iPod 5G

Like the original 5G line, the new 5G iPod is available in two sizes. However, instead of 30GB and 60GB models, the new line gets you 30GB for £189 and a whopping 80GB for £259 – each model £40 cheaper than before.

While getting more megabytes for your money is always a good thing, the new 5G iPods also offer a number of hardware improvements. One of the most welcome, given Apple’s foray into downloadable movies, is the brighter screen – 60 per cent brighter than that of the original 5G iPod, according to Apple. We don’t have any way to measure the actual brightness of the new 5G model’s screen, but it’s clearly a step up from the original.

Power up
The other major hardware improvement in the new 5G iPods is longer battery life. Although the physical sizes of the two models haven’t changed, battery life has improved significantly. See the chart (opposite) of Apple’s battery estimates for the original and new 5G iPods performing a variety of tasks for a clearer view of performance.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. As Apple notes: “Brightness level will have a direct impact on battery life. By lowering the brightness level, you can increase the iPod’s playback time.” So we also tested the video-watching battery life of both models with the brightness level first turned all the way up and then turned all the way down (see the ‘Brightness effect’ table).

Although the new 5G iPods work similarly to the originals, Apple has added a number of useful software features to the latest models – some of them surprises, some of them long-requested features. The most expected, given the addition of 640 x 480 video to the iTunes Store, is support for that resolution on the iPod. The iPod’s screen is still 320 x 240 pixels, but the iPod itself supports – and, more importantly, can output to a TV – 640 x 480.

Because the iPod’s screen resolution hasn’t changed, there’s not much difference between older 320 x 240 video and newer 640 x 480 content when watching on the iPod itself. But it’s when you connect your iPod to a TV that the difference between the older resolution and 640 x 480 is more noticeable – and a welcome improvement.

The other major new feature added to the full-size iPod is support for higher-quality games. We’re not talking about enhanced versions of Parachute and Solitaire here either. No, we mean real iPod games like PacMan and Tetris – or at least as real as you can get considering the iPod’s hardware limitations and click wheel controller. Nine titles are currently available for £3.99 each from the iTunes Store. The graphics and playability vary from title to title, but these games are at least as good as – and sometimes better than – the games available for many mobile phones and are dramatically better than the iPod’s own built-in games. The downside to these new games is that they drain the iPod’s battery very quickly; much more quickly than watching a movie.

Access all areas
In addition to the major new software features, Apple has added a couple features to make it easier to find your music and media on the iPod. The first is a new feature called Quick Scroll. If a particular list – the Songs list, for example – has more than 100 items, as you begin to scroll through the list, a small, translucent overlay appears on the screen containing the first letter or character of the current section of items.

The second is Search, which we outline in more depth in the following iPod nano review. Although Search can be useful, especially for those with large music libraries or whose music libraries are poorly labelled, we find the feature to be somewhat clumsy in actual use.

Interestingly, unlike all previous iPods, the new 5G, nano, and shuffle iPods no longer include iTunes or the latest iPod software in the box. Instead, Apple has a new iPod/iTunes ‘start’ page on the website that provides links for downloading the latest version of iTunes – which now includes all iPod updaters as part of the application itself. (Unlike the Windows version of iTunes, though, the iTunes download for Mac OS X does not include QuickTime, which is listed on the iTunes page as an “Additional Video Requirement”.) This CD-less approach is a good move, because it means owners of new iPods will get the most up-to-date version of iTunes. However, it also means that – and the new iPods’ packaging clearly notes this – you must have internet access to begin using your new iPod unless iTunes 7 is already installed on your computer.

Speaking of iPod updaters, if you have one of the original 5G iPods, and the new software features sound appealing, you’re not completely out of luck. By installing the latest iPod software – via iTunes 7 – your older model will magically acquire some, but not all, of these new capabilities; specifically, 640 x 480 video, support for the new games, Quick Scroll, brightness control, and gapless playback. In fact, if you have an original 5G iPod, you must update its software in order to view any of the higher-resolution 640 x 480 videos for sale on the iTunes Store.

One other item missing from the boxes of new iPods is a manual. A Quick Start guide is included, but if you want full descriptions of the iPod’s features, you need to download the new Features Guide.

Better buds?
Like the original 5G iPod, the new version includes a thin sleeve case, a USB dock-connector cable (like all recent iPods, the new 5G syncs via USB only, although it can be charged using a FireWire dock-connector cable), and a set of Apple’s signature white earbuds. However, the latest iPods include a “new and improved” version of these earphones. Are the new buds really better than the old ones? In terms of sound quality, barely. Listening to Apple Lossless versions of high-quality recordings, we could hear slightly better bass and treble response, but these are very small improvements that most people are unlikely to hear, especially with compressed music. In other words, the new earbuds won’t prevent those in search of great sound quality from looking elsewhere.

On the other hand, the new earbuds are quite a bit different from the old ones in terms of appearance and fit. They’re still white with gray trim, but instead of the “stem and speaker” design of the previous ’buds, these have a sleeker, more curvy look. They’re also slightly smaller – which should please the many people who complained that the older versions were too big for their ears – and they swap the foam covers of the old models for a small rubber ring around the front of each earpiece.

Reaction to the design of the new earbuds has been mixed. Many people weren’t fans of the foam earbud covers, which tend to get gunky over time, and we found that the smaller size of the new iPod buds combined with the rubber rings made these new versions more comfortable and secure. However, Christopher Breen notes in his 2G nano review that the new buds are the ones that don’t fit him well and slide around.

Opinion is also divided over sound quality, with some members of the team claiming a noticeable improvement in quality – others claiming no difference existed at all. Either way the sound quality is passable enough for a newcomer and you can always purchase higher-quality earphones later on down the line.

One final point: unlike with the new iPod nanos, the new 5G models are identical in size and external design to the originals, despite their longer battery lives, so all accessories that fit the originals will fit the new versions, as well.

OUR VERDICT

Although the new 5G iPod isn’t the ‘true’ video iPod many people were expecting, it’s a solid upgrade from its predecessor, offering useful new software features for watching video, playing games, and browsing music, as well as improved hardware in the form of a brighter screen, better battery life, and better earbuds. And you get all of these improvements – plus, in the case of the larger model, 20GB more storage space – for £40 less than each model’s predecessor.

We still lament the fact that Apple no longer includes a power adaptor with iPods, and if you’ve got a well-organised music Library, the new Search feature is more interesting than useful, but if your heart isn’t set on a ‘real’ video iPod the new 5G iPods are compelling products. And they offer a few hints at the directions the iPod line may take.

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