I’ve handled every iPod ever made and I noticed immediately how hefty the iPod’s box was compared to other boxes of iPods I’ve lifted. That extra bit of heft comes from an iPod that’s nearly as thick as the original 5GB iPod, the usual ingredients - a power supply, USB 2.0 cable, FireWire cable, Apple earbuds, and the little box of instructions (which includes, for the first time, the kind of white Apple stickers that accompany a new Macintosh). The iPod Photo also includes a dock (with video connector along with the usual data/power connector and audio port), a case (yes, the same £29 Apple case you buy separately for other iPod models), and a heavy-duty A/V cable that features both composite video and left/right audio connections.
When lit indoors, the screen is delightfully bright. When the display dims down, however, it’s very difficult to discern what’s on the screen. Indoors I’ve successfully read the dimmed screen only by looking at it slightly off-axis.
The screen looks so great when lit up that many will be tempted to disregard how little battery life they’ll get from a constantly glowing iPod. Even though colour is only used to great degree in the iPod’s Play screen (when album art is present), Calendars, Games (Solitaire is finally discernable enough to be playable), and, of course, Photo areas, all the menus look crisper thanks to the addition of colour. Aiding this clarity is a taller and thinner font similar to what’s found on the mini. Oh, and the opening screen with a silver Apple logo against a black background is breathtaking.
Thumbnail images are very small - the iPod displays a 5-x-5 grid of thumbnails. Even at such a small size, you can differentiate photos if those photos are dissimilar. However, if you have variations of the same shot - you’ve taken a series of pictures with a camera’s rapid-shot feature - you won’t be able to tell one image from another. The clarity of “full-sized” images depends on the brightness and composition of the shot. While my portraits photos look great considering that they’re shown on a 2-inch display, it’s tough to make out the details on a couple of photos taken during one of my “gloomy landscapes under a cloudy sky” sessions.
The click-wheel doesn’t seem to have the same “throw” as the fourth-generation iPod or iPod mini (meaning it doesn’t feel like it descends as far into the main unit when you press it). This makes not an iota of difference - just thought I’d mention it. And speaking of minutiae, the click that the iPod emits is slightly higher pitched than the click on earlier iPods.
The wheel is very responsive - almost too responsive in the Thumbnail screen. It’s very easy to skip way past a picture that you’re trying to choose. It takes all of 30 seconds to learn to slow your thumb down to a more appropriate speed.
Expectations versus reality
The iPod’s manual cleared up some confusion I had. For example, I assumed that if you attached a media-card reader to the iPod, it would not only download pictures from the reader but also display those pictures on the iPod. Not so. The iPod stores its pictures in special thumbnail files. These files hold multiple pictures that are displayed on the iPod’s screen and an attached video output device (TV or camcorder). When importing photographs (either from a media reader or by storing the full resolution images on the iPod - an option in iTunes) those photos are stored in a Full Resolution folder inside the Photos folder that appears at the root level of the iPod.
The iPod-to-TV connection works well; though you have to be careful about the order you perform certain actions. For example, if you have a picture on the iPod’s screen and string the composite cable between the TV inputs and iPod, that picture won’t pop up on the TV. Rather, you have to make the connection and then start a slideshow by choosing a photo album and pressing Play. The cable isn’t overly long - about three feet - so if you attach it to a TV with the expectation that you’re going to manually flip through your photos by pressing the iPod’s Forward control, be aware that on a big-screen box you’re going to feel too close to the action. An iPod remote control would be very welcome in this situation.
No big surprises on the sound front. When the first batch of fourth-generation iPods appeared there were some distortion problems reported. My iPod Photo exhibited no such anomalies (but then my two 4G iPods were fine, too).
The iPod Photo is bigger than the other iPods, about 1mm thicker than the current 40GB models, but it packs so much extra goodness in, it’s irresistible. The ability to carry iPhoto albums around may not be so very high on your agenda, in the same way that a phone that can take photographs was on mine. But actually I use the camera on my phone quite a lot, and I think I would use the video-out features of the iPod Photo a lot too. If you go for the 40GB iPod Photo you’ll be paying an extra £60 for the features, though you do get the carry-case, which sells for £29. The 60GB iPod Photo costs £429, and is in many ways the ultimate iPod. However, few people are stretching the capacity of their 40BG iPods, and even with photos, 60GB could be overkill. It’s the same size and has the same battery life as the 40GB version. That means you’ll only be getting more capacity for the extra £70.