Review: Apple iPod photo Power Users’ Review | iLounge

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A-Highly Recommended

Company: Apple Computer

Website: www.Apple.com

Model: iPod photo

Price: $499 (40GB), $599 (60GB)

Compatible: Mac, Windows

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Apple iPod photo Power Users’ Review

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge ()
Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Category: iPods

Pros: Apple’s best iPod yet, featuring a new color screen and user interface, photo display through itself and TV sets, and 17-hour battery life. Sixty-Gigabyte version sets new iPod capacity mark.

Cons: New features aren’t as fully realized or evolved as Power Users might expect; photo display functionality requires extended sync process, no instantaneous display of photos downloaded with peripheral accessories, expensive by comparison with other iPods that feature identical music playback capability.

Following recent tradition, iLounge now debuts the second of its iPod photo reviews: the first (which appears here and in the iLounge Buyers’ Guide 2004) was for new iPod users, and this one is for Power Users - those who are more familiar with Apple’s iPod hardware and want additional details beyond the scope of our first review. Thankfully, the iPod photo provides fertile ground for a Power Users’ review, as its target market consists of people with more money and greater demands than the average iPod user. And there’s plenty to say about all of its new features.

Wait: What’s the iPod photo?

If you’re asking that question, you should probably start by reading our New Users’ Review and checking out our first photo gallery. But in brief summary, the iPod photo is a color-screened version of the currently shipping fourth-generation (4G) iPod, with identical Click Wheel and hold switch controls, an acrylic-on-metal body, and entirely familiar ports for Dock Connector and top-mounting accessories. Two capacities (40GB, $499.00; 60GB, $599.00) are available, both identical in physical size and functionality, each possessing a higher-resolution screen than prior iPods and the ability to display digital photographs either on the iPod or on a television set using included video cables. Using Apple’s math, the 40GB version can hold 10,000 songs or nearly 17,000 digital photos, while the 60GB version can hold 15,000 songs or 25,000 photos. Apple now uses iTunes to synchronize the iPod photo with both music and photographs.

New Information Since Release

In recent months, each new iPod release has been fraught with post-launch marketing tweaks and changes: Apple removed Remote controls and Carrying Cases from the 4G iPod’s pack-in lists only hours after the product was announced, and similarly removed a promised Dock at the last minute from the list of the U2 iPod’s pack-ins. This new iPod is no different: weeks after release, Apple actually changed the name of the product, dropping the capitalization of the word “Photo” such that the name is now displayed as “iPod photo”. While consistent with the iPod mini’s lower case suffix, the new iPod photo name strikes us as a bit e.e. cummings and not quite as appropriate to the powerful new “photo” platform. Nevertheless, we now expect the lower case name style to continue across future iPod hardware releases, and it’s already beginning to appear on new iPod photo accessory packaging.

The Box

Thankfully, the iPod photo’s packaging represents a return to previous form for Apple: primarily white with clean photography and fontography, the 40GB and 60GB packages of the iPod photo discard the silhouette 4G box art we disliked in favor of the familiar, classy 3G and iPod mini packaging. Box sides subtly depict the new hardware’s same-as-4G body shape and controls along with its new color screen, as well as a close-up shot of the color screen displaying 25 thumbnail-sized pictures at once.

As with previous full-sized iPod boxes, the iPod photo’s box uses cubic origami art packaging, opening into two pieces and then dividing its central black cube into two halves with compartments full of goodies. While the software and manuals included in the box haven’t changed much, Apple now wisely includes two white Apple logo stickers with the iPod photo - suitable for placement on a car’s window or bumper - just as they’ve done with computers in recent years. Overall, we couldn’t be much happier with the iPod photo’s packaging; it’s clean, product-focused, and speaks to what we love about the brand.

That feeling extends to the iPod photo’s other pack-ins. We were startled and disappointed when the 4G iPod launched so bereft of goodies in its box, but Apple has mostly returned to form - so long as you’re willing to shell out the iPod photo’s $499 starting price. In addition to the 3G iPod’s familiar fabric and belt-clipped carrying case, the iPod photo includes a soft carry bag, USB and FireWire data cables, white earbuds, and a glossy white power supply. No iPod Remote control is in the box; Apple appears to have dropped it across the board from the iPod pack-in list. We’re hoping that’s because something better is on the way.

