Review: Apple iPod photo Power Users’ Review | iLounge

Review

Review: Apple iPod photo Power Users’ Review

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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Jeremy Horwitz

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.

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.

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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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