The fifth-gen iPod is available in black or white, and its polished backside gently slopes in from the front of the player, so it glides into pockets. The most noticeable trait, of course, is the 64mm (2.5-inch), 260K-colour display with a crisp 320x240-pixel resolution. The extra 13mm diagonal not only does wonders for photos (now you get a six-by-five grid of thumbnails), album art and the interface in general, but also makes viewing videos a reasonable if not pleasurable experience.
A word of caution to prospective buyers: scratches and smudges accumulate quickly, and they show up more on the black version. Blemishes are par for the course for all iPods, but they are much more noticeable on this big-screen iPod, especially since the display will be stared at for several minutes at a time. While watching the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, one of the iTunes TV shows only available in the US, we kept noticing a sliver of a scratch in the middle of the screen.
Viewing angles are decent, but the lack of a built-in speaker, as well as the screen, which is small by portable video player standards (most have 3.5- to 7-inch screens), makes the iPod an intensely personal device. We'd also love to see a user-replaceable battery, along with a quick and dedicated way to control volume. The interface itself hasn't changed too much, though you'll find some new choices when it comes to video: a video option in the customisable main menu, as well as extended options such as Video Playlists, TV Shows and Movies. You can also customise settings such as NTSC/PAL and a wide-screen mode, though there is no option to adjust brightness or contrast. However, the big, bright screen -- which looks great outdoors, where a backlight is not necessary -- makes for a clean and joyful user experience.
Along with streamlined packaging, the fifth-gen iPod has a trimmed-down bundled-accessories list. You get earbuds, a USB cable, a semisoft case (which is now included with the nano), and a plastic adaptor for use with certain accessories. Glaringly missing is a power adaptor (available separately for £19) -- out of the box, your only powering option is via your computer's USB. Also, we'd love to see AV cables (£15) and a dock (£25). This is critical for many of us who find the iPod uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of video viewing.
First, the basic stuff: the fifth-gen iPod plays MP3, AAC, protected AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF and Audible audio files. It is, at its core, a music player and includes all the same audio features, plus more, of the previous iPod. The fifth-gen iPod still lacks the coveted FM tuner, and it cannot record audio out of the box. Still, with album art, a plethora of equaliser 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.
The fifth-gen iPod is also a decent photo viewer, and you can listen to music while you browse photos or watch a slide show; the iPod has excellent slide-show options, including a variety of transitions and customisable music. Photos look stupendous on the new screen, and in thumbnail view, you get five extra photos. And thanks to the Click Wheel, you can whiz through thumbs and full-size photos. In addition, you can splash out on the Apple iPod Camera Connector (£19) if you'd like to transfer images over from a digital camera.
The fifth-gen iPod also features all the little extras that were new to the nano, including the world clock (you can view four clocks at a time) and the screen lock, plus the tried-and-tested contacts, calendar, games and other ancillary extras.