But to compensate, two new pack-ins come in every iPod photo box. First is the iPod photo Dock, which has all the features of Apple’s audio Dock (line-out audio port, Dock Connector port) but also contains a S-Video output port on its right rear side. Assuming that your TV includes an S-Video port, which most models sold over the past five years will, your TV will be able to display cleaner video than is possible with a standard yellow-tipped RCA “composite” video port, which has appeared on most TVs sold over the past ten or more years. (Both ports have been available on TVs dating back to the early 1990’s, but were not universally included; the older RCA ports have appeared on VCRs for two decades.) No S-Video cable is included in the package, however; you’ll have to use your own.

Instead of tossing in a S-Video cable, Apple opted to include a long white AV cable that plugs into the iPod photo’s headphone jack (!) and outputs both audio and RCA composite video to any television. The cable looks cool, and works well: because it uses the headphone jack, you can display photos and simultaneously play music through any television on the go without carrying around the iPod photo Dock. Users therefore have two options for audio/video output: lower-resolution but fully acceptable video and headphone-quality stereo audio with the cable, or cleaner video and audio through the photo Dock, Dock Connector port, and extra cables. 

Hardware Design: What’s Old, What’s New

From a distance, you’d never know the difference between a fourth-generation iPod and an iPod photo unless their screens were turned on. Both platforms include Apple’s one-handed Click Wheel control system, which made its first appearance in the iPod mini, plus the metal hold switch, customized top headphone port and bottom Dock Connector port that all originated in the 3G iPod. They feature identically modest engraving on their mirror-finished metallic rear casings, and a hybrid of white and clear acrylic plastic on their front casings. Neither features ports or external features absent from the other.

Even up close, the iPod photo’s body proves identically shaped but for thickness: both the 40GB and 60GB units are only a millimeter thicker and a mere 0.2 oz. heavier than a 40GB fourth-generation iPod. You can’t use them in Apple’s prior iPod Dock or certain dockable speaker systems because of their thickness, which is also ever-so-slightly thicker than a 40GB 3G iPod. But thankfully, the iPod photo doesn’t have the apparent heft or roughness of Apple’s first- and second-generation units: it remains easy to grasp and use in one hand, rounded at all corners, and iconically beautiful - but for the still slightly off-putting gray-colored Click Wheel introduced in the 4G iPod.

Unlike the 4G iPod, however, the iPod photo includes a very sufficient distraction from the Click Wheel: a transflective color screen that is without question more impressive than the ones included in any prior iPod hardware. Previous iPods were renowned for their high-contrast black-and-white screens, which modestly diminished with the 4G iPod’s use of a cheaper (but still four-shade) purplish display. The iPod photo’s screen renders all prior iPod screens cheap-looking by comparison. Evenly and strongly backlit from end to end, the 2” color screen is physically the same size as its predecessors, but packs more pixels into the same space: the new screen has 220 x 176 pixels (38,720 total) with 65,536 possible colors, up from 160 x 128 pixels (20,480 total) and only four shades of grays. The new screen represents an almost two-fold increase in detail and sixteen thousand times the color, both of which are sufficient to cleanly (if imperfectly) display color digital photographs.

While the new screen has fewer colors and a lower resolution than any modern computer monitor, it’s also crammed into a much smaller space and therefore looks quite good for what it is. Colors are generally vivid, and details - particularly in small thumbnails - are far sharper than one might imagine such a small screen would be capable of displaying. Every person to whom we have exposed the iPod photo agrees with us that the screen represents a very significant improvement over Apple’s past technology. It’s two steps better than the quality black-and-white screens used in last year’s third-generation iPods, but four steps above the less impressive purple-and-white fourth-generation iPod screens.

Though Apple might scoff at the suggestion, photograph display is almost the least of the iPod photo’s visual improvements. As discussed below, the company has improved the iPod’s operating system, using cleaner fonts and more colorful icons more reminiscent of the company’s Mac OS X platform. Using the iPod for music playback and other “old” applications has never been as attractive as it is on the iPod photo, and after using the device, it’s almost painful to have to step backwards to older iPod hardware. Prior iPod owners become at least a bit envious within seconds of seeing it, though many question whether the new features are worthy of the $100 price premium Apple is charging.

Generally, we think that they are. No one has disputed that the iPod photo’s new battery is a significant improvement for the platform, even if it is the reason the iPod photo’s case was modestly thickened. Used for music playback alone, both the 40GB and 60GB iPod photos now can run for even longer than Apple’s estimated fifteen hours of continuous audio: our first music-only test, for example, went for 17 hours, six minutes. When the iPod photo keeps its backlight on and displays audio/photo slideshows, it runs for a comparatively modest five-plus hours, which is longer than most people would practically need. The extra battery juice also dramatically enhances the iPod photo’s ability to use battery-draining top- and bottom-mounting accessories such as Belkin’s digital photo download devices and Griffin’s iTalk. We would rate the iPod photo’s extra battery power alone as a significant reason for hard-core iPod fanatics to seriously consider the newer hardware over a standard 4G iPod.

