iPod 80GB Personal Music Player
Improved Fifth Generation with Video iPod
Apple's iPod is an
omnibus term that actually refers to three very different
personal music players.
The smallest in this image is the 'Shuffle'; the mid
sized unit is the 'nano', and this review covers the full
sized 80GB hard disk based iPod.
Part two of a series on the Apple iPod - additional parts to be published in the following
A miracle of the digital age,
Apple's 80 GB iPod is smaller than a pack of cards but can hold
the equivalent of 1300+ CDs of music.
Although clearly the market
leader, with an estimated 90% share of the hard disk based
personal music player market, the iPod is not without weaknesses
and limitations, and its expensive list price - $349 - doesn't
include many of the things you'd expect and which are included
by competing units. You'll need to buy such things as a
power charger separately.
Is the iPod a triumph of style
over substance? Should you get an iPod? Perhaps, but
not to watch video on, and not if you have an extensive
collection of classical music.
What You Get With Your iPod
The design of the iPod is as
minimalist as possible, with almost no moving parts, switches,
buttons, or knobs.
So too is its packaging as
minimalist as possible. For the $350 list price, you will
get the iPod itself, a set of cheap earbud headphones, a data cable, a thin
protective sleeve for the iPod, a mystery plastic bit that is a docking station adapter so the new
smaller sized iPod can fit in docking stations designed for
larger older models, and a quick start guide.
That is all. You don't
get a power supply, you don't get a manual, you don't get any
software. A very minimalist package indeed - you don't get
much for your $350.
Apple iPod extras you'll
probably want to purchase
To charge the iPod, you
connect it via the supplied data cable to a USB port on your
computer, and the iPod then takes power from the USB port.
An Apple technician recommended using a USB port from the back
rather than the front of the computer - he says the ports on the
back usually have more powerful power supplies.
Note that although the data cable has
a standard USB connector on the computer end, the iPod end
is a special shaped/sized connector unique only to iPods.
You can't use a regular USB cable or USB power supply to charge
the iPod - you either have to buy a special iPod power supply
(special only in the sense of having the unusual connector at
the end) or use the supplied data cable with a computer.
Most people will end up choosing to buy a power supply as well
so if they're traveling without a computer, they can still
charge their iPod. Apple sell chargers for the princely
sum of $29.
And if you wish to connect
your iPod to external things such as a stereo system,
television, or selected other devices, you'll need to buy
its docking station - also not included in the basic iPod
package. This lists for $39. It is
described as a universal docking station, but that is a bit
of a misnomer because you need adapter sleeves for the new
smaller iPods to fit in it - don't lose the one that came
with your iPod or you'll be buying more at a cost of $9
Another accessory is an
FM tuner. Some MP3 players come with FM tuners built
in, but the iPod requires you to buy this as an extra.
It is priced at $49.
If you want to be able to
transfer pictures directly from a camera to the iPod, you
need another $29 accessory.
If you want to play video,
you need to get a video cable set for $19, although
we believe regular video cables will work, but you just have
to mix and match the video and audio outputs until you find
how Apple has hidden them in an attempt to force you to buy
their over-priced cable.
And if you want a manual,
the good news it is free, but you'll
need to download that from the
As for software, Apple
cleverly loaded the software you need onto the iPod itself, so
when you first connect it to your computer, you don't need to
also load drivers or anything from a CD-rom. One less
thing to lose.
And on an 80GB hard drive,
who really cares if a few tens of MBs of space are taken up with
software, drivers, etc? On the other hand, like all hard
disks, when you buy an iPod that describes itself as having 80GB
of capacity, you don't actually get 80GB as implied.
Instead, you have to make do with a mere 74.4GB of space.
But this isn't exclusively Apple's perfidy - it is the peculiar
industry standard method of hard disk measurement.
In a slightly embarrassing
twist, it seems that in a very small number of cases, when your
iPod is automatically transferring the drivers and iTunes
software to your computer, it may also be transferring a virus,
too. Apparently some of the
newest iPods came with a virus on them. Apple offers
advice on how to detect and resolve this problem here.
