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Apple iPod (Fifth Generation) Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £280.00

If you’ve read yesterday’s review of the Creative Zen Vision: M you would probably have noticed that a certain other product was name checked once or twice. This was of course the iPod. And having actually got hold of the latest one we thought we might as well review it.


We’ve actually looked at a quite a few iPods in the past. The third generation model, the mini, the shuffle, the photoand most recently the nano.


The headline story for the latest iPod is its ability to play video, which I’ll get to later. However, Apple has kept the naming convention simple with no video appendage – just iPod. I guess that leaves a handy naming space should Apple release a truly video dedicated device in the future.


This model we have here is a 60GB version of the fifth generation iPod. This improves on the iPod photo offering the same 60GB capacity in a case that’s only 1.4cm thick and weighs only 157g – that’s a ‘wafer thin mint’ thinner and lighter than the original third generation iPod, which held only a quarter of the capacity. That’s progress for you.


If you go for the 30GB version though, you’ll get a deliciously thin device that’s only 1.1cm thick and a flyweight 136g, which is amazing for a 30GB player. By contrast, Creative’s 30GB Zen Vision M is a lardy 1.8cm thick and 160g.


There’s also a fairly strong consensus that the iPod is still the best looking MP3 player out there. It’s just beautiful to look at. With its sleek frontage and the silver back it’s a desirable piece of tech jewellery. However, it is susceptible to scratches and finger prints so I’d recommend buying a protective case at the time of purchase – there’s certainly a wide choice available. As with the nano, it’s available in black or white. Personally I think the black is cooler. The click wheel sits in the centre and the screen size is 2.5in to better accomodate video playback. It’s not however, widescreen. Like the nano, the slot next to the headphone socket has been removed so your previous generation headphone remotes won’t work. The headphone socket has been moved to the right and the hold switch in now on the left.


While £300 will buy you four times the capacity that you got nearly three years ago, Apple is certainly stingier with the accessories. Way back in early 2003 my 15GB iPod box contained a dock, a Firewire cable, a wired remote and a wall charger. None of that is now included. Where will this end? Will the box for the sixth generation iPod even include an iPod?

All you get now is a USB 2.0 cable that is used for syncing and charging and a thin pouch that can barely fit the 60GB player. I notice that Apple doesn’t bother including the small cover for the slot at the bottom of the player, which is probably a good thing as it was easily lost and was therefore quite pointless.


Of course, not having these things in the box enables Apple and other third party manufactures to create the now simply enormous third-party accessory market. Want to show your photos or videos on a TV? That be the universal dock. Want a remote control, wired or wireless ? Head over to the Apple store. The camera connector enables you to dump digital camera pictures, while the latest addition to the party is an external FM radio tuner, finally responding to one of the biggest omissions from the iPod. Need a microphones? Well, there are several to choose from. Of course if you need to take all of these with you, your bag will get quite cluttered but that’s the price owners have to make to own the sleekest and lightest player on the market. Apple quite literally banks on the fact that most people won’t need these things and judging from the sales figures, it seems to be right.


The combination of the interface and the click wheel for navigation is pretty much a modern classic. The default menu lists Music, Photos, Videos, Extras and Settings. There’s also a Shuffle Songs option, which is great. On the third gen iPod, you had to enable Shuffle from within the Settings menu and then select the first songs manually. Now you just choose the option and away it goes, choosing a track at random. However, I’d recommend creating playlists as on a huge capacity device such as this you could well end up with the latest Kanye West track closely followed with Nellie the Elephant from one of the kids Children’s music CDs, which kind of ruins the vibe.


As great as the click wheel is, it is possible to nit-pick, which is of course, why we’re here. Often when you scroll through a long menu list you find out after you’ve pressed the select button in the centre that you’ve chosen the item just above or below the one you wanted, which can be frustrating.

Also it can take time to get to the option you want. One feature that I loved on the Creative Zen Vision: M, that I reviewed yesterday, was the shortcut button. This can be programmed for a particular task, and it would be great to have something like that on the iPod. One feature is that I’ve always wanted is a way to quickly change EQ settings. Sometimes a track really could do with some help or you switch to another type of music and need to change the setting. Once a track is playing, you have to press the menu button five times, scroll down to settings, scroll down to EQ and press enter and then make your selection. Getting back isn’t as painful; you can either leave it or choose the Now Playing option.


Photo playback on the iPod is great, thanks to the cool transitions lifted from Apple’s iPhoto application. You can have music playing underneath but you have to go into the Slideshow settings menu first and choose the music source or your music will stop when you start a slideshow. However, what you can’t do is use a photo as a background wallpaper, which you can on the Creative Zen Vision: M, which is a real shame.


