Pros: Looks and sounds fantastic, easy to navigate and sync, easy to get video content
Cons: Very easily scratched, few video offerings, low battery life, no FM tuner or voice recorder.
The Apple iPod with Video gets my unequivocal vote for best MP3 player in recent history. It's a grand slam. But not because of the features, not even the video. Other players out there have way more features - FM tuners, voice recorders. Other players have had color screens and video for quite some time now, and in fact the owners of those players(I was one of them) are probably a little peeved right now that Apple gets all this attention for features their players had last year.
But the thing is, the iPod works perfectly. No weird deal-killing anomalies, no buggy software, no carpel-tunnel-inducing navigation. It all just...works. The clickwheel navigation, syncing with iTunes, everything. This player does everything exactly the way it should, right out of the box.
And for the record, I resisted the iPod for years. I thought the white plastic design was reminiscent of a blender, and I felt they were overpriced and lacking in features.
But starting with the first generation of color iPods, Apple has steadily addressed all my objections: They're now slimmer and sleeker than ever, they finally come in black(YEAH!), and they're capable of video. Even if it's limited, I don't have to feel like my sexy, expensive gadget is a one-trick-horse. Oh, and 30gb for $299? Killer deal, folks.
Here's the specifics.
The new 5g iPod with Video (that's the clunky but official name) comes in a very bare-bones package compared to previous models. The whole box isn't much larger than the unit itself, and that's because the accessories are...gone. You get the player, a protective pouch, the earbuds(don't even bother with 'em!), software, warranty, instructions, and one cable for both charging and syncing. No AC cable, no AV cable, certainly no dock. And this would be a good time to mention one more missing thing: Firewire. Apple has completely removed Firewire support from the 5th gen. iPod, so you'll need to use USB 2.
Design, Fit and Finish
They've outdone themselves. First of all, you can get it in black. Yes, the U2 iPod was black, and very cool, but this one is cooler. It's also strikingly, amazingly thin. At least, the 30gb is. The 60gb is also thinner than last year's models. But this new 30gb is eyebrow-raising thin, just .4 inches.
The screen has been enlarged to 2.5 inches, and dominates the front of the iPod. More on that later!
Previous models of iPod have had rounded edges. This one still has rounded edges on the back and around the perimeter, but the front surface is planed completely flat. The best way to describe it is if you took last year's ipod and sliced off the front-most few millimeters with a very sharp knife. Then there's a protective clear polymer slab over that. It's a sharp, edgy look, with the quality of finish we've all come to expect from Apple. Also, and this is just a guess, I think this design choice allows the screen to be pushed out further to the sides. Win for us.
And by the way, some of the photos make it look like this new iPod might be difficult or awkward to hold and operate. Well, I have very small hands and I have had no problem whatsoever. It's a joy to pick up and use.
The polished metal back is essentially unchanged. Both the front and back are highly, highly susceptible to scratching, scuffing, and nicking. This has always been the case with iPods but it's more noticeable on the black. It's extremely noticeable on the U2 and black Nano, and I have no reason to think this would be different, and I don't intent to find out. I strongly recommend you keep your iPod protected at all times. The included pouch is fine for carrying it around, but you'll want a more functional solution if you want to use it while on the go.
That's one con. Another is the removal of the inline remote jack, which enabled tons of cool accessories. Now the only features on the surface of the iPod are the headphone jack and hold switch on top, and sync/charge jack on the bottom.
Otherwise, it's a beautiful, lustrous device that must be seen and held to be believed.
Software and Syncing
With this new iPod, Apple has released iTunes 6, just one month after releasing 5. The big difference, of course, is video support. Installation is fairly standard and easy, whether you already have an older version of iTunes or you're starting fresh.
As with the last version, podcasts are supported, as are the plethora of free radio stations for desktop listening. Two very cool, very free features. You also get the usual bevy of playlist features.
Unfortunately, while the iPod does support album art, iTunes does NOT support a way to get it easily. Unless you buy the songs from iTunes, in which case the album art appears on your iPod automatically. Otherwise, you have to find the art yourself and add it manually. It's easy to find online, but it's still a pain. Again, just conjecture, but I think Apple wants it this way on purpose to encourage buying from iTunes and to discourage pirating music. Just a guess.
After rebooting my computer, I simply plugged in my new iPod and viola, all my music synced over. Easy! If you have music in WAV or WMP, iTunes will automatically convert it to an iPod playable format, such as MP3 or AAC, or if you want to go lossless, Apple Lossless. If you need to rip your tunes off a CD, just pop it in and it's automatically ripped and synced to the iPod the next time you plug it in.