The iPod comes with a one
year warranty and an entitlement to a single free support call
within the first 90 days from when you purchased the unit.
They offer an
extended warranty - two years and unlimited support - for
$59. The support agreement includes any necessary battery
replacement, and so this seems like money well spent for most of
us, especially if you're planning on being a moderately frequent
user of your iPod.
Like most modern MP3
players, the iPod unit is wonderfully compact and lightweight.
It measures 4.1" x 2.4" and is just over 0.5" thick. It
weighs 5.5 ounces.
The smaller capacity 30GB
unit is slightly thinner, and weighs 4.8 ounces.
The two distinctive features
on the front of the unit are the screen and the control wheel.
The screen measures 2.5" on the diagonal (2" wide, 1.5" deep, in
a 4:3 ratio the same as a traditional tv screen), and has a
resolution of 320 x 240 pixels (referred to as QVGA), and is
capable of displaying over 65,000 colors. The display is
bright and clear, and is better than on the original fifth
The control wheel has
evolved since the first iPods five years earlier. Nowadays
it is fixed, but it senses the position and movement of your fingers by
detecting the change in capacitance caused by the proximity of
your finger to the wheel. The wheel also has four click
positions, marked by symbols that explain their meaning (ie
Menu, Play/Pause, Fast forward and Fast backward) and there's a
central button in the middle of the wheel which acts as an
There's only one other
control on the iPod - a Hold/lock slider button on the top of
the unit. Yes - there's no On/Off button.
Apple's simple design
contrasts with the more complex (but perhaps also more flexible
and simpler?) controls on my Toshiba unit - an X control similar
to the iPod's wheel, a Hold slider, plus three other
buttons and a volume rocker.
What Your iPod Does
The most obvious thing the iPod does is play music. And the 80GB iPod can sure
hold a great deal of music. If you are using moderately
good quality 128kbps encoded AAC music files, you can store
20,000 4 minute songs on the iPod - 1333 hours of music,
or about the same number of CDs - almost two months of 24/7
nonstop music without a single repeat.
In addition to playing
music, it has various other audio functions such as being able
to download and play back podcasts (if you don't know what a
podcast is, you're probably not missing out on much) and it also
can be used to store and play back
In addition to strictly
audio functions, it can also store/display photos, and
store/play videos, ranging from home movies you shoot yourself
to television shows and full length movies. Using the
standard settings for video recording, you can store up to 100
hours of video material - enough for about 50 two hour movies,
or almost 250 half hour television shows (a half hour television
show usually runs less than 25 minutes, sometimes little more
than 20 minutes, the rest of the time being normally taken up
with commercials, which of course are omitted if you're
downloading the video to watch on your iPod).
The iPod can be used as
a portable hard disk, enabling you to transfer files between
computers and to store data.
It can also be used to
directly accept pictures from many digital cameras. This
can be a very handy feature, and can be very helpful - if you
travel with both your camera and your iPod, you can use the iPod
to store all the pictures you are taking and probably never run
out of data storage. This feature requires the
purchase of Apple's $29 camera connector accessory.
Note that the various
capacities of the iPod to store audio, images, video and data
are not cumulative. The more audio you have on the iPod,
the less room you have for other types of storage, and so on.
The iPod can also be used to
display text files and to hold contact and schedule information
taken from, for example, your Outlook program on your main
computer. With the growing ability of the iPod to hold
sensitive personal data as well as relatively harmless music
files, Apple has thoughtfully added a screen-lock program which
allows you to optionally program a four digit combination code to lock
your unit, protecting you if you should lose it and someone else
It also has a very nice
stop-watch, and some built-in games.
Video on the iPod
This was the main
reason for my choosing to buy an iPod. I have a perfectly
40GB Toshiba Gigbeat MP3 player that works well as a music
player, picture displayer and data storage device, but it does
not show video.
