U2 Special Edition is simply not as big of a draw as a lower-priced 30GB black iPod, hence our slightly lower overall rating of this model relative to what Apple released late last year. At a time when Apple needs something bold to spark new iPod excitement, the U2 iPod feels long in the tooth, and delivers little more than what everyone would have had expected, if they had thought this model would ever appear again at all. That said, we still think this is a good iPod overall, though we remain anxious to see Apple do something truly new with the Special Edition concept.