capsule review

Review: 20GB iPod (with color display)

At a Glance
  • Apple 20GB iPod (Color, Late 2005)

    Macworld Rating

Earlier this week, Apple tweaked the full-size iPod line by dropping the $299 20GB standard model and the $349 30GB iPod photo and adding a new $299 20GB iPod with a color screen—in effect, combining the previous 20GB and 30GB models into a color-screened 20GB version. At the same time, Apple dropped the “photo” moniker from the existing 60GB iPod photo and lowered its price. The result of these changes is that the standard and iPod photo lines have been merged into a single color-screened line, simply called iPod , with two models: 20GB for $299 and 60GB iPod for $399. You no longer have to decide between a monochrome screen or a color screen for a premium price—if you buy a full-size iPod, you get a color screen, along with all the photo-related features that come with it.

(Apple also upgraded the 20GB U2 Special Edition iPod. Like the 20GB model, it now has a color screen and photo capabilities; however, like the 60GB model, the U2 Edition also benefitted from a price drop—it’s now $329 vs. the original price of $349.)

These changes didn’t exactly warrant a “5th 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-line features at standard-line prices: These “new” iPods easily represent the best iPod values yet. (See our “ first look ” from earlier this week for an in-depth look at the changes made across the line and to the 20GB model in particular.)

Photo features, monochrome price

Many people will think of the new 20GB model—which Apple officially calls “iPod (with color display)”—as the previous 20GB model upgraded with photo features, given that both have a $299 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 (.63" thick) and weight (5.9 ounces) as the 30GB 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 photo will fit the new 20GB iPod perfectly. (Even so, the differences in size between the old and new 20GB models—the previous 20GB version was .06" thinner and .3 ounces 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 color version.)

The 20GB color iPod also inherits the 30GB iPod photo’s longer battery life—according to Apple, up to 15 hours of music playback or 5 hours of slideshows with music, as opposed to the 4th-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 bitrates mean more music can be cached in the iPod’s RAM buffer, and thus 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 $399, it gives you three times as much capacity for only $100 more than the 20GB model.

Like the original iPod photo models (see our full review ), the new 20GB iPod provides photo-viewing functionality: Once you download photos to your iPod via iTunes, you can view those photos—individually or as a slideshow—on your iPod’s screen or on a TV. (Unfortunately, neither color iPod includes the cable or dock required for TV viewing; you need to purchase either Apple’s $39 iPod with color display Dock or the company’s $19 iPod AV Cable.) You can also use Apple’s optional iPod Camera Connector, or similar accessories from Belkin, to upload photos from your digital camera to the iPod. Once you've uploaded your photos to your iPod, you can view them on the screen; however, both color iPods still require that you sync with iTunes before you can view these uploaded photos on a TV. I’d like to see the ability to “project” photos as soon as you upload them.

Even if you don’t plan on using the new iPod models for viewing photos, the color 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 to each track in iTunes). Before Tuesday, I recommended that people in the market for the older 20GB iPod spend the extra $50 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 continued the trend of reducing the price of iPod models (or, in this case, offering better hardware for the same price as the previous model) by eliminating “unnecessary” accessories. Like the now-discontinued 30GB iPod photo, the new 20GB color iPod drops the FireWire cable, and as mentioned above, neither color iPod comes with an AV cable or photo dock. Both include only earbuds, a USB 2.0 cable, and an AC adapter. As I noted in our “First Look,” 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, 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 $100 less than the original 5GB model.

(Those of us who prefer FireWire can pick up a FireWire dock connector cable for $19 from Apple or $15 from Griffin Technology. As with previous Click Wheel iPods, people with only USB 1.1 ports can sync their iPods—albeit very slowly—via USB, but will need to use the included AC adapter to charge the battery.)

Podcast Playback

Apple also released iTunes 4.9 on Tuesday, which adds Podcast support and the ability to automatically download Podcasts to your iPod. ( Playlist took a look at iTunes 4.9 and its Podcast support earlier this week.) However, the new 20GB model we received shipped without the latest iPod software update (1.2), which provides the corresponding Podcast features on the iPod. I’m assuming that this update will eventually be installed on all shipping iPods, but in the meantime, owners of the new color iPods (and owners of other Click Wheel-based iPods, for that matter) should download and install iPod Updater 2005-06-26 to add such compatibility.

Once you’ve done so, a new Podcast item appears in the iPod’s Music menu for accessing and playing any Podcasts downloaded via iTunes. Playing Podcasts is much like playing audiobooks, such as those downloaded from Audible.com or the iTunes Music Store—when you stop listening to one, it’s automatically bookmarked so you can go back later and pick up where you left off, and Podcast artwork, if present, is displayed on color iPods just as audiobook covers are. The iPod even supports Podcast chapters, provided the Podcaster has inserted chapter marks into the Podcast. (Apple provides a tool to do this, downloadable via the Podcasts section of the iTunes Music Store.)

The Lowdown

Since their debut, Apple’s iPod photo models have been hard to beat in terms of their functionality: They are exceptionally easy to use, sync effortlessly with your music (and photo) collection, offer good battery life, sound as good as any player I’ve heard, and include bright, crisp, easy-to-read color displays. Plus you get the ability to view your photos on the iPod or on a TV. However, the higher prices of the iPod photo line—originally $499 and $599, most recently $349 and $449—made them too expensive for many shoppers. But now that you can get a 20GB iPod “photo” for $299 (only $50 more than an iPod mini), that price premium has been all but eliminated: If you’ve got a large enough music collection that you need 20GB of storage on your player, or if you’ve been jonesing for photo capabilities, Apple’s new 20GB iPod “with color display” is hard to resist. (And if you need even more space, you can get the monstrous 60GB model for only $100 more.)

For more on iPods and iPod accessories, see the Playlist Product Guide.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Crisp, bright, color screen and photo features for same price as previous monochrome version
    • Excellent sound quality
    • Works with existing accessories
    • Good battery life

    Cons

    • No bundled AV or FireWire cables
    • Requires syncing with iTunes to “project” photos (to a TV) that have been uploaded via camera adapters
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