Then, of course, there’s the new 60GB hard disk. Rumored to be ready for use as an iPod component back before the launch of the 4G iPod, it never materialized in Apple’s lineup until the release of the iPod photo. Not surprisingly, it’s a substantial improvement from prior iPod drives, now featuring as much or more overall storage capacity as a typical laptop computer, and the concurrent potential to store not only music and photos but also vast quantities of data. While the 40GB iPod photo is a comparative bargain, the 60GB version is a Power User’s dream device.

Enhanced User Interface

In a perfect world, some people believe, iPods would share the icon-based interfaces, incredible graphic designs, and visual effects of Apple’s modern Mac OS X interface. The iPod photo’s new color interface unquestionably comes closer to that future than before, but still isn’t a radical icon-based redesign of the old iPod menu system: the same words, single-highlighted selection bars, and features are common to old and new iPods alike. Apple has added just enough color and detail to gloss up the iPod photo without obsoleting older black-and-white iPods, a choice that is probably good for brand continuity but potentially competitively dangerous - few people would want Microsoft or Sony to become the Apple of the portable digital media OS world, and by sticking with text-based interfaces, Apple risks becoming the IBM it all but vanquished with the original Macintosh computer.

On a positive note, we liked virtually every one of Apple’s new changes to the older iPod interface. While sticking with a dark single-colored text on white background interface, Apple has added some OS X Aqua-influenced splashes of color and style to the iPod photo’s icons, meters and scroll bars. Blue liquid bars now appear on the rights of screens for scrolling, and as an indication of the current volume level. The company’s unique abstract sunburst “busy loading” wheel now appears in a corner of the screen, and the iPod photo boots to a silver glassine Apple logo against a black background. Perhaps best of all, Apple has switched from its classic Chicago font to the classier Myriad, unifying the iPod photo’s displays with the company’s print and TV marketing fonts.

Because of the iPod photo’s higher screen resolution, Apple can now display more lines of text on a single screen - seven full lines on main menus, eleven in Notes and Contacts, in addition to the iPod photo’s top name/date/battery status bar. Yet it’s just as readable as before, if not smoother because the edges of the fonts are blended rather than harsh-edged. Apple even permits long song, album and artist names to scroll from right to left in menus (not just in the Now Playing mode), so you can see far more text per menu line than the prior iPod’s screen displayed in static form.

Better yet, Apple now allows users to transfer album artwork stored in iTunes to the iPod photo for immediate display during song playback. While the familiar song, artist, and album name appear on-screen, a small color icon of the song’s associated album cover will appear off to the left-hand side. Clicking on the iPod’s center action button magnifies the album art to a larger (though not full-screen) view. Assuming you haven’t downloaded your music through iTunes, where the art is included for free, it’s easy enough to paste any JPEG or GIF image of your choice as album art into iTunes, and iTunes automatically transfers that artwork to the iPod photo with minimal user interaction. There are things we would improve, such as optionally increasing the resolution of the album image and permitting a full-screen display, but overall this is a nice, if not strictly useful new feature.

What’s missing from the new user interface is fairly obvious: further graphical pizzazz and user customization. Apple clearly understands the ooh and aah factor of zooming-in graphics, transparency effects, and more detailed icons, but has given the iPod photo relatively modest capabilities in these regards. No one would confuse most of the device’s visuals with those in the Mac OS X operating system, and though the included icons are fine, the company could and surely will do better. Alternately (or in addition), the company could let users add their own icons, backgrounds, fonts and customized menus to the iPod’s interface - the precise benefits that elevated the Macintosh so considerably over its competitors years ago. As engraving has amply demonstrated, the iPod one customizes is the one she loves and keeps, and the inclusion of a color screen only enhances our desire for such additional functionality.