Syncing gave me a few minutes to kill, so I checked out the iTunes video service. The selection is underwhelming: you've got a smattering of music videos, some movie trailers and Pixar shorts, and of course the big draw: TV shows. ABC is providing Lost, Desperate Housewives, Night Stalker, The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody, and That's So Raven. It had seemed like NBC and CBS were going to follow, but they've decided to provide their similar service to Comcast and DirecTV subscribers, respectivily. So for now, we're stuck with ABC and whatever music videos and movie trailers Apple makes available. In the meantime, as with everything related to video on this iPod, look at all this is the very first step towards something huge.
At this point, I should clarify that you don't need to download your videos from iTunes. You can encode the videos you already have on your hard drive, using a variety of solutions. Apple would like you to think you need Quicktime Pro (a $30 upgrade) for this, and that works well, but there's a really cool, free program called Videora that does the same thing. Just one hiccup: you can't directly copy DVD content to something the iPod will read. Even if the DVD is unencrypted, or decrypted for legal backup purposes, you end up with an MPEG 2 file that Quicktime Pro can only read with a $20 upgrade, making it cost $50 total. Videora may read it, other progams may or may not. You'll probably need another program to convert that MPEG 2 file to AVI, which can then be converted to a file the iPod can read. Sheesh!
Anyway, that's only if you're dealing with DVDs. Most other videos should encode just fine using Quicktime Pro or Videora.
Now, back to the iTunes video service. I downloaded the Desperate Housewives pilot episode, and four music videos: Jane's Addiction's Ain't No Wrong, Gorillaz' Clint Eastwood, Nine Inch Nails' Only, and Norah Jones Don't Know Why. All video content is $1.99, be it a show or a video, and it all downloads quickly and syncs right up to the iPod. Big surprise there. :)
Long story short, iTunes 6.0 has succeeded in bringing video content to a portable device without making me jump through hoops. That's huge. Yes, other players had video last year. But you had to sit there and transcode the files to the right format and size, and it was slow and didn't work half the time, and that was ok for a while when it was worth the novelty of video in your pocket, but that time has passed. I won't put up with the hassle anymore, and you shouldn't either. You won't need to with this iPod. Apple may not yet have a big selection, but it's a start.
Which brings us to...
Well, the iPod still lacks an equalizer. And that's about the only bad thing I can say about audio performance, because it sounds excellent anyway. To be absolutely honest, the iPods - including this one - are not the best-sounding players out there. But they're pretty close, and with everything else they've got going for them, I really don't care. It sounds great, it's plenty loud, do yourself a favor and get some decent headphones, but otherwise, you don't really need to do much tweaking. It sounds great right out of the box.
The navigation is excellent, unchanged from previous Clickwheel models. For those completely unfamiliar: the iPod has a touch-sensitive scrollwheel. You just spin your thumb around like on a trackpad to scroll through lists of songs, change the volume of a song, or jump to a specific point in the song. The wheel is also a four-way button, for play/pause, fast-forward, rewind, or going to the menu. The scrolling is speed-accelerated, so you just spin around at a comfy speed and you'll be zooming to the end of your playlists in a few seconds.
Those familiar with this navigation will be glad to know everything works exactly the same way for video. I had heard a rumor that fast-forwarding and scrubbing were not supported in video, this is totally false. It works exactly the same way. Since the video takes up the whole screen, your volume/timeline graphic is an overlay at the bottom. Just like with songs, you middle-click once to access the timeline and again to return to volume. All that's missing is file info! Ideally, one more middle-click would give you an overlay of the title, but as it is, you have to leave the video playback for that info. Fortunately, video playback is always bookmarked, so when you play that file later, it'll start from where you left off.
Video looks very good, but you'll need to hold the device pretty closely. I found it uncomfortable after 15 minutes or so. Video resolution is 320x240, which is about 25% of VGA, or a typical NTSC TV resolution. On the iPod screen, you probably won't notice the difference; it looks about on par with the video you'd get on a PDA, and almost the same as watching the same video from across the room on a TV screen. But if you've got the A/V cable, you can output your videos directly to a real TV - very cool feature, just know that it won't be at the quality of a broadcast source, much less a DVD.
Overall, I consider the video aspects of the new 5th gen. iPod to be a fun novelty, an occasionally useful feature, and a very important stepping stone. Don't make it the cornerstone of your decision; this is still an MP3 player. If what you really want a video device, look at the Archos AV400 or AV500 series.
Of course, you've still got photos. Because the screen is wider, photos are even nicer to look at - and you can view more of them in thumbnail mode. As before, you can listen to music while viewing photos.
The only downside, performance-wise, is the battery life. Playing video will drain your battery very quickly. I can't say exactly how quickly because I've never had the chance to play video for that long: not a lot of video content for it yet, and too small a screen to watch comfortably for extended periods. But even in standby with maybe two hours total use, the iPod goes dry in about 48 hours. Sticking with audio only, it has no problem getting you through a full day, but you'll need to recharge it about once a day, and much more often if you plan to use it for lots of video.
Other than that, you'll love it.
I think that about covers it for the new 5th gen. Ipod with Video.