"A bump for the better, but only a bump...."3.5 starson by lacene
Pros: slim, large capacity, new low price, gapless, ease of use with iTunes, accessories
Cons: No user EQ, bland GUI, few video codecs, battery not replaceable, SCRATCHES!
Summary: I rate this iteration of the iPod a 7 because to me it's not really a new generation of the iPod, even tho it's being called the "5.5G" iPod. The fourth generation ("4G") iPod started out with the removal of the four buttons under the screen of the 3G, and integration of those functions within the click wheel, ala the Mini. But the initial 4G iPod was a monochrome screened iPod.....later, the 4G iPod got a color screen, and was then called the iPod "Photo", but it was still the "4G" iPod....so the latest iPod upgrade is still the "5G" iPod, IMO.
Usually the iPod has been known to raise the standard bar to a certain degree in styling and ease of use, and other Digital Audio Player (DAP) makers would follow. In the case of the 5.5G iPod, however (as well as the 2G Nano, it seems that Apple is having to play "catch-up" to respond to other DAP-makers challenges.
The 5.5G iPod is basically the 5G iPod: still looks the same, still feels the same, with only a few feature upgrades. New features such as gapless playback, the brighter screen, brightness control settings, and the interactive search feature, are all features that have been implemented by other DAP-makers for quite some time. In fact, the gapless feature is not a feature of the iPod at all: it's implemented into the new iTunes 7, which analyzes your music library, and "adjusts" the music by removing the gaps, before it's downloaded, or synced, onto the iPod. There is new firmware for the iPod that accepts the new implementation, but really iTunes 7 should get this credit more than the iPod. But since the iPod can now play this gapless music, with the assistance from iTunes 7, then I guess it's better than nothing.
It's just funny to me how when this feature, along with the brightness control, interactive search, a FM tuner, a user EQ, voice recording, or on-the-go playlisting was always listed as "Pro's" for other DAP's, they were summarily dismissed and laughed at by the iPod faithful as being "geeky" techno frills, and irrelevant. Now that the iPod has (some of)these features, CNET has to provide an unprecedented, in-depth analysis and dissection of each feature (gapless, brightness control, etc.), which was never done before with the other DAP's. But then, if CNET didn't, there would be nothing to review here, would there?
The brightness control is a good thing, if for no other reason you can adjust it down and save battery life. I thought the screen brightness was fine before, with the 5G iPod. The big problem, though, is the wasted screen real-estate of the iPod's screen. There's too much empty white, which makes the added brightness even more uncomfortable to view, unless you're viewing photos or a video. Why could'nt Apple come up with colorful wallpapers, backgrounds, and themes?? Now that the Creative Zen Vision:M, Toshiba Gigabeat S, iRiver Clix, and soon the Microsoft Zune have these features, the iPod's GUI looks old, and dated. I'm surprised at this ommitted upgrade...
The search feature, like gapless, is also welcome - as any added feature to the iPod would be, since the iPod has so few features. But seriously, any DAP with the storage capacities of the iPod really should include some form of interactive search function as a default, as the libraries are just too large for manual seek-and-find expeditions. But once again, as with gapless, the iPod is playing "catch-up" here. The interaction of this feature is definitely inferior to the feature on the Zen Vision:M, which uses a graphical qwerty keypad, and can search more categories than the iPod's feature, such as genre, etc. The Vision:M's feature looks nicer, and more thought-out and refined than the iPod's. This may hark back to my GUI issue above...
About the only upgrade to the iPod that I consider to be both exclusively attributable to the iPod, as well as a pro-active upgrade, is the capacity increase. But again, I have to consider that the vast majority of the iPod masses, or the DAP masses for that matter, do not have such massive music libraries that will require such size. I know 2 other people that have the large 30GB 5G iPod, and they both have 5-10GB of music, photos, and videos on them. The discontinued 60GB 5G iPod would've been more than sufficient for holding music, as well as a vast video library....the 80GB 5.5 iPod will be excessive.
Of course, there will always be some out there who would prefer a 200GB iPod, but they do not represent the iPod nation at all: there's a reason why the 4GB-6GB iPod Mini was (and still may be) the best-selling iPod ever, and why the 1GB iPod Shuffle and 2GB-8GB iPod Nano easily out-sells the full-sized iPod....
So after that, we are left with the same iPod, with the same (basically) design since 2001, and the same highly scratchable body. There have been more people screaming for a user EQ than there have been for gapless. The color screen and video playback is still bested by other DAP's that have been out there for the better part of a year (Vision:M, Gigabeat S), and the audio quality is bested, as well (Vision:M, iAudio X5). The new prices are great, but even tho the 30GB Zen Vision:M was at $299 (MSRP: it has since been lowered to match the 30GB iPod's $249), you could buy it for around $250-$260 at several online sites. So based on what's really put on the table, I give it a 7: OK, but definitely could be better.