Underneath the familiar and still-scratch-prone polycarbonate and metal skin of the updated iPod (aka the 5.5 generation, or 5.5G) lies a more mature iPod, many steps wiser and more able than its one-year-old predecessor. The iPod gains many incremental improvements, including a brighter screen and better video battery life, but probably the most appealing aspect is the tantalising price points of £189 for the 30GB version and £259 for the huge 80GB version (available in both white and black). While it may still not fully address the needs of a new population of iTunes movie watchers, the updated iPod is the best one to date.
Most of this review of the 5.5G iPod will cover new features and performance numbers. For a closer look at the basic design and base features of the iPod, read this review.
The iPod's physical specs are nearly the same as those of the original fifth generation. It's still one of the sleekest high-capacity players around at 61 by 104 by 11mm and 136g for the 30GB and 61 by 104 by 15mm and 156g for the 80GB model, which has exactly the same dimensions and weight as the now-defunct 60GB version. We think the 80GB version (the one we actually reviewed) feels nicer in the hand than the razor-thin 30GB.
The 80GB is enticing for video addicts both for the capacity (iTunes movies are about 1.5GB) and the better battery life (rated for up to 6.5 hours) -- plus it's great value at £259. Though the £189 retail price tag for the 30GB version is outstanding, excellent Windows Media players such as Creative's 30GB Zen Vision:M and Toshiba's 30GB Gigabeat S (not yet available in the UK) cost roughly the same.
The iPod is still pretty easy to scratch, both on the soft and shiny plastic face and the classic metallic backside. Fingerprints love the iPod more than they do most players. You'll definitely want to carry the iPod in a case, or at least protect the screen with adhesive film. We think the black version looks nicer, but scratches show up on it more easily. A new nano-like scratch- and print-proof aluminium case would have taken the iPod over the top.
The new iPod also has a brighter screen -- by up to 60 per cent. 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. In a side-by-side comparison of the old and new screens (at default brightness), the new iPod is noticeably brighter. Even after updating the old iPod to firmware 1.2, which among other things adds brightness control, the old iPod screen at the brightest setting matches only the new one's default setting. Battery life will be dented at the higher setting, so turn it up only when you're watching video or viewing photos. You can even adjust brightness while watching a movie by clicking the Select button twice during playback. Conversely, you should turn the brightness down when listening to audio; as always, the iPod can be viewed with the backlight turned off.