Redesigning the best
One of the most important characteristics of any MP3 player is its size -- a fact clearly not lost on Apple. The new iPods are 15.75mm thick and weigh 158g (that's 2.5mm thinner and 25.5g lighter than earlier iPods), and they have rounded edges. These changes make the new iPod fit even more comfortably into pockets than its already pocket-friendly predecessor does, and they give it a pleasingly modern look for 2003. The new model also features enhanced touch-sensitive controls that glow an iridescent orange when in use. The orange contrasts nicely with the 2in. diagonal blue-backlit display, which has a higher resolution. Merely placing a fingertip on any of the controls (Rewind, Menu, Play/Pause, and Fast-Forward) activates the desired function -- almost as if the buttons were activated by heat, rather than pressure. Luckily, the sturdy Hold button on the top of the unit prevents feathers and other objects from activating the controls.
The 15GB and 30GB models come with a docking cradle that can recharge the iPod or connect the unit's line-out jack to a stereo. Apple also includes a remote control and a carrying case (they're the same as the old ones) with the two higher models in the line.
The new models lose the FireWire port on the top and add a slot on the bottom that connects to an included FireWire cable or an optional USB 2.0 cable. This means that Windows users who have USB 2.0 can use the iPod right out of the box, without purchasing a FireWire card, as they were required to do with the last model. It also means that any computer with a USB 1.1 port can connect to the device.
Clever new features
The new iPods feature everything the old ones have and then some. The most important addition is support for Dolby's AAC files; AAC is generally recognised as the best codec at most bit rates (although some open-source fans prefer Ogg Vorbis). Since Apple's new (US-only) music service, iTunes Music Store, offers downloads in the AAC format at 128Kbps, this codec support is a must. But Apple's new iTunes 4.0 software will rip CDs and encode them into AAC files, so iPod owners who do not use Apple's new service will still be able to take advantage of the better-sounding codec. The other big additions involve customisation away from the computer. You can now browse an iPod's library and hold down the centre scroll-wheel button to add songs or entire albums to an on-the-go playlist. This is great for mixing up your collection on the bus when you didn't have time to create a new playlist at home. Another such feature is the ability to customise the main menu to include only the options you want to access quickly (think shortcuts on your desktop). New ancillary enhancements include two games (solitaire and parachute) and an alarm clock that can beep or play music (try connecting the cradle to your stereo to wake up to the song of your choice). The 10GB version has a list price of £249 (inc. VAT) and ships without the docking cradle, the carrying case or the remote control. The 15GB and 30GB versions, with respective list prices of £299 and £399 (inc. VAT), come with these three extras. An additional £29 buys a docking cradle for 10GB iPod owners or those who want to seamlessly connect a 15GB or 30GB model to a stereo with a second cradle. Users of the 10GB model can also buy the remote control and carrying case (£29 each) separately. The new iPods for Mac and Windows PCs will be available in the UK from the second week in May.