Upon selecting a video to play, you will notice a 3-second delay, and the processor works overtime when you scrub through large chunks of video. But while watching an hour-long show on the iPod's screen can get tiresome for your eyes and hands, we can only praise the screen's performance. It's lively, and it never skips frames. Plus, dark areas of video content (at least in H.264) are a rich black, you get instant playback after a pause, and viewing angles are decent. Basically, watching the iPod is the equivalent of watching TV in a typical bedroom -- that is, from a 12-inch TV about 3m away. If you decide to pipe out the video to a TV (and you should), know that the 320x240 resolution will look compressed and grainy on a bigger screen.
The iPod's processor performance for audio and photos is solid, with only occasional drive delays -- this is typical across the MP3 board, though we've noticed that the fourth-gen is slightly faster than the fifth-gen when skipping tracks. Audio quality is quite good and probably better than the previous iPod's, with reasonable bass, distinguishable mids and shiny highs, and the audio-output power is acceptable. We do wish that the equalisers had more extreme sound-shaping qualities or even offered a preview before selection. Audio is especially noticeable while watching video, as most people aren't used to brilliant bass when watching music videos. They say if you have good audio, it doesn't matter how small the screen is.
Transfer time for audio files is never an issue with the iPod. Our transfers over USB 2.0 on a Windows computer was good enough at 3.52MB per second, but not as fast as those of some iPods of past. Video, because of its sheer size, will take much longer than you're used to. Simply downloading a 43-minute TV show (193MB) from iTunes took more than 2 minutes on a corporate broadband connection. The same video file took 25 seconds to make it over to the iPod. Clearly, this isn't a problem UK users are going to have to worry about for some time to come.
For audio, Apple rates the 30GB and 60GB iPods for 14 and 20 hours per charge, respectively. We were able to muster 14.7 hours of audio-only battery life for the 30GB version. As for video on a 30GB model, we were pretty disappointed with the 2 hours, 31 minutes we got playing back an iTunes TV programme. You should expect a video-only battery life of about 4 hours on the 60GB version; the extra battery life makes the 60GB version a coveted item, particularly because it's still slimmer than the fourth-gen iPod. However, battery life will always be an issue with a video device.
We watched the same TV programme just over two times. It was $1.99 in the US, which we felt was decent value, but we'll probably never watch that episode again. Also, the limited content available in the UK is £1.89 per music video or Pixar short, which is over 50 per cent more expensive. Plus, DRM prevents us from copying the show to a watchable DVD. You'll barely get a movie in, and your audio battery life will sink if you watch just one music video. Do note, however, that because the screen turns on by default when you control the iPod, and because the screen is bigger, your realistic battery life will seem lower than in our tests. Our advice is to disable the backlight completely when using it in daylight since it's not necessary for viewing the iPod interface. Battery life will no doubt be improved in subsequent versions, so if you're eyeing the iPod as a video device, either wait or get an Archos or a Creative player with a bigger screen and better battery life.
Edited by Jasmine France
Additional editing by Nick Hide