December 7, 2005

The new iPod

People won’t believe you when you tell them. How could they believe that in a device smaller then most mobile phones you can fit up to 15,000 songs, 25,000 full-colour photos AND 150 hours of 30fps video. Well, you better believe it because this week Apple launched the latest its line of iPods. And this time, it comes in black.

Apple has been very busy for the last 9 months cracking out 3 entirely new iPods – first came the Shuffle, a solid state, screenless iPod that serves up your music in random order. In my gym every second person has one. Then, only 2 weeks ago came the Nano – the revolutionary replacement for the Mini. Based on solid state flash memory the Nano is smaller to hold then the average business card and sounds terrific. The Mini was available in four lolly colours; the Nano is available in Black (the new Black) and White (the old Black).

Finally, just last week Apple released its Flagship 5th generation iPod – and yes, this time it does Video. Most major media outlets predicted this but you really have to see it to believe it. The gorgeous, bright 2.5 inch LCD screen (320 x 240 pixel) makes the basic iPod functions like selecting music and playing games even better. Album art looks almost real and video is just crystal clear and a pleasure to watch. I’m still not sure if I’d like to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on it but for music videos and hour long TV shows its great.

The new iPod is the thinnest and most portable video player I've seen. The $449 version is about 30% thinner than the previous model, yet it holds 50% more data, and has a larger high-resolution color screen. Somehow Apple enlarged the screen without enlarging the overall width of the iPod.
Apple claims that the 30-gigabyte hard disk on the model we tested can hold up to 7,500 songs, or 75 hours of video, or 25,000 photos. The 60-gigabyte model doubles that capacity for $99 more.

Battery life on both models if very good if you stick to music, however watching videos can drain the battery more quickly. The 30-gigabyte model is rated as being able to show 2 hours of video and 14 hours of music. The 60-gigabyte model is slightly better achieving 3 hours of video and 20 hours of music.

After the Nano was released the public made a fuss of the lack of included case – Apple have made a mends with the iPod bundling a simple carry case in the box. Also in the box is a USB cable (the new iPod doesn’t support Firewire anymore), earphones and software. However, if you’d like to do more with your new iPod you might consider purchasing a universal dock ($59), AV cables (so you can watch videos and photos on a TV) ($29) and a USB charger (for charging while away from your computer) ($48)

In my testing the iPod works like every other iPod. The screen was bright and easy to read and syncing with my Mac was simply a matter of plugging it in. I downloaded some Video podcasts to test out video quality and to my surprise was very impressed. The screen is clear, sharp and bright, and outputs at 30fps – making the whole image very smooth. Audio fidelity is as good or better as previous models and the dock connector is compatible with the full line of iPod accessories. TV output from the iPod was better then I expected, quality was excellent from both my purchased videos and my home made iMovies.

The new iPod however won’t play most video formats (in fact it only supports 3 codecs H264, MP4 or M4V) so if you want to continue watch all of those clips you have saved up you’ll need to convert them across. There are many utilities available on the Internet to do this (most are free) or you can follow Apples instructions here. Please note that this requires a $29 upgrade to Quicktime 7, something Apple should definitely include for free.

In my opinion Apple needs to make transferring video to the iPod as easy as possible to encourage rapid adoption and should release a suite of tools that lets you do this – or at the very least include conversion tools within iTunes (like they have done for music) Until this point, the iPod should be considered as primarily a music player that does video, rather than a Video iPod that plays music.

With this new iPod Apple have another hit on their hands. In last weeks investor briefing Apple described iPod Nano sales as ‘staggering’ and this was only after 17 days of being available. One can only imagine the adjectives Apple execs will use when the Christmas season passes and Amazon hottest product list looks like this:
1. iPod (white)
2. iPod (black)
3. iPod Nano (black)
4. iPod Nano (white)
5. iPod Shuffle