Late last year, amid much hype--and after Steve Jobs repeatedly belittled portable video devices--Apple announced its fifth-generation iPod, dubbed by many as the iPod video. Seven months later, the U2 iPod has caught up to the pack. Originally debuting with fourth-generation technology (a monochrome screen with a click wheel), then later with a color screen, this special-edition iPod, a collaboration between Irish rock band U2 and Apple, is basically a red and black version of the fifth-generation iPod.The latest iPod U2 (30GB only, $329) shares most of its characteristics with the fith-generation video iPod but boasts a few key differences. The most noticeable is the Ferrari-red scrollwheel contrasted against the black body--it definitely pops. Flip over the device, and you'll find another distinguishing design tweak: The signatures of all four U2 band members have been laser-etched in the iPod's shiny, dark metal rear casing, which also features a U2 stamp and the words "special edition." This iPod also comes with an iTunes Music Store code that you can redeem for an exclusive 30-minute U2 video. Some may scoff at the additional $30 (and additional 10 percent) that you'd spend over a regular 30GB iPod, but it may well be worth it for U2 fans and others who want a different look to a device that is so common it could be considered generic. In addition to the red and black frontside, the metal backside is a darker-than-typical tint. But those awaiting the next version of the iPod--which probably will have a bigger screen and presumably better battery life (as well as the rumoured WiFi integration), should consider holding out, as it could arrive near the end of the year. In general, the 5G iPod gets props for its immaculate and thin design. The 30GB body, which measures 4.1 by 2.4 by 0.4 inches and weighs only 4.8 ounces, is baby-soft to the touch. And while design elements such as the click wheel are familiar, this iPod has an added sexiness, thanks to the 2.5-inch screen (260,000-color display with a crisp 320-by-240 pixel resolution) that dominates its upper half. The click wheel--which uses in-house technology (Apple abandoned Synaptics tech starting with the Nano)--is actually smaller, by about a quarter-inch diameter, than the 4G iPod, which means you won't get as much scrolling action with each stroke of the thumb. The select button, which was slightly raised before, is now flat. The headphone jack has moved to the far right, and the smart jack, which was used by a host of accessories, such as the Apple in-line remote, has disappeared. The hold switch has moved from right to left, while the dock connector remains bottom center. Overall, the physical design is simpler and more refined though slightly less ergonomic. The 5G iPod plays MP3, AAC, protected AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF, and Audible audio files. It is, at root, a music player and includes all the same audio features, plus more, of the previous iPod. The 5G iPod still lacks the coveted FM tuner, and it cannot record audio out of the box. Still, with album art, a plethora of EQ choices, lyrics support, on-the-go playlists, and a dedicated place for audio and video podcasts, as well as audiobooks, the iPod manages to be a complete audio player.
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