Given the iPod's raging popularity, the photo-friendly version should get more than its share of looks. Sporting a full-color, 16-bit screen, the 40GB iPod Photo displays photos and album art in an interface that's undeniably Apple (also available in 30GB and 60GB capacities). From the ease with which one loads photos to the device to the browsing of thumbnails and images on the iPod itself, the overall experience is positive and warm. But its premium price tag of $500 dismayed prospective buyers when it was first released. Apple has since discontinued the 40GB version, but bargain hunters should pay some heed because this version comes with the original accessories no longer included with the updated 30GB and 60GB versions. These add-ins include a dock and an A/V cable, and if you consider its street price of less than $400, this is a good deal--maybe even a steal. From afar, the Apple iPod Photo looks no different from the popular : same Click Wheel interface, polished white body, gleaming silver backside, hold switch, dock connector, and headphone inputs. It's not until you hold one that you sense a difference. At 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.75 inches and 6.4 ounces, the iPod Photo slightly thicker and heavier than its 40GB audio-only counterpart. The additional mass is especially noticeable when compared to the 20GB iPod, and while the Photo is still considered sleek, it almost feels as if you're holding two iPods. The high-capacity hard drive and a larger battery contribute to this iPod-on-steroids feel. And when you power it up and see the color screen light up, you know you're dealing with entirely different beast.
The 2-inch backlit LCD can display 65,536 colors at a resolution of 220x176 pixels. Unlike the screen on the iRiver H320, another MP3 player that displays photos, the iPod Photo's transflective face is visible with the backlight turned off. This is particularly useful outdoors during the day, as the backlight sucks serious battery juice from the player. The monochrome LCD of the audio-only iPod looks downright drab when compared to the Photo's bright and vivid screen. As far as photo viewing goes, the experience certainly adds to the value of what is already an outstanding audio player. However, the small screen size will have some users squinting and others complaining that the device doesn't do the photos justice. But most will be impressed by the iPod's ability to instantly load pictures, which can be browsed using the Click Wheel in a fashion that takes less thought than that of browsing music since your choices are based on imagery instead of text.
Color adds a lot more than just photo pleasure. The familiar iPod interface now has a white background, a blue selector bar, black text, and a green (changing to yellow and red when dying) battery indicator. Built-in extras such as the calendar and games look entirely different and more approachable on the iPod Photo, and you get full-color album art on the Now Playing screen if you've purchased music from iTunes Music Store or if your ripped CD or your jukebox software supports the feature.
We--and many others--were disappointed with the original iPod Photo's lack of a digital-camera interface. After all, this iPod, with its color screen and huge hard drive, had the potential to be an essential photographer's companion. Apple has responded by releasing a firmware update and an optional Camera Connector accessory that will allow users to connect a camera and transfer photos to the iPod (see Features). Luckily, those who shelled out the big bucks for the original can upgrade their iPod Photos, too. Previously, your best solution was to purchase a third-party product such as Belkin's Digital Camera Link or Media Reader, which allow you to transfer your files to the iPod but not view them. But serious photographers, be forewarned: the iPod Photo is not the ideal photo viewer due to its small screen size; direct digital-camera transfers will make it more suitable as a storage device. Serious digital photographers should take a peek at dedicated photo viewers such as Epson's P-2000, which features a larger 3.8-inch, 24-bit color screen and built-in media card slots. Nevertheless, the combination of audio and imagery that the iPod Photo provides is deft at worst.
We should also mention the iPod Photo's headphone jack also serves as a video-out port. The device ships with a fancy-looking white A/V cable that allows you to output audio and still images to a television when viewing a slide show. This method of viewing photos is outstanding, especially on a big-screen TV with a nice audio system. Both versions of the iPod Photo ship with a newly designed dock featuring an S-Video-out port (which adds sharpness to the images on the big screen), standard earbuds, a carrying case, an AC adapter, and FireWire and USB 2.0 cables.
When you connect the Apple iPod Photo toor higher, you'll get a new tab in Preferences. This is where you can designate what photo application or photo folder you want to sync with the iPod Photo, just as you would with audio tracks. After--and only after--iTunes has synchronized the music side, the program will automatically create and transfer three copies of the original photos designated by the user: one each optimized for thumbnail viewing, regular viewing, and for viewing on a television. This makes a ton of sense, as zero optimization or compression would make for annoyingly slow photo-loading times, as experienced on the iRiver H320. And without optimization for televisions, your outputted photo would look pixelated and harshly low-fi. The transfer is invisible to the user, and the benefits include blazing-fast scanning through photos and thumbnails, which are displayed in an innovative mosaiclike five-by-five thumbnail grid. In iTunes' Preferences menu, you also get an option to transfer a full-size copy of the photo. While you can't view this file, you can store and transfer it as you would a data file.