Review: iLuv i1055 / Zeon Z1055 7-Inch Portable Tablet Style DVD Player for iPod with video
Pros: A $250 accessory that adds a large 7” screen, speakers, and DVD player to your fifth-generation iPod, complete with good Infrared remote control, car and wall chargers, internal rechargeable battery, AV in/out cables, iPod dock, and case. Screen is major enhancement over 5G iPod’s 2.5” display; speakers and dual headphone ports work well for quiet or ambient multi-person listening. DVD functionality generally works well, with full standalone DVD player features.
Cons: iPod integration appears to be of secondary importance: remote doesn’t control iPod in any way; iPod dock is in unit’s rear, requiring you to use iPod’s controls by hand; screen settings require you to switch unit into DVD playback mode. Device is large enough that included case really should be used; will fill half a briefcase on its own. Battery life okay for one DVD or tapping out 30GB iPod’s internal battery, not the match of 60GB/80GB iPods’ longer batteries, and can’t be user-replaced.
Ever since Apple released the fifth-generation iPod - “(with video)” - the world has been waiting for the company to finish what it started: its 2.5” screen can display TV shows and movies, but not comfortably for multi-hour holding and watching. While the clock ticks down on an Apple-developed option, third-party developers have proposed several comfort-enhancing accessories - cases with pop-out stands, video goggles, and new iPod docks that contain their own larger screens. Several companies have been working on such display docks, but to date, only one has actually been released: iLuv’s new i1055, subtitled the 7” Portable Multimedia Tablet Style DVD Player for iPod with video ($250). It’s available now in all-white and all-black versions, each made from sturdy-feeling hard plastics.
[Editor’s Note: On September 20, 2006, we added a letter grade to this product to rank it relative to options from two competing products, as we noted would happen when this review was originally posted, and updated our conclusions at the bottom to reflect this. Since publication of our review, iLuv has dropped i1055’s price to $230, and sold a rebadged version as the Zeon Z1055 for under $200.]
The i1055 adds two major features to a 5G iPod, most notably a 7” widescreen (16:9) display that substantially improves the iPod’s video functionality, and a full-fledged DVD player capable of playing back purchased and rented video discs. Powered by a built-in Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable battery and included wall charger, i1055 is capable of operating as a standalone portable DVD player or iPod video enhancer while you travel, though it stretches the definition of portability: it measures roughly 10” by 6” by 2.5”, a footprint that will fit inside a typical briefcase, but fill at least half of it. As an offset, iLuv includes an appropriately-sized, nice-looking black mesh fabric carrying case with each unit, plus a carrying strap so that you can hold it like a bag. A second carrying strap, matched to the i1055’s body color, is included if you prefer just to carry the unit and not the bag.
By recent standards, iLuv’s collection of other pack-ins is pretty impressive for the price: you get a color-matched remote control and car charger, a pair of white headphones, dock sizers for 30GB, 60GB, and 80GB iPods, and separate, minijack-style composite audio and video cables for i1055-to-TV or external device-to-i1055 input or output. None of these items is stunning - the headphones for instance sound good but are large and not stylish - but they all do what they’re supposed to do. The i1055 also has a pop-out stand built into its back, which lets you keep the unit reclined but upright for viewing, and an iPod dock in the center of the stand. iLuv includes a protective shell that lets you see the iPod’s screen and access its controls while docked; only the Click Wheel is exposed.
The shell design is unfortunately necessary because you’ll need occasional access to the iPod’s screen and Click Wheel controls. Because of limitations on the iPod’s video output - namely, its lack of on-screen menus - you need to select a video to watch using the iPod’s own screen, choose “TV Out” playback from its Video Settings menu, then set the i1055 to “iPod” input mode to watch playback. This is fine for long videos, but not great if you plan to toggle back and forth a lot through music videos or shorter clips. By contrast, DVD playback is controlled entirely through i1055 on-screen menus and built-in buttons, just like a typical DVD player; the iPod really needs a similar video interface.
You have several listening options, as well. Besides two speakers found on the unit’s front top left and right sides - adequate for their intended purpose - there are two headphone ports on the top for quiet one- or two-person listening, and a line-out audio minijack port if you want to connect external speakers. A single analog volume knob controls the speakers and headphone ports’ levels. Other ports and switches are also found on the unit’s top: there’s an S-Video minijack port, a composite video out minijack port, and a switch to let you watch the DVD player, auxiliary video input, or iPod video. Additionally, a power switch sits next to the power-in port.
i1055’s front has DVD player-style controls: a joypad for menu navigation and an enter key on the left, above pause and chapter forward/backward buttons; an IR sensor for the remote and power lights (standby/charge/full) underneath. On the right are setup, title menu, DVD menu, and display buttons, with play and stop buttons below. All of these face buttons worked as expected in our DVD playback tests, but they’re all disabled during iPod mode, regrettably including the screen controls. You’ll need to change brightness, contrast, and color settings in the DVD player’s Setup screen in order to see the settings carry over to iPod viewing, which is a bit of a pain.
