On Tuesday, Apple consolidated its full-size iPod product lines into a single line by dropping the 20GB, monochrome-screen, 4th-generation iPod ($299) and the 30GB, color-screen iPod photo ($349), and replacing them with a single 20GB iPod with color screen for $299. The 60GB iPod photo model remains, but the word “photo” has been dropped from its name and its price has been lowered from $449 to $399. What we’re left with are two color-screen, photo-supporting iPod models—iPod photos in all but name—at effectively lower prices. (Apple has also updated the Special Edition U2 iPod with a color screen and photo capabilities and lowered the price from $349 to $329.)
These changes complete a gradual transition away from separate photo and non-photo models—and the use of the “photo” designation—that began in February when Apple dropped the 40GB standard iPod and added a $349 30GB photo model to take its place. The transition continued as Apple removed the phrase “iPod photo” from many Knowledge Base articles and other documentation (using the phrase “iPod with color display” instead) and de-emphasized the word “photo” on the iPod photo packaging.
We got our hands on the 20GB iPod (“with color display”) model today, and if you’ve ever used the now-discontinued 30GB iPod photo, the 20GB model will look familiar. Identical, in fact, other than the “20GB” icon on the back. The new 20GB model is .06” thicker and .3 ounces heavier than the old 20GB model, but the exact same size (.63” thick) and weight (5.9 ounces) as the 30GB iPod photo, meaning that any accessories—cases, dockable speakers, and the like—that fit the 30GB photo should fit the new 20GB iPod perfectly. If you’re upgrading from an older 20GB 4th-generation iPod, all but the most form-fitting accessories should work with the new color screen version.
According to Apple, the 20GB iPod (with color display) also inherits the 30GB iPod photo’s improved battery life: up to 15 hours of music playback or 5 hours of slideshows with music, as opposed to the 4th-generation 20GB iPod’s 12-hour life—we’ll attempt to verify that claim for our full review. Apple’s official capacity estimates state that the new 20GB model should hold up to 5,000 songs at 128kbps AAC or up to 20,000 photos, compressed via iTunes. (The specifications for the 60GB model remain the same.) You can use Apple’s optional iPod Camera Connector to upload photos to both color iPods from your digital camera.
Apple has also continued the trend of reducing the price of iPod models by eliminating “unnecessary” accessories. Like the now-discontinued 30GB iPod photo, the new iPod (with color display) models drop the FireWire cable; they now include only earbuds, a USB 2.0 cable, and an AC adapter. Although I’m sad to see the FireWire cable go—transferring a few thousand songs happens much faster over FireWire 400 than even USB 2.0—the fact is that far more computers today have USB 2.0 ports than FireWire, so if Apple is going to include only one of the two cables, USB is the way to go. Those of us who prefer FireWire can pick up a FireWire dock connector cable for $15 from
Like the original iPod photo models, the new iPod line provides similar 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. To do the latter, you need to purchase either Apple’s $39
iPod with color display Dock
iPod AV Cable.
But even if you don’t plan on using the new iPod models for viewing photos, the color screen is a welcome upgrade that provides a significant improvement in the entire iPod experience. If you’ve never used an iPod photo, I can tell you that everything is much crisper and easier to read with the color screen, from song titles to menus. In fact, I used to say that the color screen of the iPod photo line was easily worth an extra $50 by itself; now you get it for “free.”
The new 20GB model we received shipped without the latest iPod software update (1.2), which enables compatibility with iTunes 4.9, also released on Tuesday, for downloading Podcasts to your iPod. (Cyrus Farivar took a
First Look at iTunes 4.9 and its Podcast support
earlier today.) Assuming our 20GB iPod wasn’t an aberration, you’ll want to
and install iPod Software Version 1.2 to add such compatibility.
Once you’ve done so, iTunes 4.9 downloads the Podcasts you specify to your iPod, which can be browsed via the Podcast item in the iPod’s Music menu. Playing Podcasts is much like playing audiobooks, such as those downloaded from Audible or the iTunes Music Store—when you stop listening to one, it’s automatically bookmarked so you can go back and pick up where you left off later, and Podcast artwork can be displayed on color iPods just like audiobook covers. And like audiobooks, Podcasts can support chapters; the Podcaster just has to add chapter marks to the Podcast. (Apple provides a tool to do this, downloadable via the Podcasts section of the iTunes Music Store.)
Change is good
What do these changes mean for you? If you’re thinking about buying an iPod, your choices have been reduced, but the remaining models are big improvements over their predecessors and mighty enticing. For the same price that the non-photo 20GB iPod went for yesterday—and only $50 more than a 6GB iPod mini!—you get an impressive color screen, better battery life, photo and slideshow support, and album artwork display. (You lose the FireWire cable, but I’ll take these improvements over a FireWire cable any day—everyone benefits from a color screen and better battery life, but, unlike USB, not everyone has a computer with FireWire.) And those in the market for a U2 iPod get an even “better” upgrade: They get the same upgrades as buyers of the 20GB model, but for $20 less than they would have paid before today.
At the same time, the reduced price of the 60GB iPod makes it much more appealing, and will likely increase “up-sell” sales of the top-of-the-line model. Before today, those considering a 20GB iPod had one moderately tempting alternative: a 30GB photo, which offered the awesome color screen and 50% more storage for $50 more. Only those with large music collections—or lots of photos—seriously considered the 60GB model at nearly twice the price of the 20GB standard iPod. Now you get a 20GB model with color screen without paying a cent extra, but you can also
your storage for only $100 more.
Finally, with these changes to the full-size iPod line, and the reduction in price of the 1GB iPod shuffle, the iPod lineup now looks like this:
Apple’s comparison chart
One thing that stands out about this list is that the difference between a 6GB, monochrome iPod mini and what is essentially a 20GB iPod photo is only $50. That tells me that either Apple really wants people who are considering the iPod mini to buy the 20GB iPod instead; that the company is planning on increasing the capacity of the iPod mini; or that the company has plans to drop the price of the iPod mini at some point, as well.
(The only major downside to these changes is that writers will now have to figure out what to call this new line of iPods. It’s a real stretch to call them “5th generation,” since the 20GB model is just a smaller version of the now-discontinued 30GB model, and the 60GB version is unchanged. But “iPod [with color display]” doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue. Perhaps “color iPod”?)
More to come…
These are just our first impressions and comments; we’ll post an official review after we’ve had the chance to put the new iPod “with color display” through its paces.
For more on iPods and iPod accessories, see the
Playlist Product Guide.