It’s also worth noting that with the exception of a few visual software tweaks and the photo capabilities discussed below, Apple has not taken any steps forward in user-requested user interface features such as adjustable equalizers or support for other file formats, despite the iPod photo’s certain capacity to offer such features. To the best of our knowledge, album art displays weren’t at the top of anyone’s list of requested new features, and likely would have been somewhere near the bottom of ours. Additionally, the same bugs that afflict older iPods still appear in the iPod photo: entire song collections mysteriously appear to disappear after some file synchronizations, only to reappear if you manually hard-reset the iPod, and there are very infrequent (but still unexplained) minor lock-ups or pauses when loading new songs. We also noticed that the iPod photo sometimes doesn’t properly record the output from voice recorders such as Griffin’s iTalk, and requires a hard-reset to properly acknowledge and record from those devices. These issues will be unlikely to seriously affect most iPod photo users, but are still issues nonetheless.

As a final note, Apple has radically changed the iPod photo’s diagnostic menus, as we have documented at considerable length in an iLounge feature article. While these changes (including a color screen test mode) won’t be of importance to most users, power users and tinkerers may enjoy the screenshot gallery and guide we’ve assembled.

Familiar Applications

Though there are hints that Apple is looking to expand the iPod platform beyond music and photography, you wouldn’t know it from the iPod photo’s updated non-music applications: they are all just visually-enhanced versions of the programs and games that Apple’s included for the last year or so. Here’s what’s changed:

Clock: Nothing, except that the digital clock is now smaller on the iPod photo’s screen than before, thanks to the screen’s higher pixel count.

Contacts: Up to eleven lines of small text now fit on the screen rather than seven and a half, and each of these lines contains more characters on the iPod photo’s screen. Contacts alternate between blue and white backgrounds with black text.

Calendar: Now shows not only this month (in blue) but also preceding and following months’ days (in gray). One of the most visually appealing application updates.

Notes: Like Contacts, more text fits on the screen than before.

Games: Brick, Parachute and Solitaire all include cleaner and more detailed color graphics, but play virtually identically to their predecessors. You can now continuously scroll in Solitaire from left to right back to left by moving on the Click Wheel. Parachute’s enemies are larger than before. Music Quiz now displays all of its text in the center of the screen rather than overlapping the iPod’s top name/date/battery bar, and due to a bug, occasionally cannot find any music to quiz you on.

Voice Memo and Photo Import sub-applications work as they did before, but Voice Memo exhibits a bit of bugginess unless you reset the iPod photo after plugging in the associated accessory.

We continue to hope that Apple will remedy these bugs and expand the iPod photo’s suite of built-in programs. A color visualizer and/or screensavers to go along with music playback would be especially welcome, though we suspect that the company may instead try to sell iPod games (quite possibly a bad idea, at least with currently shipping hardware) and add other mini-applications (Calculator, etc.) that mightn’t control well with the iPod’s Click Wheel controller. It will be highly interesting to see what software direction(s) Apple ultimately takes with the iPod platform, and whether the current control scheme is sufficient to make them truly usable.

The Audio Defect: Quieter but Still Present

Over the past five months, iLounge has documented an audio defect that occasionally impacts the headphone jack output of certain fourth-generation iPods, mixing the sounds of static and hard drive accessing noises with one or both channels of the iPod’s audio. This defect is noticeable only when the affected 4G iPod loads additional audio content from its hard drive, and Apple has been aware of it since late July. There have been widespread reports that Apple is capable of replacing problem units with working ones.

We had hoped that the defect would be fixed in the iPod photo, which although largely similar to a 4G iPod inside obviously does include some tweaks and improvements. And it may have been fixed - to a limited extent. iLounge has tested three separate iPod photo units, and each intermittently exhibits the same symptoms: a very light and less noticeable hard drive accessing sound, with little or no static overlapping audio playback. One of these units is currently in Apple’s hands for testing and diagnosis, without further comment from the company.

Placed in the broader perspective of the iPod’s A-caliber musical performance, the Audio Defect is a minor annoyance, but it still merits mention - especially in a Power Users’ Review of the product. Not only is it most noticeable when using higher-end headphones used by serious audiophiles, but Power Users are far more likely to detect and care about such problems than new users, and consumer expectations for $499-$599 high-end portable hardware are even higher than they are for $249 iPod minis. How bad is it? While we would characterize the 4G iPod’s defect as a 30-35% annoyance, the iPod photo’s defect is closer to a 10% or smaller annoyance - still something that Apple should fix, but not something that will seriously bother every iPod photo user. We do not like to harp upon this issue, but feel obliged to bring it to our readers’ attention until it has been fully corrected.

Oh Yeah - it Plays Back Photos, Too

With the cosmetic exceptions of its user interface and screen, ninety percent of the iPod photo’s functionality is the same as a fourth-generation iPod. The critically different ten percent, however, is its ability to display color digital photographs transferred from a computer.

