It's all change with Apple's core iPod range – and we got our hands on one of the first of the new colour 20GB model.
On Tuesday, Apple consolidated its full-size iPod product lines into a single line by dropping the 20GB, monochrome-screen, 4th-generation iPod (£209 inc VAT) and the 30GB, colour-screen iPod photo (£249), and replacing them with a single 20GB iPod with colour screen for £209. The 60GB iPod photo model remains, but the word "photo" has been dropped from its name and its price has been lowered from £309 to £299. What we're left with are two colour-screen, photo-supporting iPod models – iPod photos in all but name – at effectively lower prices. Apple has also updated the Special Edition U2 iPod with a colour screen and photo capabilities and lowered the price from £249 to £229.
These changes complete a gradual transition away from separate photo and non-photo models – and the use of the "photo" designation – that began in February when Apple dropped the 40GB standard iPod and added the 30GB photo model to take its place. The transition continued as Apple removed the phrase "iPod photo" from many Knowledge Base articles and other documentation (using the phrase "iPod with colour display" instead) and de-emphasized the word "photo" on the iPod photo packaging.
According to Apple, the 20GB iPod (with colour display) also inherits the 30GB iPod photo's improved battery life: up to 15 hours of music playback or five hours of slideshows with music, as opposed to the 4th-generation 20GB iPod's 12-hour life – we'll attempt to verify that claim for our full review. Apple's official capacity estimates state that the new 20GB model should hold up to 5,000 songs at 128kbps AAC or up to 20,000 photos, compressed via iTunes. The specifications for the 60GB model remain the same. You can use Apple's optional iPod Camera Connector to upload photos to both colour iPods from your digital camera.
Apple has also continued the trend of reducing the price of iPod models by eliminating "unnecessary" accessories. Like the now-discontinued 30GB iPod photo, the new iPod (with colour display) models drop the FireWire cable; they now include only earbuds, a USB 2.0 cable, and an AC adaptor. Although I'm sad to see the FireWire cable go – transferring a few thousand songs happens much faster over FireWire than even USB 2.0 – the fact is that far more computers today have USB 2.0 ports than FireWire, so if Apple is going to include only one of the two cables, USB is the way to go. Those of us who prefer FireWire can pick up a FireWire dock connector cable from Griffin Technology.
But even if you don't plan on using the new iPod models for viewing photos, the colour screen is a welcome upgrade that provides a significant improvement in the entire iPod experience. If you've never used an iPod photo, I can tell you that everything is much crisper and easier to read with the colour screen, from song titles to menus. In fact, I used to say that the colour screen of the iPod photo line was easily worth an extra £40 by itself; now you get it for "free".
The new 20GB model we received shipped without the latest iPod software update (1.2), which enables compatibility with iTunes 4.9, also released on Tuesday, for downloading Podcasts to your iPod. Assuming our 20GB iPod wasn't an aberration, you'll want to download and install iPod Software Version 1.2 to add such compatibility.
Change is good
What do these changes mean for you? If you're thinking about buying an iPod, your choices have been reduced, but the remaining models are big improvements over their predecessors and mighty enticing. For the same price that the non-photo 20GB iPod went for yesterday, you get an impressive colour screen, better battery life, photo and slideshow support, and album artwork display. You lose the FireWire cable, but I'll take these improvements over a FireWire cable any day – everyone benefits from a colour screen and better battery life, but, unlike USB, not everyone has a computer with FireWire. And those in the market for a U2 iPod get an even "better" upgrade: They get the same upgrades as buyers of the 20GB model, but for £20 less than they would have paid before today.
These are just our first impressions and comments; we'll post an official review after we've had the chance to put the new iPod "with colour display" through its paces.