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.

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.

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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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