Apple iPod (Updated 5th Generation)
- Intuitive controls, Improved screen, Better battery life
- Still uses iTunes, Still uses proprietary connection, scratches easily
The iPod is one of the best portable media players on the market, and this update does little to change that. While the improvements are fairly minor, the improved battery life and better screen certainly make this an attractive option.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
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By now we're sure most of you are familiar with the iPod. Apple's portable media sensation is by far the most popular media player currently on the market. Their latest iteration of the new iPod video is more of an update than a new version. It takes all the elements of the previous edition, and improves it with a better display and more functionality, support for downloadable games and most notably, better battery life. The price has also been dropped considerably, keeping the iPod as one of the best contenders in the portable music space.
Obviously the most notable thing about the iPod is its design. The circular touchpad is exquisitely responsive. It feels a little more raised than previous versions, but has lost none of the finesse that makes it one of the most recognisable control mechanisms on the planet. The menu is a fairly standard tiered setup, and even new users will have no trouble navigating the interface.
The design is virtually identical to the previous iPod video. Measuring 103.5mm x 61.8mm x 14mm and weighing 157g, it is a little bigger than some modern units by Sony or Creative, but as it houses an 80GB drive this is to be expected. It is finished in the classic iPod white and silver colour scheme, although black is also an option, and as usual, the back plate is an absolute magnet for finger prints. We were a little disappointed that Apple has yet to use a different material to construct the front of the unit as it is still quite prone to scratches. While not as big of an issue as on the older iPod nano, leaving this model in your pocket with keys or coins is still a bad idea.
One of the most notable new features is the improved screen, which now boasts an even brighter look. It was obvious from the moment we turned it on that Apple has really made an effort in this regard, and it shows. The screen is of an exceptionally high quality, and is easily visible even in direct sunlight. Videos are well rendered, with clear, colourful images and little to no ghosting. We still think the 2.5in screen is too small for proper media viewing, but it suffices for music video clips or short bursts of footage.
That said, video playback is greatly assisted by the improved battery life. On the 80GB unit that we tested, Apple quote the battery life at 20 hours music playback and 6.5 hours video playback, and we found this fairly close to the mark, getting about 16-17 hours of music and about 5.5 hours of video. If you buy the 30GB unit you're looking at a slightly reduced 14 hours of music and 3.5 hours of video. This is a great improvement from the 2.5 hours we experienced with the previous iPod video, and remedies one of our big complaints about the device.
Also of note is the inclusion of gapless playback, which has been a much lamented exclusion from previous iPod models amongst audiophiles. Units such as the now defunct Rio Karma have offered this functionality, which allows seamless movement between tracks, rather than the noticeable pause you encounter on most digital music players. This is great for things like live concerts, or dance albums where all the songs meld together, as it allows uninterrupted listening and enhances the experience. Not a big thing for everyone, but certain users will really appreciate its inclusion.
The other differences include games that are downloadable over iTunes, lower pricing and a new search function. The games are quite nifty, and include everything from the classic Pacman, to Texas Hold'em Poker. Costing $7.49 each, they're reasonably affordable, and many offer enough content to more than justify their price. Controlling your character with the touchpad can sometimes take a little getting used to; particularly for those accustomed to manoeuvring Pacman with a traditional arcade stick. However once you get the hang of it they're an enjoyable diversion for a quick train or bus ride.
We also found the search function to be quite useful. While you can still sort by all the traditional tags, including artist, title, album and genre, those who have an 80GB drive filled to the brim with media may require a little more help. Apple has included an alphabetised search function, which shows the results in descending order of relevance, and each has an icon to indicate whether it is an artist, song or album name.
Aside from these improvements, the new iPod is pretty much the same as its older sibling. The menu is simple and easy to use and the control system is intuitive, so even those who have never owned a digital music player before will have no trouble operating it. Aside from the aforementioned issues with the front panel, the construction feels fairly sturdy, with the solid metal back plate giving a sense of hardiness.
The audio quality was about at the level we expected. It is definitely above average, and will satisfy the vast majority of users, although audiophiles may wish to pursue other players, such as the previously mentioned Rio Karma. As usual it offers a 3.5mm headphone jack, although the included iPod headphones aren't of a particularly high quality, so you may wish to investigate other options to make the most of your music. A wide variety of audio formats are supported, with AAC, MP3, AIFF, WAV and Apple Lossless while MPEG-4 is available for video files. While the audio side of things is adequately supported here, we'd like to see a few more video formats included in the next iteration.
Our one main complaint with the device is a recurring one; the compulsory use of iTunes to upload media to your device. iTunes, while not the worst piece of media software we've encountered, can be a bit of a pain to use, and we'd really rather Apple simply made their iPods drag and drop like many other products on the market. This keeps things simple, and stops you from having to clog up your machine with unnecessary software. It still connects using a proprietary cable, which is somewhat of a pain, but does allow for more functionality and a greater number of accessories.
Overall the new iPod is still one of the best choices in the portable media space. The 80GB model is fantastic value for money, offering one of the best price to storage ratios available, and the addition of gapless playback, a brighter screen, better battery life and the new search function help plug what few weaknesses the device did have. While we still think it is a little big, and would like to see iTunes be an option rather than a requirement, it is hard to deny that the iPod is an attractive proposition for those after portable media player.
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