The new fifth and the improved
fifth generation iPods can play video on their tiny screens. You
can purchase and download videos from the iTunes store (ie
movies, television episodes, sports programming) or you can
create your own on your computer.
The 80GB iPod has the
capacity to store 100 hours of video when encoded using the
standard quality settings. You could store more with
poorer quality video, or less with higher quality settings, but
for most purposes, the standard settings are adequate for the
I copied over a couple of
movies from DVDs and also downloaded an episode of The Office to
try out the iPod's video capability.
The first and strongest
impression was that the screen is very small. It is very
very small - it measures 2" x 1.5" and has a 2.5" diagonal.
To get this miniature screen
to seem as large as a regular television or computer monitor
screen, you would have to hold it about three to nine inches in
front of you, and certainly with my eyes, this is too close to
On the other hand, holding
it at a more comfortable distance, but still fairly close, the
screen takes up (ie subtends an angle) only about one sixteenth the area that my
computer monitor does.
So the picture you see on
the screen is really tiny, and if you're watching something in
letterbox format, it gets even smaller still.
There's a slightly more
subtle limitation, too. The picture isn't only small, but
it also has very little detail in it.
A DVD stores the video's picture
information at a resolution of 720x480 pixels. Most
computer monitors these days have resolutions of at least 1024x768 pixels
(mine is 1280x1024, some go to 1600x1200 or even
higher). But the screen on the iPod can only display
320x240 pixels - this is 4.5 times less data than is stored on a
DVD, and ten times less than on a 1024x768 monitor.
So if you enlarged the
image on the iPod, it would be coarse and fuzzy and
lacking in detail. These limitations aren't so obvious on
the very small screen, when held at a distance, but not only can
you not see the limitations, you also can't see much positive
I had a number of people look at the video samples on my iPod, including a fifteen
year old. I reasoned that if anyone would be keen to watch
video on an iPod, it would surely be a teenager, and if anyone's
eyes would be able to make the best of the small image, it again
would be a teenager. But even the teenager was unimpressed
(she said it made her eyes hurt) and none of the adults liked it
As a gimmick, the iPod's
video scores well. But as an actual practical application,
it flunks totally. If you're considering buying an iPod to
watch video on it, don't. Choose instead a larger screened
unit such as the 4.3" diagonal screened Archos 504/604 - these
screens have almost three times the viewing area of the tiny
iPod (and more pixels of resolution too).
Using the iPod
The iPod is either very
simple to use or rather complex, depending on your perspective.
If you can program the time on your VCR, you'll probably love
it. If you can't, there might be occasional moments of
The first frisson of
self-doubt occurs when attempting to turn the unit on.
There's no power button. Fortunately, this is easily
solved - pushing any of the buttons turns it on. But - at
the end of using the iPod, the issue of how to turn it off may
prove more puzzling, and I watched with glee as two computer
literate teenage boys spent 15 minutes unsuccessfully trying to
turn off an iPod nano they'd been playing with (you hold down
the Play/Pause key until the unit shuts itself off).
I chose a black iPod rather
than the traditional white color, but the headphones supplied
with the unit were the standard white ones rather than matching
black - apparently Apple has yet to consider color coordinating
its headphones to its various different colored players.
The headphones are tiny 'ear
bud' type units, and provide an average and adequate sound.
They are light and convenient, but for serious listening, you'd
be well advised to get a better set of headphones. And, of
course, if using the iPod on a plane, you should consider
noise cancelling headphones.
A design flaw with the
headphones is the very subtle labeling of which is the left
earbud and which is the right. The thin little
stenciled letters are hard to see in full daylight and even
harder to see in a dim evening light.
The scroll wheel was a bit
too sensitive for me - when I was moving my finger on it to move
the cursor through menus it was very easy to over-shoot and not
to get the cursor highlighting exactly the selection I wanted,
but other than that, it was a simple and easy set of
menus to work through. You can even customize the menus
somewhat, choosing which options appear on the main 'home page'
Working through the unit's
menus to find the music you want is fairly simple and
straightforward (except for classical music - see
below), and you can choose music through several
different routes - for example, you can start off by selecting a
group you like, then choosing an album or song from that group.