Note that we’re not heralding its ability to store digital photographs, because older iPods alike can already do that, thanks not only to the iPod’s (and iPod mini’s) ability to serve as a computer hard disk, but also to 3G and 4G iPod peripherals from Belkin that can transfer photos directly from cameras and memory cards onto the iPod’s drive. The big change is that the new iPod can show digital photos on its own screen, or use the included iPod photo Dock or AV cables to display them on a television set instead. The big surprise is that the iPod photo cannot display pictures that were transferred onto its hard disk using these Belkin peripherals, and neither Apple nor any third-party has announced any additional hardware to accomplish that seemingly no-brainer task.

Why not? Well, at least for the moment, it appears that the iPod photo cannot quickly or optimally re-size full-sized digital photographs for display on its tiny, limited color display. Apple requires users to have iTunes pre-process all photographs to be displayed on the iPod photo’s screen, which presently exhibits two problems: first, the iTunes photograph interface wasn’t especially intuitive. We’d expected in Apple fashion that our first sync of the iPod photo with iTunes would bring up a photo transfer menu, some new conspicuous Photo button, or wizard to guide us through the process, but none of these was the case. We actually had to use the iPod photo’s manual to find the photo transfer button, which was hidden in an iTunes options menu and didn’t appear properly the first time because our Mac failed to recognize that it was connected to an iPod photo. A restart of the computer thankfully fixed the problem. Sure, this is an early adopter’s bug and likely to be remedied in an upcoming release of iTunes, but it detracted from our initial plug-and-play experience.

Second, your first synchronization of the iPod with a computer’s photo library may be agonizingly long - perhaps even longer than syncing with your computer’s music library. Our 2,500-photo collection took 90 minutes to pre-process on an Apple PowerBook G4, and around three times longer on a fairly modern test PC. Serious photographers have previously complained that the 3G and 4G iPods’ digital photo accessories were slow to the point of delinquency, and the iTunes sync-before-playback requirement and associated delays aren’t likely to win fans from that crowd. From our perspective, however, an initial sync of an hour or two’s duration isn’t unacceptable, given that subsequent synchronizations to transfer new photos are relatively short (single-digit minutes) and take no effort on your part save plugging the iPod in. Making this entire process shorter and easier - even if it requires new iPod hardware with a more sophisticated photo resizing processor - will endear the iPod photo or its successors to more users in the future.

On the bright side, photos generally looked very good once they’d been transferred to the iPod photo, displaying surprising levels of detail and alternating between subtle and vibrant color despite the limitations of the unit’s screen. At around half the resolution (38,720 total pixels) of screens commonly used in low-end digital cameras (78,000) and a third of mid-range ones (118,000), the iPod photo’s scaled-down on-screen images still remain more than acceptable for portable slide shows, and are clean enough to be shown on most contemporary televisions without any audience complaints. Pure reds (not yellows or oranges) appeared to be clipped a little bit on the iPod photo’s screen, but that may have been attributable to color processing in our test camera.

Playback of photos can be achieved in either an entirely manual mode or through an organized Slideshow feature. If you just want to view photos individually and manually, the iPod photo (thanks to iTunes and helper applications such as iPhoto) lets you access playlist-style subsets of your collection: click on Photo Library for the entire collection, Last Roll for whatever you most recently transferred, and Last 12 Months for the last year of your pictures. What you’ve transferred and the list of associated photo playlists depends on what you’ve selected to transfer using iTunes, and how you’ve organized your collection with iPhoto, Adobe Photoshop Album, or Adobe Photoshop Elements. (You can alternately just dump your entire collection of pictures into your PC’s My Pictures folder or another folder on your PC or Mac, and pull them over in bulk that way.)

The iPod photo’s screen stacks 25 thumbnails to a page in a five-by-five grid, and you scroll through pages of these grids by touching the Click Wheel to move and selecting them with the Action button as you desire. Despite their small size and our concern that they’d be hard to discern from one another, the thumbnail photos are impressively identifiable - almost as good as in Apple’s simulated photos of the screen. Scrolling through photos in the thumbnail mode is a little too fast, but otherwise fine; we’ll hope for a tweak in future firmware. Once you pick a picture, you can move back and forth through the complete collection by pressing the iPod photo’s forward or back Click Wheel buttons, and continue to adjust the volume of whatever music you were hearing with the surface of the Wheel. Regrettably, you can’t change music tracks or initiate new playback while watching pictures; what’s playing is playing.

