Apple iPod 30GB Video, 5G

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, January 2006, updated February 2007
Manufactured by: Apple Corp
Requires: Windows 2000 through Vista; Mac OS X (Mac OS X v10.3.9 or later), USB port or card (USB 2.0 recommended)
MSRP: (30GB) US$299, UK£219.00, €329.00; (60GB) US$399.00, UK£299.00, €448.99

The Apple iPod is a phenomenon which I have struggled with since it appeared. I can understand that the iPod is a cool concept and Apple has done a laudable job in creating and promoting the device. Apple's iTunes portal has also done much to promote and foster an environment which has fed the success of the iPod. This iPod is part of the fifth (5G) generation of the devices which now feature high resolution color screens and full video playback capability. It's currently available in 30GB and 60GB configurations.

The unit I received came in Apple's new black packaging. The box contains installation software including iTunes which is required in order to synchronize music and video and data files to the iPod, a USB dock connection cable, earphones, and an adaptor for the optional docking cradle. There is no Firewire support.

The installation of iTunes went well until I decided to plug in my iPod and there my troubles started. Yes, I did read the leaflet-sized manual. I had to reset my iPod manually for it to be seen by the OS and iTunes. Thankfully Apple has an excellent online help center, which is good for finding quick fixes to common issues.


Once installed, I went about configuring iTunes to create MP3's from my music and to use my existing music archive to populate the iPod. Here again I ran into problems. I had to reconnect the iPod several times in order for it to successfully copy over 1000 MP3s. Only a thousand and I was having problems. Some of the MP3's are big though due to the fact that I collect live radio shows and DJ mixes, some of which are 150 to 300MB in size. Eventually it worked and I was able to listen to the music. I also loaded a number of music videos and TV shows so that I could compare the experience to what I've been having on my Pocket PC.

I began playing some of the audio tracks on my iPod and found that I actually enjoyed using the ear buds provided. I found them quite comfortable without the sponge covers. Apple have done a good job of selecting a shape which is comfortable and has no edges. Navigating to find media files is really simple and works just like previous generation iPods with the exception that it now supports the organization and selection of video files. I got to grips with the controls very quickly, but I thought it would really be nice if you could jump forward through the currently playing track to get to the parts I wanted. To my pleasure, I found out that you could, but the process is not as intuitive as I would like. To move through your current selection you have to press and hold the center button to kick it into scrub mode so that you can move through your selection using the click wheel.

Watching movies on the iPod is a real pain and only an insane person would do it with any regularity. I felt confined and a little uncomfortable watching anything for any length of time on the 2.5 inch screen. It felt like trying to squeeze my head into a helmet which was just a little bit too small. Double the size of the display area and you might win me over. But therein lies my problem. I've been spoiled by the larger display on my PDA. I think Apple and many of the other producers of video playback devices need to take a more effective look at the ergonomics of the video experience before designing their next generation solutions. I also found that video format support was quite limited, with no support for common formats like WMV, XVID, DIVX or MPG. QuickTime 7 Pro can be used to convert most video files into iPod-friendly formats. However there are also plenty of less expensive (and some free) third party tools out there which support conversion to iPod-friendly formats like H.264, M4V, MP4 and MOV.

Viewing photos is easy but as I shoot most of my photos in RAW format, I was annoyed with the fact the iPod doesn't support RAW. JPG, BMP, TIF and a couple of other popular formats are fully supported. The interface allows viewing in a variety of ways including a thumbnail browser and a slide show which advances with transitions and a variety of other user configurable settings.

Apple has also created a whole bunch of applications which take the iPod into territory which was introduced with the Nano. The additional program functions include a world clock, a stopwatch, and support for Calendar and Contact information from your Address Book and iCal on your Mac, and Outlook or Outlook Express on Windows. There are even four games in the bundle for when you really get bored. The iPod Video is not a fully fledged PDA by a long shot, but seems to hint at the future.

The iPod is in my opinion an example of the current trend in disposable product creation. Use your iPod until the battery dies and then try to replace the dead battery. You can't, at least not without an expensive visit to the Apple service center. Many folks buy a new iPod instead. Why not design the iPod along the same lines as mobile phone manufacturers? Because Apple can make money from replacing a component which should be something a user can do easily and painlessly (that is if the industrial designers had done their job properly). Imagine this scenario: I'm using my iPod and I run out of juice. No problem. I have an extra battery so I power down the iPod and replace the low battery with a fresh one. What an idea, eh?

My other problem with the iPod is that I find them a bit of an incongruity in this age of convergence. I believe Apple's dominance of the portable media device market may diminish as more phones with built-in hard drives and support for large capacity memory cards reach the market. The Treo 650 is an example of a device that functions brilliantly as a PDA, wireless phone and music player. The Treo 650 can also be used, depending on your phone service provider, to stream TV programs and video. If Palm manages to add compatibility with Digital Rights Management (DRM) and some of the online music services, look out.

For several years I have been using a Pocket PC on which I've played music, read books, watched movies and TV shows, all this alongside the other tasks that these great little computers allow me to carry out. Okay, it's not an iPod and does not permit me to carry my whole music library (or at least a huge chunk of it) with me. But with a decent sized SD card in the Pocket PC I can do a lot. In any case, for all my griping I actually like the iPod because of its clean design and easy usage and I will most likely continue to use my new toy alongside my PDA, when, that is, I can carry both. Wait a moment—there's an idea! Create an iPod-based PDA! Do I hear a phantom uttering the word 'Newton'?

Cons: The installation and configuration of iTunes should be easier. The bundled accessories are uninspiring. Come on Apple! Why no AC adaptor? Hell, my cell phone, which was darn near free, came with a lot more than that. No dock or video cable. Sparse documentation. The supplied case is a joke. No user replaceable battery. Small screen. Limited video format support. Even more annoying for existing 1G or 2G iPod owners, there is no Firewire support. On the documentation front, I feel that Apple should be ashamed of themselves for providing only a quick start leaflet which surely needs to be rewritten with less emphasis on minimalism.

Pros: Thin, light and fits nicely in your hand. The user interface is clean and easy to use. Great small screen—maybe the best you can get. Useful utilities and applications. Videos and photos look crisp with accurate colors. Video playback is smooth. Audio quality is terrific, with clarity and depth that is truly high-fidelity, and with enough power to drive volume to uncomfortable levels. The iPod is, and I say this somewhat begrudgingly, an easy to use multimedia device which serves its intended purposes quite well. I recommend Apple's iPod with two reservations: make the battery replaceable by owners, provide some decent accessories with the unit and I'll be happy.





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