Apple Does It Again

iPod Video 4
Apple Computer Inc.
I'm multi-tasking -- writing a column, watching "Desperate Housewives" and sipping a cappuccino at my local coffee shop. I'm not near a TV but I am holding the new "video" iPod in my hand.

I put video in quotes because this new product from Apple is just called the iPod. That's because Apple, in a way, is downplaying the video part of the new device which replaces the existing hard-drive based iPods.

If you liked the old iPods, you'll like the new ones even better. Even if you never watch video, the 30 GB version has all the features of the old iPod, yet it is 31 percent thinner, stores 50 percent more music and sells for the same price ($299) as the old 20 GB version.

Apple says that the 30 GB model can store 7,500 songs, 12,500 photos and 75 hours of video. Double that for the 60 GB ($399) model which is a bit thicker than the 30 GB version, but still thinner than the old 20 GB iPod that Apple recently discontinued.

Apple continues to sell the tiny iPod shuffle (up to 240 songs) and the new four gigabyte iPod nano that stores up to 1,000 songs.

"Desperate Housewives" looks about as good on this 2.5-inch screen as it does on my TV, only a lot smaller. Although the resolution, at 320 by 240 pixels, is far from what you get with a high definition TV, it looks great precisely because the screen is so small. If you were to project the same video on a larger screen it would be fuzzy, but as long as you're watching it on a tiny screen, it looks great.

An optional $19 cable lets you connect the iPod to a regular TV set which, though larger, won't be nearly as crisp as what you see on the little screen.

Given a choice between watching a show on an iPod or a 42-inch plasma or even a regular old TV set, there's no contest. I'd rather watch TV on a real TV and I love watching it on a big screen high-definition set. But the experience of watching a show on this little screen is better than you might expect, assuming that you have it pretty close to your face. The sound through Apple's standard white earbuds is also quite nice –- certainly better than the speakers built into most TV sets.

Click here for Larry Magid's podcast interview with Apple vice president Eddy Cue.

There's good news and bad news when it comes to battery life. The good news is that Apple rates the 30 GB model at 14 hours of battery life for music, but promises only 2 hours of video playback. My battery made it easily through two, one-hour shows, but two hours of TV without commercials is really only 86 minutes.

The 60 GB model, which has a thicker battery, is rated for 20 hours of music and 3 hours of video. Speaking of battery, the units no longer come with a power supply. Instead, you charge them up by plugging them into the USB port of a PC or Mac. An optional power supply (a good idea, especially if you travel) costs $29.