by Louie Tran
Note from the reviewer: There’s already a number of 5G iPod reviews out already and they go really in-depth on every single aspect and square inch of the player such as iLounge’s review. This review is meant to be told from the gadget-hound road warrior perspective on Apple’s latest iPod. The audio playback has been tested and reviewed to death in all incarnations of the iPod and they have pretty much been the same so I am going to place more emphasis on the video playback than other functions.
The Apple iPod 5G, more commonly known as the Apple iPod Video, is the most recent evolution of Apple’s world famous MP3 player that combines the best aspects of each of its predecessors and adds a handful of extras. The most obvious feature that this iPod is known for is the large 2.5 inch 340 x 320 high resolution screen for video playback. Just how good is the video feature? Will it eliminate dragging a laptop around or buying an expensive and brick sized PVP player? Are we limited to just watching Quicktime files or whatever we buy from Apple’s website? These questions will all be answered if you read on! Let’s start off by taking it out of the box first!
Out of the Box
Note: The reviewer uses laundry machines and stuffed animals as back drops for his pictures — just accept this fact, we do (view larger image)
I know a lot of Apple fanatics make it an ordeal or holy ritual when they take Apple products out of the box. So let’s not break the tradition and slowly unpack and be in awe of everything…
Old iPod box on the left, new on the right (view larger image)
Old iPod box on the left, new on the right (view larger image)
iPod Video revealed — and stuffed animals sneak in for a group shot (view larger image)
The box size is significantly smaller than the previous 4G iPod. After tearing off the shrink wrap, you have to open the box on the slide to slide out the other box inside, and finally you fold it open and you are greeted with the iPod 5G covered in protective plastic. Owning a 4G 20GB iPod myself, I was surprised on how considerably larger the screen on the 5G is. On the opposite side of the iPod, the only things that are left in the box are the standard white headphones, a slip case (yay!), USB cable, some documentation and a CD with iTunes 6.0 for both Mac and Windows. I am a bit disappointed that they didn’t include a wall charger but I guess they sacrificed that to keep the price low, or Apple just really wanted to have the iPod fit into that small box. Who knows?
here’s everything you get in the iPod Video box (as seen on top of a washing machine) (view larger image)
iPod 5G Video is on the left, 4G on the right (view larger image)
The iPod 5G comes in two different colors. The traditional white one like all the other iPods and there’s now a black one. The black looks really sexy but smudges and scratches are said to be more apparent so I decided to go with the white instead. Aside from the screen the other most notable feature is the size of the iPod 5G.
The 5G is actually slimmer as seen on top of the 4G (view larger image)
The 5G iPod is the thinnest and lightest of all the iPods of this class. The 30GB version has the dimensions of 2.4 x 0.4 x 4.1 inches and weighs in at 4.8oz. The 60GB has the same dimensions except it is a little bit thicker at 0.6 inches in width and 5.5oz in weight. Even the 60GB iPod is thinner and lighter than the 4G 20GB iPod which is 0.57 inches in thickness and weighs in at 5.6oz! Much like the previous iPods, it has a glossy front casing and a polished metal rear casing that looks really nice but you have to be extra careful because it scratches and collects smear marks easily. The click wheel is also smaller than the 4G, which unfortunately makes it a little bit harder to navigate and scroll through songs. The click wheel on the 4G was perfectly sized but had to be reduced on the 5G to compensate for the large video screen. Speaking of large screens, here’s something to take note of… the size of the entire iPod is about the same size as the Sony PSP’s screen!
First Few Hours
Here’s where things can get a little tricky. If you directly plug the iPod in for the first time without installing the CD or don’t have iTunes 6.0 or higher, the unit itself will freeze. It happened to me but it could easily be remedied by resetting the iPod by holding Menu (Up) and Select (Circle) at the same time for a few seconds. After installing the iTunes 6.0 software and plugging it in, my desktop found it just fine and iTunes automatically opens up. If this was my first iPod, I would just drag and drop my MP3 library into iTunes and all the music will be on the iPod.
However, since I am upgrading there are a few extra steps that have to be made for people who want all their music on their previous iPod in the new one. The program that I highly recommend is CopyPod, which gives you full functionality for 14 days and is plenty of time to just back up your old iPod and have it merged into the new one. You can always support the developer by purchasing it for $19.90 and I think it is well worth it because it backs up your music as well as your playlists too without causing any software issues like other programs do. Once your music is backed up, just drag everything from the library into the new iPod and that’s it!