Or you can choose a particular style of music, then choose
artists/groups who have recorded in that genre, then choose
their albums/songs from there.
In addition to these ways of
accessing your music, there is also a search function that
allows you to key in part of the name of a song or album or
artist and it will return all matching songs that have those
One interesting feature was
a volume limiter. After setting a maximum volume level in
this menu option, using the volume control on the unit won't
allow you to go over the preset maximum. This is designed
to help you protect your hearing, which can be a major concern
with these types of units. Because your ears will
automatically desensitize themselves to overly loud volumes (but
will still be damaged by them - they just don't sound so loud)
it is possible to be all the time turning up the volume control,
louder and louder, without realizing the damage you're doing to
To minimize damage to your
hearing, you should instead adopt an opposite strategy -
regularly check and try turning down the volume until it is at
the minimum acceptable level, rather than regularly keep turning
the volume up and up.
Apple claim a battery life
of 20 hours for the new 80GB iPod when playing music, and 6.5
hours when playing video.
Testing suggested these
claims are about right for a new iPod with brand new battery,
assuming you don't use the display too much when playing music,
and have the brightness turned down as much as possible when
It takes about two hours to
charge an iPod most of the way (to about 80% of capacity), and
four hours to give it a full charge to 100% of capacity.
As discussed in the
introduction and overview of the iPod model range, Apple's
rechargeable Lithium-ion battery has, of course, a finite life
and sooner or later will need replacing. It is not easy to
replace the battery yourself, unlike some players which even
offer removable batteries so you can, for example, always travel
with two batteries.
This is unfortunate, and
most of us will end up sending the unit back to Apple and having
them replace the battery (ie exchange the unit) for us.
iPod/iTunes Doesn't Work Well with
Although the iPod's
structuring of music works well for most popular music, it
completely fails to support the type of categorization that is
needed for classical music. When storing classical music,
you want to be able to search by composer (this is possible) but
then within the composer's works, you want to be able to search
for particular pieces of music - for example, a four
movement/track symphony, a three album opera, or a single track
piece of piano music, or whatever else. This function is
completely unavailable; all you can do is then search by album.
You also want to be
able to search, under the artist category, by orchestras, by
conductors, and by soloists. Each piece of music, using
the iPod/iTunes structure, only supports a single value for
artist, so a piece of music such as a piano concerto or opera
that might have multiple values completely can not be
With other MP3 players I
have created my own categorization system outside of the
player's built in hierarchy by building my own series of folders
and sub-folders. I have a folder for each composer, then
sub folders below that for genres such as symphonies,
instrumental, etc, then folders below that for each individual
piece, with the relevant tracks all contained in that folder.
This is not a complex structure to create, but it is impossible
on the iPod/iTunes combination because Apple do not allow you to
override the way that they insist on categorizing and storing
Buying and Loading Music and
Video onto an iPod using iTunes
Most people will get music
for their iPod either by copying CDs they currently own or as
purchases from Apple's iTunes service.
The iPod players come with a
bundled software program - iTunes - for managing the music on
the player and the 'master' version of the music on a computer,
and this software program is integrated into the online
storefront of their music selling service, making it very convenient
and simple to buy more music and add it to your computer and
Most music on iTunes is sold
either by the track or by the album (ie the CD which you'd
otherwise buy in a store). Generally music is priced at
$0.99 per track, and usually the price of an album is capped at
$9.99, even if there are more than eleven tracks on the album.
Albums that were originally a double CD format would usually be
priced at $19.98, and $29.97 for triple CD collections, etc.
There are exceptions to this
pricing, with some albums costing more and others costing less.
For example, the CD 'The Very Best of Supertramp' has 15 songs
on it, but is priced at only $6.99, instead of the usual $9.99,
or the $14.85 you'd pay if you bought all fifteen songs
But beware of such bargains.
