First Look: Apple's New and Improved 80GB iPod
At a Glance
Apple Fifth Generation iPod (Late 2006) 80GB
Apple's latest iPod costs a lot, but it boasts a great screen and tons of storage, in addition to a easy-to-use interface.
Refinement: That's what you get out of Apple's latest iPod. For this latest generation of players, Apple hasn't made any huge changes, but it has introduced a brighter screen and an extra 20GB of capacity on the high-end model. I tested the 80GB model (priced at $349) and found a music and occasional video player that's just about as good as it can get.
The 80GB model is the flagship of the revamped iPod line that Apple announced on September 12. Other new models are an enhanced 30GB hard-drive player at $249; new 2GB ($149, silver only), 4GB ($199), and 8GB ($249, black only) iPod Nanos in colorful iPod Mini-style aluminum cases; and a super-tiny new 1GB iPod Shuffle at $79.
Movies debut as well in the iTunes store built into iTunes 7, along with features such as automatic downloads of cover art, and a "cover flow" view of the iTunes library that lets you flip through albums as if you were examining a rack of CDs.
For music playback, not much has changed. The iPod remains an excellent MP3 player, and its sound quality continues to rank with the best around. The latest version adds gapless playback, eliminating the pauses between tracks on an album, and thereby permitting a smoother listening experience. In our lab tests, the iPod earned very good scores for audio quality, comparable to those received by Creative's Zen VisionM and Toshiba's Gigabeat S. I did notice a slight hiss when listening to the iPod through a pair of high-end Shure E500 PTH headphones, however.
Apple's familiar ClickWheel lets you navigate your music library with ease, scrolling through individual items and then through letters of the alphabet as you accelerate. A new search feature lets you scroll to select a few letters in order to pick out a song, artist, or album. With 80GB of storage on board--20GB more than most competitors (and the previous high-end iPod) muster--such features are welcome.
Apple claims that the 2.5-inch 320-by-240-pixel screen on the new iPods is 60 percent brighter than the screen that previous models used--and the new display does look great, on a par with the excellent screen on the Creative Zen VisionM. Videos were very watchable on the display, and they're easier to get. The new iTunes 7 features a movie store with an impressive array of releases available for $10 apiece, complementing its growing library of TV episodes. Most full-length features ran about 1.5GB. The title I tested (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) looked very crisp for a 320-pixel production.
Games make an appearance on the iPod as well, with nine titles--including Tetris, Pac-Man, and Bejewled--available from the iTunes store for $5 each. Happy as ever to find yet another device to play Tetris on, I downloaded a copy and had a blast learning to line up blocks using the Click Wheel.
Unfortunately, iTunes 7 was battling its fair share of problems at press time. I experienced occasional crashes on both a PC and a Mac, and also was disappointed by the new album art search feature, which often failed to find art for releases that had valid links back to the iTunes store. That and the small but noticeable hiss I picked up were the new iPod's only blemishes.
Apple's latest iPod may cost a lot, but it boasts an upgraded screen and tons of storage.
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