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Updated 5G Apple iPod--same stuff but better

Updated 5G Apple iPod--same stuff but better

At Apple's media event, Steve Jobs jumped right into introducing an updated fifth-generation iPod. Not a tremendous surprise here, as we believed the sixth-generation "true video iPod" would not be announced until later in the year or even early in 2007. But the new "enhanced" iPod looks like a tremendous improvement over the last one, which debuted last October. The iPod has many incremental improvements, including a brighter screen and better battery life, but probably the most appealing aspect is the new price points of $249 for the 30GB version and $349 for the huge 80GB version (available in both white and black). Okay, it's nowhere near as exciting as a potential widescreen version, but these updates should feed the masses through the holidays.

Let's talk about battery life first, since the pre-enhanced iPod has been dogged for its 2-plus hours of video battery life. Now you'll get 75 percent more battery life with both sizes--that means you'll get up to a rated 3.5 hours of video battery life for the 30GB version and up to 6.5 hours for the 80GB. Boosting battery life will always make a product more appealing, and it looks like Apple responded to all the complaints. Basically, this brings the iPod in line with other players, such as the Creative Zen Vision:M and the Toshiba Gigabeat S, in terms of video battery life. And now you can watch a couple of movies on a plane trip, plus have some extra juice for music and photos.

The new iPod also has a brighter screen--by up to 60 percent. Not that the iPod had a dim screen in the first place, but brighter is always better, especially when it doesn't come at the cost of battery life. You can even adjust brightness during movie playback. Still, especially with the launch of feature-length movies, the 2.5-inch screen is a bonafide pain to watch for more than 30 minutes. Movies were made for bigger screens (that's why the iTV will be cool).

Gapless playback is probably one of the most requested features in any MP3 player. Those with dance mixes can now rejoice, and the feature works well (it's easy to tag tracks as gapless in the new iTunes). Previously, the now-defunct Rio Karma had this feature. Today, the Archos 04 series of PVPs has gapless playback. While this should have been added a long time ago, we commend Apple for turning the corner (the new iTunes 7, Nano, and Shuffle also have gapless playback).

The iPod's software has been enhanced as well, and these new features definitely make the iPod better. First, you can search tunes using an alphabet-style instant search. OK, we've seen this on Creative and other products for a while, but it's nice that Apple has observed the market and integrated this useful feature. Another "borrowed" feature is that as you scroll through tracks, the first letter of the track section appears as a graphical button overlay. Remind you of the Toshiba Gigabeat S? Finally, Apple has added a refined games section, which includes titles such as Bejeweled, Tetris, Texas Hold 'Em, and Pac-Man. New games will be available online today at the iTunes Store and will cost $4.99.

Just about every reviewer despises the bundled headphones. So Apple responded and will be shipping better-designed headphones--we can't vouch for their comfort level and performance at this point, but any improvement is appreciated. While we are dying to test sound quality, we're pretty sure Apple hasn't improved the iPod's poor EQs. Apple should be able to implement a good one- why don't they?

So that's it--while the 6G "true video" iPod will still be a figment of the tech world's imagination (check back at Macworld 07), the enhanced 5G iPod looks more attractive than ever with its incremental updates. It looks the same as the original (accessory companies breathe a collective sigh), but underneath the hood, you have an iPod that makes the original 5G iPod look very rusty. Pricing is a huge aspect here; $249 for the 30GB iPod, as far as I know, is the best price for a 30GB player I've ever seen. And for another $100, you get 80GB! Nice job there, Apple. For me personally, the gapless playback and better battery life make the iPod the most attractive one to date, and it's certainly a better value than the similarly priced but much smaller 8GB Nano.

Check out our other first takes of the second-generation iPod Nano, the new iPod Shuffle, and iTunes 7.

Pros: Better video battery life and brighter screen; up to 80GB; instant search, improved games, and gapless playback; excellent value.

Cons: No major functions added, such as FM radio, wireless, recording; small-screen movie viewing stinks.