The alternative to manual mode is the Slideshow, a sequential (or randomized) presentation of the photos in your collection, displayed at your choice of paces (2, 3, 5, 10, 20, or unlimited seconds of delay) with musical accompaniment taken from either iPhoto or your playlists - pre-programmed, On-the-Go, or silent. Perhaps most impressive about the iPod photo is its ability to alter the slideshow’s sequencing and features without computer involvement: you can choose movie-style “wipe” transitions between photos, music, and other dimensions of the presentation from a new Slideshow Settings menu. Slideshows begin whenever you hit Play on the Click Wheel, and display a cool gray glass bezeled Pause icon whenever you stop the show, with a similar bezeled Play icon whenever it resumes.

If displayed on the iPod, the pictures take up almost the full screen if they were shot in landscape mode, or appear with black side borders if they were shot in portrait orientation and properly rotated before transfer to the iPod. But if you’re using a TV to display the photos, the iPod photo’s screen becomes a remote control display, showing you the immediately prior, current and next pictures in the Slideshow sequence - a nice idea if you’re using the Slideshow for a professional presentation and want to match your words to what’s coming up, or easily recall what just came before. In any display mode, the iPod’s forward button skips forward a photo, reverse goes back a photo, and Menu takes you out of the Slideshow into the text menu system.

In sum, the iPod photo’s digital photograph storage and display capabilities are good, though neither groundbreaking nor perfectly implemented. We truly liked the way 95% of our pictures looked on its screen, though we’ve seen better small screens on portable devices, and once the initial hurdle of optimizing and transferring photographs had been passed, we found it easy to display them on the iPod photo and televisions.

Without question, the iPod photo’s single most glaring omission is its inability to transfer photographs off of cameras or memory cards without a supplementary accessory, and its related inability to immediately display those photographs on its screen once transferred. Less expensive though admittedly less stylish and elegant devices were equipped with both features three years ago, and serious photographers have already expressed strong reservations about the iPod photo’s utility as a consequence. The jury’s still out on whether mainstream consumers will want or actually find uses for this photo functionality, but iLounge is currently inclined to view it as a cool novelty that just happens to accompany the newest iPod’s outstanding battery life and potential additional storage capacity. That’s surely not what Apple intended, but absent a more fully-featured transfer and display mechanism, that’s what the iPod photo offers photographically. We’ll see what future firmware and software updates do to change this.

Value and Conclusions

There are two primary ways to evaluate the iPod photo, and we know which we prefer: judged against Apple’s prior $499 30GB and 40GB iPods sold only last year, the current $499 iPod photo is an almost unmitigated success - double the battery life, expanded visual functionality, and as much or more storage capacity for the dollar. It’s an improvement in almost every way (except thickness, price, that pesky audio defect, and the Click Wheel’s aesthetic) over what came before. The 60GB version offers 50% more storage capacity at only a 20% higher price, which while very high by iPod and portable music standards is within the price range of the sort of Power Users who might covet it.

The other way to view the iPod photo is as a failure of imagination: the coupling of a quality backlit color screen and tremendous storage capacity with a feature (computer-tethered digital photo display) no one asked for and none of the features (integrated photo transfer, video display, enhanced music playback, visualization) real people might really want. Clearly, there are those who have already espoused this viewpoint, and while we generally disagree with them, there’s also little doubt that the iPod photo’s current incarnation will leave many users wanting more. Hopefully Apple will be able to accomplish at least some of these features in software rather than replacing the iPod photo with something entirely new.

Our own experiences with the iPod photo have been generally very positive. We now use it as our primary “take everywhere” iPod and prefer its screen and storage capacity to everything else we’ve tried. Photo playback remains a bit of an on-off feature for us, even though we’ve now transferred roughly 3,000 pictures to the unit: it’s an amusing way to pass time on an airplane and an occasional parlor trick when visiting with friends or family, but not a feature for which we have found a practical use. And we say that as serious digital photographers. A more fully-equipped photo transfer device would have been far more useful.

That said, there’s little doubt once you’ve used the iPod photo that its new screen and interface will be in virtually every full-sized iPod Apple sells two or three years from now, and by that standard, it’s an important product. Hopefully its battery life will wind up in future iPods, too. True, its limitations, combined with sticker shock over the 60GB version’s price, may put some buyers off. But the 40GB version is a major step over last year’s $499 model, and a great value given all of its pack ins and power - definitely Apple’s best iPod released this year.

Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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