As with every iPod since Apple introduced the colour screen, album artwork can be displayed. Unfortunately, iTunes still doesn’t automatically pull album artwork down when you put in a CD, whereas applications such as MusicMatch do. Come on Apple. Instead , I have been using this third party application, which searches Amazon when you select tracks and imports them for you.


One of the big selling points for the iPod is its fantastic integration with iTunes. If you’re looking for convenient and legal way of getting music online and onto your MP3 player, there’s nothing out there to beat the iPod and iTunes, while features such as Autosync make it easy to keep your library and your iPod coordinated. However, if you’re a fan of Autosync you have to put up with the highly restrictive limitation imposed by Apple that you can only sync with one master PC.


Take your iPod into work and you’ll find that it will ask you if you want to replace the contents of your iPod with the contents of the iTunes library of the PC you’ve just connected to – even if that library is empty. Say yes by mistake and you could replace gigs of music with – nothing. You can just set iTunes on the second PC to connect manually so you could drag music onto it freely. But if you then Autosync at home, you’ll then wipe out that music you just put on there. This means that you can’t buy a CD during the work day and copy it to your iPod and expect it to be there when you Autosync at home. Is that fair?

One solution is to also copy the music over to the iPod hard drive as data as well as the library and then copy it back into the iTunes library on your main PC so it will then be added when it Autosyncs. But all this is a needless pain. I simply want to be able to sync with two PCs. On the Zen, you can copy tracks on and off at will and delete tracks from the device itself. You can only remove tracks from the iPod when it’s connected to a PC. Other players don’t have such draconian restrictions but Apple dictates how you use you’re product.


What Apple also wants you to do is to buy videos from its online store. At least only if you’re in the US, as the TV series it offers for download such as Lost and 24 are not available in other countries. The screen on the iPod has a native resolution of 320 x 240 and videos either downloaded or encoded yourself have to match that. Videos do look very nice on the screen but this resolution is a limitation if you want to use the TV out feature though the AV cable accessory or dock. Also when placed side by side against the Zen Vision: M it’s clear that the latter has a far richer colour gamut and contrast. Videos do look good on the iPod, it’s just that they will look better on the Zen. They’ll also last longer on the Zen, which will play back for four hours rather than three on the 60GB iPod and only two on the 30GB player. Additionally, whereas the Zen enables you to password protect particular video files, Apple only lets you password protect the whole player.


To put it succinctly if you’re keen to regularly watch video on your portable player then the Zen is a better option.


It’s not just for quality reasons, it’s for convenience too. If you haven’t downloaded content specifically for the iPod, your content will have to be encoded as the only format the iPod will play is H.264. Being an advanced version of MPEG4, this gives the best video compression to quality ratio of any format but the downside is that you can’t just drag and drop files over to the player, as you can with the Zen Vision: M. It’s also more processor intensive, which is why the iPod’s video staying power is so poor.


The latest version of iTunes can convert files for you but it’s not a quick process. ATI’s Avivo converter has a preset for the iPod and will do the job much faster. It’s officially locked to ATI’s X1000 series of cards but it’s easy to Google for a version that will work on any recent graphics card from ATI or NVIDIA.

Despuite all the flaws and niggles, the iPod is still a great player and the fifth gen unit is still very much the benchmark for portable digital media players. It’s just so nice to look at, pleasing to hold, simple to operate and looks and sounds great.


However, most people will gravitate towards it without knowing that there are players out there that have fewer restrictions on what you do with your music, have built-in radio and microphones and have better quality displays. But many people just won’t care. The iPod is prettier, and sexier and doesn’t look like its going to lose its street cred any time soon. The fact that nothing is included and that you need to accessorise it so much is almost part of the appeal.


Part of the problem competitor’s face is that many will be upgrading from a previous iPod and will already have AAC encoded files, either from CDs or purchased from iTunes and won’t want to convert them into WMA. Also there’s the wealth of third party accessories already purchased, such as docks, remotes and car integration. If you want to protect those investments then it’s difficult to consider something such as the Zen, despite its advantages.


If music is primarily your focus then you might not be too bothered that the Zen has a better screen. While the 30GB player is fantastically slender the 60GB is thinner too desite having twice the capacity. For music then the iPod is still the way to go and if you think of the fifth gen iPod as a music player that can also play video you won’t be disappointed, as at the former it truly excels. If you do see yourself playing video though, the Zen will be a better choice.


”’Verdict”’


The latest full size iPod is thinner and lighter than ever and can play video. However, getting video onto it isn’t as straightforward as it is for music and for display, TV output quality and video battery life, it lags behind Creative’s Zen Vision: M. If music is your primary interest though, its looks, style and ease of use are such that it’s still very difficult to resist the charms of this iconic portable media player.

Trusted Score


Storage

Internal Storage (Gigabyte) 80 GB

Battery Life

Video (Hour) 20 Hourhr

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