This CD is a compilation of tracks from other Supertramp CDs,
and if you already own the other Supertramp CDs, there's no
sense at all in then buying this compilation CD as well.
You could simply build a 'Playlist' that picks the tracks from
the original albums and puts them in the same order as on this
compilation CD, and save yourself the cost of it completely.
On the other hand, if you
wish to treat yourself to a little bit of Wagner and wish to get
Decca's lovely Solti/VPO excerpts from their epochal complete Ring
recording, you'll be paying $9.99 for a collection of only six
tracks. In theory, you could download these tracks one by
one and pay only $5.94 for the 45 minutes of music being sold
here, but iTunes has a trick to prevent you doing that.
Only some of the six tracks can be purchased individually - to
get the complete six tracks, you need to pay $9.99 for the
It is hard to see the
fairness of charging $10 for 45 minutes worth of music,
particularly when it doesn't meet the 99¢/track paradigm and is
recycled music originally recorded as much as 45 years ago.
Other albums cost more than
$9.99 - for example the two disk set The Wall by Pink Floyd,
with 26 tracks on it, which in theory you'd expect to be priced
at $19.98, actually sells for $25.75.
Don't buy music through iTunes
In reality, the cost of
buying iTune music, whether track by track or album by album
quickly becomes expensive, and it is not uncommon to find it
costs more money to buy music electronically via iTunes than the
'old fashioned way' by buying a CD in a music store.
Furthermore, the quality of
iTunes music is not as good as the quality of the music on a CD,
so you're actually getting less for your money. Plus the
copy protection (what is now referred to as 'Digital Rights
Management' (DRM) - a new-age marketing term that actually means
digital lack of rights control) and not having a physical
recording means you can't
easily swap or re-sell the music with/to someone else, and you
have restrictions on how you can listen to the music.
Not only does the DRM policy
restrict your ability to play the songs you buy on other devices
(you can play the songs on five computers and one iPod) it also
restricts your ability to play it on other non-iPod devices.
If you subsequently decide to replace your iPod with a Microsoft
Zune, for example, all your investment in iTunes music will be
completely wasted and useless, because the Zune uses a different,
incompatible type of DRM.
Although the music can be
more expensive to you, and less useful, it would also seem to be
more profitable to Apple and the recording companies, because
they don't incur any costs of making or shipping CDs, they don't
have to carry inventory costs, they don't have returns, and
every which way their life is much simpler and less costly.
How unfortunate that their savings have not been reflected in
fairer pricing to us, their customers.
In general, you are strongly
advised to buy regular CDs wherever possible and to copy the
music you wish from your CDs. The iTunes program makes
this easy to do.
Video from iTunes
Similar comments about costs
and copy protection apply to video purchases too. A single
episode of a television show is $2 to purchase. A movie
ranges in price, typically in the $10 - $15 price range.
This is less than you'd pay for a new release on a DVD, but more
than you'd pay for some of the older movies now for sale at
If you're buying video, you
need to have a fast internet connection to get the video
transferred to your computer. Each minute of video is
about 12MB in size, so a half hour television episode can take
nearly 300MB to download, and a two hour movie is a massive
1.45GB in size.
Recording Your Own Music and
Video for Your iPod
This will be discussed in a
future article in this series. For now, suffice it to say
you should record in the AAC format, using a bit rate of at
least 128 kbps or preferably more for best quality. This
can be done through the iTunes program from your own CDs, or
using various other programs.
Copying video from DVDs,
If you want to copy or make
your own videos, you'll need some sort of video
editing/conversion program. We've used the
Movavi Video Suite and found it easy to use. You might
like to try their free demonstration version and possibly choose
to buy their software too.