New iPod 5G Video on the right (view larger image)
New iPod 5G on the left is slimmer than the older 4G on the right (view larger image)
Now let’s get started for real! If you haven’t noticed already since turning on the iPod for the first time, the screen shines bright and clear making it a lot easier to read the menu selections and song titles. Songs play like they should like on the other iPods and as mentioned earlier, the music aspect has been reviewed to death and all the iPods sound the same. Before moving on however, I find it very disappointing that Apple did not integrate a REAL equalizer on this iPod despite the number of complaints audiophiles have been making for years. Instead it has the same old presets like Acoustic, Bass Booster, Classic, and Etc… which in my opinion, do more harm than good to the song! Oh well, maybe next year I guess.
Okay, enough about the music already! What we all really want to know is how well this thing plays video. As some of you know, I am as big of an anime fan as I am a gadget fan and the iPod 5G seems to be a good candidate for a person who loves both. Lately I’ve been bringing my anime with me and watching them on the road with my Sony VAIO S460 laptop. There are many moments where it is inconvenient in bringing a notebook around and then wasting precious battery power on a device I need for work. In many situations, a small handheld device is much more practical.
Anime movie on the iPod 5G — the flash seems to have caught the character off guard(view larger image)
Right out of the box, the iPod 5G DOES NOT support Divx, Xvid, Real, AVI, and anything else except for MP4 and MOV files. However, if you use Quicktime Pro, PSP Vide9, or Videora, you can convert just about any video file to work on the iPod. My program of choice would be Videora because it’s free and PSP Video9 is really just meant to work on the PSP and Videora is dedicated to the iPod. The program is also really easy to use and is a matter of point, click, and convert and if you have multiple videos, it will que up files for conversion as well. Depending on how fast your computer is, conversion times will vary. My desktop is a 3.0 GHz P4 with 1GB RAM and it took 1 hour to convert a DivX conversion of the movie Office Space and 15 minutes to convert an episode of the anime Mai Otome at the default settings of MPEG4 / 320x 240 / 768kbps Video / 29.97fps / 128kbps Stereo Audio.
Once the conversion was complete, all it takes is a simple drag and drop of the file into the iPod using iTunes. After converting an episode of Mai Otome, I threw on some headphones, loaded up the video, and I was in awe. The picture quality was amazingly clear, the subtitles were surprisingly readable, and the audio was crisp and in sync with the video. There was no stuttering at all and at 29.97fps, the video was very smooth. I got the same results when I loaded up Office Space into the iPod which also had very smooth video and no stuttering. I’ve heard countless times that the iPod 5G is an audio player first and the video feature is just an extra. To me, that statement is an unnecessary excuse because its video performance is stellar. All I need it to do is to play, pause, and skip to the next video which it does just fine.
The iPod 5G does a fantastic job in playing back the converted video files, but don’t plan on watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on this thing. Why? Because the battery quits at around 2 hours while playing video on the 30GB version. This is a problem for people who plan on taking this on road trips or long flights without a travel adapter. However, if you plan on taking the iPod around to watch videos on your lunch time, break or anything less than say 1.5 hours, then it’s not going to be that big of an issue.
The iPod does support TV playback using a dock and cable which must be purchased separately. I wish that Apple would just include a cable that connects to the bottom of the iPod and straight to the TV ports. The use of a dock for this feature is ridiculous, but smart marketing to increase profits. Another issue with TV playback is that the iPod ONLY supports resolutions of 320 x 240 so if you were to play the video on an HDTV or any large TV for the matter, don’t expect DVD quality video.
In comparison with the PSP video playback, I have to say that it is MUCH better to watch videos on the Sony PSP than it is on the iPod because of the screen size. However, Storage space must also be taken into consideration. A 2GB Memory Stick DUO costs about $170 at the time of this writing, which is dwarfed by the capacity of the 30GB iPod. Also, if you plan on packing light and don’t really play that many games, the iPod 5G is a better choice than to take the PSP along with another MP3 player or even just the PSP itself with music loaded onto the memory stick. If you’re a person who likes to play games, watch movies, and listen to a lot of music, then there really isn’t that much harm in taking both the iPod and PSP with you!
