Apple iPod 20GB full review

Apple has tweaked the full-size iPod range by dropping the 20GB standard model and the 30GB iPod photo and adding a new 20GB iPod with a colour screen – in effect, combining the previous 20GB and 30GB models into a colour-screened 20GB version. At the same time, Apple has dropped the‘photo’ moniker from the existing 60GB iPod photoand lowered its price.

The result of these changes is that the standard and photo iPod lines have been merged into a single colour-screened line, simply called iPod, with two models: 20GB for £209, and 60GB iPod for £299. You no longer have to decide between a monochrome screen or a colour screen for a premium price – if you buy a full-size iPod, you get a colour screen, along with all the photo-related features that come with it.

Apple has also upgraded the 20GB U2 Special Edition iPod. Like the 20GB model, it now has a colour screen and photo capabilities. Even better, like the 60GB model, the U2 Edition has also benefited from a price drop – it’s now £229 instead of the original price of £249.

These changes didn’t exactly warrant a “fifth-generation” designation – Apple didn’t even change the model number of the 60GB model, and the new 20GB model is really just a smaller-capacity 30GB iPod photo – but they’re still significant in that they bring high-end features at standard prices. These “new” iPods easily represent the best iPod value yet.

Photo features, monochrome price
Many people will think of the new 20GB model – which Apple officially calls “iPod (with colour display)” – as the previous 20GB model upgraded with photo features, given that both have a £209 price tag. However, it’s probably more accurate to think of the new player as a 30GB iPod photo with a smaller hard drive—the two players are otherwise identical.

In terms of size, the new 20GB model is the exact same size (1.6cm thick) and weight (167g) as the30GB iPod photo. This is a welcome bit of consistency, as it means that any accessories—cases, dockable speakers, and the like—that fit the 30GB iPod photowill fit the new 20GB iPod perfectly. (Even so, the differences in size between the old and new 20GB models – the previous 20GB version was slightly thinner and lighter – aren’t large;if you’re upgrading from the older 20GB iPod, all but the most form-fitting accessories should work with the new colour version.)

The 20GB colour iPod also inherits the 30GB iPod photo’s longer battery life – according to Apple, up to 15 hours of music playback or five hours of slideshows with music, as opposed to the fourth-generation 20GB iPod’s estimated 12-hour life. In my testing using 160Kbps AAC files, the new 20GB model surpassed Apple’s estimates, playing continuously for 16 hours and 15 minutes. (Backlighting, EQ, and Sound Check were turned off in my test.) If you listen primarily to 128Kbps AAC files, you may get even longer life, as lower bit rates mean more music can be cached in the iPod’s RAM buffer, so the hard drive shouldn’t need to be accessed as frequently.

The new 20GB iPod shares the previous 20GB model’s music capacity estimate of 5,000 songs (at 128Kbps AAC). However, since the new version also provides photo functionality, Apple notes that it can hold up to 20,000 photos (compressed via iTunes) instead. That sounds like a lot, but if you plan on storing both music and photos, free space can disappear quickly. If you’ve got large libraries of music and photos, consider the 60GB version. With the new lower price of £299, it provides three times as much capacity for only £90 more than the 20GB model.

Like the original iPod photo models, the new20GB iPod provides photo-viewing functions. Once photos are downloaded to your iPod via iTunes, they can be viewed – individually or as a slideshow – on the iPod’s screen or on a TV. (Unfortunately, neither colour iPod includes the cable or dock required for TV viewing; you need to purchase either Apple’s £25 iPod with colour display Dock or the company’s £15 iPod AV Cable.)

You can also use Apple’s optional iPod Camera Connector, or similar accessories from Belkin, to upload photos from a digital camera to the iPod. However, both colour iPods still need to be synced with iTunes before you can actually view these uploaded photos on your iPod. I’d like to see the ability to view images as soon as they are uploaded.

Even if you don’t plan on using the new iPod models for viewing photos, the colour screen provides a significant improvement in the entire iPod experience – compared to the older monochrome display, everything is crisper and easier to read, from song titles to menus. And it’s fun to see each track’s album cover (assuming you’ve added album art in iTunes). Before this new release, I recommended that people in the marketfor the older 20GB iPod spend the extra £40 to get the 30GB photo model, even if they didn’t need the additional space – the screen is that much better. Now you get that screen for free.

Lower prices = fewer accessories
With the new 20GB model, Apple has continuedthe trend of reducing the price of iPod models (or,in this case, offering better hardware for the sameprice as the previous model) by eliminating ‘unnecessary’ accessories.

Like the now-discontinued 30GB iPod photo, the new 20GB colour iPod drops the FireWire cable and, as mentioned above, neither colour iPod comes with an AV cable or photo dock. Both include only earbuds, a USB 2.0 cable, and an AC adaptor. Although I’m sad to see the FireWire cable go –transferring a few thousand songs is much faster over FireWire 400 than USB 2.0 – more computers today have USB 2.0 ports than FireWire ports. So if Apple is going to include only one of the two cables in order to keep costs down, USB is the way to go. Although I fondly remember the days when iPods came with docks, FireWire cables, and AV cables, I’m even more fond of the fact that you can now get a 20GB photo-capable iPod for £140 less than the original 5GB model.

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