Late last year, amid much hype -- and after Steve Jobs repeatedly belittled portable video devices -- Apple announced its fifth-generation iPod, dubbed by many as the iPod video. Seven months later, the U2 iPod has caught up with the pack. Originally debuting with fourth-generation technology (a monochrome screen with a Click Wheel), then later with a colour screen, this special-edition iPod, a collaboration between Irish rock band U2 and Apple, is basically a red and black version of the fifth-generation iPod.
The latest iPod U2 (30GB only, £239) shares most of its characteristics with the fifth-generation video iPod but boasts a few key differences. The most noticeable is the Ferrari-red scrollwheel contrasted against the black body. Flip over the device, and you'll find another distinguishing design tweak -- the signatures of all four U2 band members have been laser-etched in the iPod's shiny, dark metal rear casing, which also features a U2 stamp and the words 'special edition'. This iPod also comes with an iTunes Music Store code that you can redeem for an exclusive 30-minute U2 video.
Some may scoff at the additional £20 that you'd spend over a regular 30GB iPod, but it may well be worth it for U2 fans and others who want a different look to a device that is so common it could be considered generic. In addition to the red and black frontside, the metal backside is a darker-than-typical tint. But those awaiting the next version of the iPod -- which probably will have a bigger screen and presumably better battery life (as well as the rumoured Wi-Fi integration) -- should consider holding out, as it could arrive near the end of the year.
In general, the 5G iPod gets credit for its immaculate and thin design. The 30GB body, which measures 61 by 104 by 10mm and weighs only 136g, is baby-soft to the touch. And while design elements such as the Click Wheel are familiar, this iPod has an added sexiness, thanks to the 64mm (2.5-inch) screen (260,000-colour display with a crisp 320x240-pixel resolution) that dominates its upper half.
The Click Wheel -- which uses in-house technology (Apple abandoned Synaptics tech starting with the nano) -- is actually smaller, by about 6mm in diameter, than the 4G iPod, which means you won't get as much scrolling action with each stroke of the thumb. The select button, which was slightly raised before, is now flat. The headphone jack has moved to the far right, and the smart jack, which was used by a host of accessories, such as the Apple Remote, has disappeared. The hold switch has moved from right to left, while the dock connector remains bottom centre. Overall, the physical design is simpler and more refined, though slightly less ergonomic.
The 5G iPod plays MP3, AAC, protected AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF and Audible audio files. It is, at root, a music player and includes all the same audio features, plus more, of the previous iPod. The 5G iPod still lacks the coveted FM tuner, and it cannot record audio out of the box. Still, with album art, a plethora of EQ 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 5G iPod is also a decent photo viewer, and you can listen to music while you browse photos or watch a slide show. The player has excellent slide-show options, including a variety of transitions and customisable music. The 5G iPod is also able to play video encoded in H.264, MPEG-4, M4V and MOV up to 768Kbps, 320x240 pixels and 30fps. What differentiates the iPod from video competitors such as Cowon and Creative is that legal video is easily available within a familiar interface. Also, it doesn't take a genius to get them to play on the iPod -- incompatible video files won't even get transferred to the device.
CNET Labs was able to muster nearly 15 hours of audio-only battery life and about 2.5 hours for video.
Additional editing by Kate Macefield