Those who follow gadgets know that Apple didn't invent portable digital video; companies such as Archos, Creative, and iRiver have produced good if not stellar products that play back video--and on larger screens with better battery life. But if Apple can do for video what it has done for audio--that is, deliver a hardware/software ecosystem that offers a decent choice of content and makes it easy to get video on to the iPod--then this device, like it or not, will be remembered as the one that started the portable digital video revolution.
The 5G iPod, which is available in white or Nano black and comes in 30GB and 60GB capacities for $299 and $399, respectively, is the best one we've used to date. Yet because it has added a major extra feature--video playback--to its solid, audiocentric foundation, there's room for improvement.In this era of seemingly unstoppable technological progress, the Apple iPod was due for an update both physically and featurewise. And the 5G iPod is much more than a simple update. As with the Nano before it, you have to see and touch the iPod in person to appreciate it. The 30GB body, which measures 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.4 inches and weighs only 4.8 ounces, is baby-soft to the touch, and while design elements such as the Click Wheel and a polished silver backside are familiar, this iPod has an added sexiness, thanks to the larger screen that dominates its upper half.
Apple somehow shrunk the width of the iPod body so drastically that the 30GB version is 31 percent thinner than the 20GB iPod. The 60GB version measures only 0.55 inch, meaning it too is thinner than the 20GB iPod. Personally, we think the older model, with its softer edges and added thickness, is a tad more hand-friendly. The Click Wheel, which utilizes in-house technology (Apple abandoned Synaptics tech starting with the Nano), is actually smaller--by about a quarter-inch diameter--than the 4G iPod, which means you won't get as much scrolling action with each stroke of the thumb. The select button, which was slightly raised before, is now flat. The headphone jack has moved to the far right, and the smart jack, which was used by a host of accessories, such as the Apple in-line remote, has disappeared. The hold switch has moved from right to left, while the dock connector remains bottom center. Overall, the physical design is simpler and more refined though slightly less ergonomic. Basically, you'll definitely get tired of holding the iPod in the 28th minute of viewing video.
The 5G iPod is available in black or white, and its polished backside gently slopes in from the front of the player, so it glides into pockets. The most noticeable trait of course is the 2.5-inch, 260,000-color display with a crisp 320x240-pixel resolution. The extra half-inch diagonal not only does wonders for photos (now you get a six-by-five grid of thumbnails), album art, and the interface in general but also makes viewing videos a reasonable if not pleasurable experience.
A word of caution to prospective buyers: Scratches and smudges accumulate quickly, and they really show up on the black version. Blemishes are par for the course for all iPods, but they are much more noticeable on this big-screen iPod, especially since the display will be stared at for several minutes at a time. While watching the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, we kept noticing a sliver of a scratch in the middle of the screen.
Viewing angles are decent, but the lack of a built-in speaker, as well as the screen, which is small by portable video player standards (most have 3.5- to 7-inch screens), makes the iPod an intensely personal device. We'd also love to see a user-replaceable battery, along with a quick and dedicated way to control volume. The interface itself hasn't changed too much, though you'll find some new choices when it comes to video: a video option in the customizable main menu, as well as extended options such as Video Playlists, TV Shows, and Movies. You can also customize settings such as NTSC/PAL and a wide-screen mode, though there is no option to adjust brightness or contrast. However, the big, bright screen--which looks great outdoors, where a backlight is not necessary--makes for a clean and joyful user experience.
Along with streamlined packaging, the 5G iPod has a trimmed-down bundled-accessories list. Basically, you get earbuds, a USB cable, a semisoft case, and a plastic adapter for use with certain accessories. Glaringly missing is a power adapter ($29)--out of the box, your only powering option is via your computer's USB. Also, we'd love to see A/V cables ($19) and a dock ($39). This is critical for many of us who find the iPod uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of video viewing.First, the basic stuff: The 5G iPod plays MP3, AAC, protected AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF, and Audible audio files. It is at root a music player and includes all the same audio features, plus more, of the previous iPod. The 5G iPod still lacks the coveted FM tuner, and it cannot record audio out of the box. Still, with album art, a plethora of EQ choices, lyrics support, on-the-go playlists, and a dedicated place for audio and video podcasts, as well as audiobooks, the iPod manages to be a complete audio player.
The 5G iPod is also a decent photo viewer, and you can listen to music while you browse photos or watch a slide show; the iPod has excellent slide-show options, including a variety of transitions and customizable music. Photos look stupendous on the new screen, and in thumbnail view, you get five extra photos. And thanks to the Click Wheel, you can whiz through thumbs and full-size photos. In addition, you can splurge on the Apple iPod Camera Connector ($29) if you'd like to transfer images over from a digital camera.