The good news about i1055 is that its DVD player works pretty much as you’d expect. To open the DVD player, you press a button on the unit’s bottom, then pop out i1055’s screen to insert the DVD. Once you’ve closed the screen, i1055 boots up its own cloudy iLuv screen, then the DVD’s main menu, and you pop out the stand in back to watch video - up close, or at a distance. If you prefer more complex controls than the ones on the unit’s face, or just want to move further away from the screen, the included 48-button remote control is more than comparable in versatility to the ones included with full-fledged home DVD players, and offers all of the same features.
There’s a full numeric keypad, buttons to adjust the display and all facets of video playback, including all major DVD player functions - 1X-4X zoom modes, subtitles, 3D audio effects, and even little-used features such as angle, a digest mode, and bookmarking. Again, they all work as expected, and from a impressive distance away - nearly 20 feet with interference from fluorescent lighting, and 30 feet without, very good by Infrared standards. A pure line of sight between the remote and sensor isn’t necessary, but helps performance.
Another plus for i1055 is that the integrated widescreen is surprisingly good - at least, under most circumstances. Though we don’t have the full specifications handy at press time, the screen clearly has a noticeably superior resolution to the iPod’s 320x240 internal display, rendering DVDs - and higher-than-standard resolution iPod videos - in greater detail, with nice color and mostly even backlighting. Blacks aren’t super black, but the screen doesn’t look washed out or otherwise unacceptable during iPod video playback, and as suggested before can be tweaked to your preferred brightness and contrast levels, unlike the 5G iPod itself. If you’re a finicky videophile, you might take some exception to two of its limitations: first, slight warble in the video signal during DVD playback, which isn’t an issue during iPod playback, and the screen’s limited viewing angle. Like the iPod’s own screen, it does best when viewed straight-on, though it is also pretty strong when viewed to the left or right, and limited only when viewed horizontally off-center. Because i1055 has so many potential applications - use on airplanes, nightstands, desks, cars, and laps - we think it really would benefit from a more adjustable rear stand, capable of rendering its screen more viewable to users positioned at different angles.
The rest of the i1055 story is less positive, but not terrible. After several days of testing two different units, we came away with two basic conclusions: first, this is a portable DVD player that was hastily retrofitted to hold an iPod; but second, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Particularly given that the world currently lacks fast and internationally legal DVD-to-iPod encoding tools, there’s something to be said for the idea of packing away a few movie discs and your iPod and toggling between them while you’re traveling. People who haven’t encoded their movie collections into iPod formats may well find the i1055’s hybrid approach useful, and to the extent that they want a full-fledged, TV-ready DVD player with able remote control, they’ll find one here. (It’s worth only a brief note that the unit also plays MP3 CDs, if that feature for some reason appeals to you.)
They’ll also find that i1055 is competently equipped for on-the-go iPod or DVD playback. Using the integrated battery, you can expect close to 3.5 hours of iPod playback time from the screen - we had 3:26 on one test, 3:40 on another - which is enough to modestly exceed the on-TV battery life of today’s 30GB iPods, but fall short of the maximum (5:20+) runtime of 60GB models. The battery doesn’t charge the docked iPod, and can’t be user-replaced; both would have been nice features. If you’re looking for DVD playback, expect a bit under 2.5 hours of DVD playback - we saw 2:16 of continuous play time with the speakers at average volume, and would expect a bit more time with headphones, less with speakers blaring. iLuv’s wall charger brings the battery back to full charge in roughly four hours, and also recharges the iPod inside.
Otherwise, the i1055’s iPod functionality is truly very limited, and not especially well thought-out. A remote control without any iPod functionality at all - lacking even volume controls - is almost stunning, and strongly suggests that i1055 wasn’t built as an iPod accessory from the ground up. Similarly, the requirement that you flip the unit over to see your iPod’s screen and controls is just barely acceptable given its intended applications. Part of this is Apple’s fault, and could be easily remedied by a Front Row-like iPod media interface, but part is iLuv’s fault, for not doing more to ease the use of the iPod inside.
In our view, iLuv’s $250 asking price for i1055 is in the right ballpark - this is not the least expensive display dock that we know to be coming out, and surely won’t be the smallest or best, but it’s one of the most pack-in-laden, and also the first. It suffices to say that if you’re intrigued by i1055’s big screen and DVD functionality, and don’t mind its size, you’ll find this a handy travel companion and better-than-5G-quality viewing alternative, but there are other, better options already out there, and surely more to come.