On the Road
The performance, practicality, and usefulness of the iPod 5G is where it really counts for me. For the past week I gave been taking the iPod with me from one tradeshow to another using the USB connection to my Vaio to keep it charged while I’m not working. Since the iPod is so thin and light, it fits perfectly in my shirt or pants pocket while it’s in the slip case. When it is appropriate enough, I’ll have the headphones on and the music playing while I’m working and the iPod doesn’t bother me while it is my pockets.
On my lunch breaks I could go anywhere and comfortably sit through a few anime episodes. Reading the subtitles on the screen does not bother my eyes while watching a few episodes, but it may be different with other people. I would recommend you find some shade if you want to watch videos in an outdoor environment because it does glare in the sunlight, which is expected with many LCD TFT devices.
The iPod 5G is definitely worth taking on the road because it’s not as cumbersome and bulky like other PVP devices. The simplicity of the interface is also a plus and there are no confusing menus that will make you lose time. Also, if you have a tape adaptor, FM transmitter or audio inputs in your car, you can conveniently take your music with you while you drive commercial free. The click wheel makes it easy to skip through songs while you have your eyes on the road. Remember, keep your eyes on the road and do not look at your iPod screen while driving!
Ever since the iPod Photo came out, I still fail to comprehend why anyone would load their pictures onto the iPod and take it with them. You can’t edit, print or do anything from the iPod photo except look at the pictures. Some people may find it useful, but I do not. Now if Apple was smart enough to implement PictBridge onto the iPod which allows you to select and print photos form the device on any PictBridge compatible printer.
Another extra feature that the iPod has is the PDA like capabilities. You can set iTunes to sync your Contacts, Calendar, and Notes from Outlook into your iPod. All the categories from the Contacts and the events from the Calendar sync perfectly. Although this may be useful for people who don’t have PDAs, I can’t really use it to replace my Treo 650 because inputting data directly from the device is a must for me. However, if that is not an issue for you, the PIM features on the iPod make one less thing to carry around.
One extra that I did like was being able to load up the album art or any picture you want to the songs. It just makes the whole thing a lot cooler for some reason and I found myself spending hours in download icons to go with my music!
You can also play some games and load up some e-books to kill time on the iPod but I’d rather listen to a song or watch a video instead. A lot of these extra features are just extras and aren’t really anything to get excited about.
Glitches, Quirks, and Annoyances
There are also some minor glitches that I would definitely like to see cleared up. The most annoying is that it’s not as easy to turn off as the previous iPods. When playing a song or video, a lot of the times, you can’t turn it off right away by holding down the Play (down) button. You have to pause it first, and then press then hold the button to turn it off. Another annoyance is that if you unplug your headphones and an output device, the song or video will keep playing. Those who are used to the previous iPods will have to develop a habit of pausing the song or video first and then manually turn it off or else your battery will be dead before you know it. It doesn’t stop playing and automatically turn off after a few seconds like it used to when you unplug the headphones.
The battery life on the 60GB plays videos at 3.5 hours so if you need something that lasts longer, go for the bigger iPod. If you’re curious about audio, Apple claims that the 30GB will play music for 14hrs and the 60GB will play for 20 hours. Personally, I’m going to take Apple’s claim and give or take a few hours on it because I don’t really have the time to walk around with this thing and time it for that long.
Great to have around anywhere!
Besides my Treo 650, this is the most used gadget that I have when I’m on the road or at home. I have all my MP3s with me and hook it up to my desktop if I want to listen to music at home. And when I’m on the road, I throw on some headphones and I’ll have music with me no matter where I go.
Although it does not natively playback many of the popular video formats, it’s really not that hard in converting them to work on the iPod. People can whine and nitpick about the video features, but if you look at the competition, there really isn’t anything as well balanced as the iPod in terms of style, weight, features, ergonomics, and simplicity. We can go on all day and compare this to the Creative Zen, the Archos Gmini, the iRiver, and even the PSP, but it’s really up to you in what you need or want.
Aside from a few glitches and features that should have been added in this iPod such as a real equalizer, longer battery life, and PictBridge for photos, the iPod 5G overall is an excellent MP3 player as well as a video player.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Note to readers: if you’d like to see more of the washer and dryer, the reviewer also featured them in a recent Sony VAIO S460 Review