Should You Upgrade from an
Perhaps you already have an
earlier model iPod. Should you now consider upgrading to a
new 5½th generation 80GB iPod?
are two major reasons why you might wish to do this, and four
major reasons are :
need more storage : If your current iPod is almost
full, and if you still have additional music you'd like to
load onto it, then maybe it makes sense to upgrade to the
massive 80GB of capacity on this new iPod.
need more battery life : The new iPods have the
longest battery life yet (20 hours of music playback or 6.5
hours of video playback). If your current iPod doesn't
have enough battery life to conveniently last from one
charge to the next convenient charging opportunity, perhaps
this too is a good reason to upgrade.
four minor reasons are :
smaller size than previous models
screen that can display pictures and which is brighter than
don't really need more space at present, but you'd like to
re-record a lot of your music at a higher quality bit rate
and this would then cause you to need more space
Other than these reasons,
there are no other compelling reason to upgrade.
Should You Upgrade from a
Different Brand of MP3 Player
The six reasons above apply
equally if you're considering a move from a different type of
MP3 player to an iPod, but there is also one other positive
issue and one cautionary issue to carefully consider.
Positive - Get access to iPod accessories
The positive issue is that
with an iPod you get immediate access to the wealth of iPod
accessories. These range from boom box type units to car
audio kits, to remote controls, to clock/radio combination
units, to just about anything else imaginable.
For those of use without an
iPod, it is very tantalizing to see all these wonderful goodies
that can be added to an iPod but which don't work with our other
brands of MP3 personal music players.
Until now, the wide range of
accessories have given the iPod a unique and very powerful edge
over its competitors, but it is likely that Microsoft's new Zune
player will quickly build up a range of accessories too, adding
to the competitive pressure that Microsoft's move into this
market will bring to Apple.
Negative - Potential problems transferring
The cautionary issue relates
to your ability to transfer your current music files over to the
iPod. If the music on your other player is non-copy
protected and recorded in MP3 format, then the chances are you
should be able to copy the music from your old player to your
computer, and then from one directory on your computer into the
But if it is copy protected,
this may not be possible, and you might find yourself losing
much or all of your music library.
Some music download services
allow you to download your music repeatedly onto different
devices, and some allow you unlimited use, but others are very
If the music is in a
different format than MP3 (for example, in the standard Windows
WMA format) you may have issues converting it to MP3 or AAC
format. Although there are programs that will do this for
you, we strongly recommend that you never convert from
one digital format to another - you can lose a lot of quality
going through this process. It is much better to re-record
the music from the original CD or other source in the new
You are entitled to a single
support call on a single issue within 90 days of buying your
iPod. I quickly came across a need to call for support.
The good news - after
working through annoying voice recognition menus (annoying
because they rarely recognize what I'm saying) I was quickly
connected to a support person.
The bad news - the support
person did not speak English as his first/native language, and
the quality of the phone line to whatever far-away country he
lives in was very poor.
The good news - asking to
speak to a supervisor got me switched to a native English
speaker (after a long wait on hold), and then subsequently transferred to another English
speaker (in Canada) for more pro-active support.
If you need further support
after your one free call,
you probably should buy their two year service contract for $59.
This includes unlimited phone support plus an extension of the
hardware warranty from one to two years as well.
An Alternative to the iPod
There is an interesting
Rockbox - that allows you to run a different type of
interface on your iPod. You get the same basic iPod
functionality, but a lot of extra capabilities too. Best
of all, it is free.
If you're a 'techie type'
and, like me, are frustrated by some of the iPod limitations and
constraints/controls, you might find this an interesting
alternative, and definitely worth a look.
new improved fifth generation Apple iPods are well made and
attractive, and reasonably easy to use.
For most people (other than
classical music lovers), they will
be a more than adequate way of storing and playing music.
But the rigid locked
structure between the iPod and the iTunes management program and
the copy protection limits the flexibility of the unit, and
music you purchase through iTunes could become totally useless
if you wish to copy it to a different or replacement player in
We recommend you consider
other portable music players with less restrictive copy
protection, and wherever possible, don't buy online
copy-protected music, but instead buy the CDs that you can own
outright and then copy them onto your personal music player as
you wish, free of restriction.
Already pricy at $349, by
the time you add a power supply/charger and a docking station
(items usually included with other competing products) the price
has inflated to $417; add an FM tuner module and you're now
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27 Oct 2006, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.