Review: Apple iPod photo Power Users’ Review | iLounge


Review: Apple iPod photo Power Users’ Review

Highly Recommended

Company: Apple Computer


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.

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.



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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