Apple iTunes 7 review: Apple iTunes 7

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The Good Apple iTunes 7 shines with a refined but still-intuitive interface; striking Cover Flow album view adds extra dimension to music library; iTunes Store features movies, games, music, podcasts, and mobile applications; supports gapless audio playback; automatic album art retrieval.

The Bad iTunes 7, along with Cover Flow, is more processor-intensive than version 6; underdeveloped Radio section; movies have a resolution of only 640x480; can't burn to watchable DVD; store navigation is cluttered; album art retrieval feature comes up empty-handed occasionally.

The Bottom Line Apple iTunes 7 is a required upgrade for movie buyers and owners of a new iPod or iPhone. Its refined interface, particularly Cover Flow, and useful new features trump the fact that the application is processor-intensive.

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7.8 Overall
  • Setup 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Review Sections

The latest version of Apple's iTunes software (version 7.7) expands the offerings for iPod, Apple TV, and iPhone users. The popular Windows and Mac jukebox application has come a long way since version 6. Its integrated iTunes Store includes feature-length movies, TV shows, games, a free University lecture podcast section titled iTunesU, a selection of unrestricted (DRM-free) music downloads called iTunes Plus, and a newly added App Store offering third-party applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. iTunes 7.7 has taken on an ambitious amount of features since the days of iTunes 6, but the essence of iTunes remains: it is an intuitive and (mostly) all-inclusive refueling point for iPods as well as a media platform that aims to be part of your living room.

In this review, we'll take a closer look at iTunes 7's new features. For some background on the preexisting interface and feature set, check out the review of iTunes 6.

iTunes 7's interface
There are several ways to view and arrange your computer's media library in iTunes 7, but one interface element remains constant--the source panel. Located on the far left side of iTunes, the vertical baby-blue strip known as the source panel includes separated sections for Library (Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Applications, Radio, Ringtones), Store, Devices (your iPods or iPhones), Shared Libraries, and Playlists. Selecting a source reveals all of its content in iTunes' main viewing pane, which offers an exhaustive amount of ways to sort and view content.

The iTunes source pane acts as a table of contents for all the facets of the application.

View options
In addition to the plain-vanilla listing of your tracks and movies, you get two additional views. First new option: a simple list grouped with large album art, and a second option dubbed Cover Flow. The Cover Flow view displays a big window (that can be resized) for a virtual shelf of album art or movie covers, which reflect elegantly against the black background. You can scroll through and watch the graphics whiz by, or you can point and click one. Content associated with an album or a movie cover spills down below. As a new song plays, the appropriate cover will flip into place. Owners of slower systems will notice processor lags, though the gee-whiz visual appeal of this feature offers an extra dimension to the listening experience.

Cover Flow is processor intensive and is more effective when your cover art collection is complete, but the feature adds a lot to the user experience.

Integrated device management
Your iPod and iPhone settings are all managed within the iTunes interface. The main landing page displays a graphic and vital stats of your iPod or iPhone and allows you to check off universal settings, such as "Only sync checked items." Additionally, you can Update or Restore your iPod or iPhone from this Summary page. Content is managed by clicking tabs for specific content types such as Music, Movies, TV Shows, and Contacts. Finally, at the bottom of this window is a color-coded capacity meter that visually breaks down Audio, Video, Photo, Other, and Free Space. Competing applications such as Windows Media Player offer similar integrated management options; however, the use of a nested window rather than a new one helps.

Manage your iPod and iPhone sync settings using the integrated device manager option.

Download Manager
This is a Source pane option that appears when you purchase content. Basically, it lists your selections along with a progress meter, and it's very useful if you want to reorder the queue to get the song or movie you want quicker. You can also pause a single download or pause all downloads, and it's a great way to keep track of interrupted downloads.

The Download Manager in iTunes 7 allows you to monitor your download queue; you can even pause a download or move selections up to the top of the queue.

Automatic album art retrieval
With Apple's emphasis on album artwork in both iTunes and the devices served by iTunes (iPhone, iPod, Apple TV), it can be jolting to come across an album with missing cover art. Apple makes it easy to automatically add artwork to you music collection by matching your music with album art from its iTunes Store catalog. The Get Album Artwork feature (found under the Advanced menu), can take several minutes to process your music library. We've noticed that iTunes has improved its ability to automatically retrieve album art compared with the spotty results we experienced in an earlier version of iTunes 7, but you'll still have some gaps in cover art that you'll have to hunt down manually.

Click Get Album Artwork to start the cover art fill-in feature.