Apple's new iPods are better than ever

iTunes 7

The iPod and iTunes are two separate products that behave almost as one. While enough has been written about some of the bugs with iTunes 7, I'll focus only on the features related specifically to the iPod, which are significant improvements. Prior to iTunes 7, all iPod configuration was managed through the iTunes Preferences dialog box using a tab that was available only when an iPod was connected. iTunes 7 displays an iPod, the media it contains and all its potential settings as though it were an iTunes library of itself.

The new display that appears when selecting the iPod itself places all the settings for an iPod in a convenient and very easy to navigate interface. The new interface makes selecting what music, podcasts, photos, videos and other information are copied onto the iPod very simple. This is especially useful if you are using an iPod Nano or an older model iPod that has limited storage capacity and you need to conserve space by only syncing specific items. The new interface also includes a nice color-coded graph that shows how much space is used on the iPod and what it is being used for. While iTunes 7 may have some bugs in it, the iPod-specific features are on target for making the iPod experience much easier and more intuitive.

iTunes movie quality

There's been a lot of talk about whether the quality of movies is up to par for users accustomed to DVD quality. When watching a downloaded movie in iTunes, you can definitely see that that quality is somewhat less than what you would get if you were playing a DVD on your computer. However, since this is an iPod review, I wanted to mention that video quality on the iPod matched all other video quality and may be slightly superior to other forms of content. However, one concern to keep in mind is that many movies downloaded from iTunes feature a widescreen (16x9) aspect ratio that makes them display in letterbox on the iPod's screen, which has the same 3x4 aspect ratio of a TV. This makes an already small picture appear even smaller. It would be nice if Apple could provide both standard and widescreen movies, but that may be too much to ask of the nascent movie download industry.

iPod games

iTunes 7 also introduces iPod games for the original and new video iPod models. Apple is currently offering a handful of games for $4.99 each. While I think the price is a little too high, I have to admit that the quality of the games is incredibly good. The image quality and design of the games are all very solid as is the implementation of the ones that I tested. The Texas Hold 'em game may actually be one of the best computer-poker games I've ever seen. Even those games that are adapted from Web-based games, such as Cubis and Bejeweled, have had their designs updated for use on the iPod, and the attention given to them is evident.

Hopefully, Apple will continue to add to the collection of iPod games of the same design caliber but will consider dropping the price of the games by a couple of bucks. If it does, it will add some serious value to the video iPod as an all-around portable entertainment center, not just a music and video system. While I don't feel comfortable saying that the iPod will ever rival the PlayStation Portable as a gaming device, the addition of the games could easily make it worth choosing a video iPod over an iPod Nano.

Final thoughts

Apple has released the finest set of iPods to date and it has done so by listening to the needs and concerns of its customers. This new generation of video iPods has raised the bar for many types of portable entertainment devices. Likewise, the new iPod Nanos and the iPod Shuffle illustrate Apple's ability to listen to its customers and deliver an excellent product. If you've been holding off buying an iPod of any kind, now may be the best time to finally spend the money and treat yourself to one.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and IT consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network design and troubleshooting. He is the co-author of Essential Mac OS X Panther Server Administration and the author of Troubleshooting, Maintaining, and Repairing Macs. He is a regular contributor to Inform IT and is the mobile technology correspondent for Suite 101.

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Ryan Faas

Ryan Faas

Computerworld
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