Apple loaned me a video iPod for a couple of weeks to try out podcasting for educational purposes. First impressions were how small a package it was. I received one plain white cardboard box about the size of a stack of three CD jewel cases. Inside was the iPod itself, a USB cable, earphones and a third party carry case. There was no manual and no mains power supply (the unit presumably recharges via the USB cable).
The video iPod is about the size of a deck of cards (or a Blackberry phone). It is heavy compared to a mobile phone. The curved slippery case it a bit difficult to hold but very attractive. Interestingly even the back of the unit has been made interesting to look at, in shiny chrome. Apparently you can have the case laser etched with your corporate logo, if you order enough units.
The iPod has a very clear landscape QVGA color screen, about half the size of a credit card. This is about as large a screen as you can get on a pocket size unit and still have room for operating controls.
Below the screen is a circular touch pad with a button in the centre as the primary, and almost only, control. This is large enough for people with fat fingers to use. The control is operated by sliding a finger around the circle clockwise or anti-clockwise for "up" and "down" in menus, to advance or rewind music or to increase or decrease volume. There are marked positions for "menu" fast forward, rewind and play/pause at the points of the compass and a button in the middle.
The screen displays menus of functions. The controls are reasonably easy to use, but it did take me a couple of minutes to work out how to adjust the volume (just stoke the wheel). Music, videos and other content are listed by type and genre.
I got Apple to pre-load the ACS's new TV advertisement onto the iPod for demonstration. This looked good on the iPod's screen. However, the sound was lost somewhere in the transfer (the complexity of different video formats is a problem). The advertisement was made in wide screen format and displays in letter-box mode on the iPod's 3 x 4 format screen, with a black strip on the top and bottom. This made the small picture even smaller. There may be a way to zoom in, but content specifically intended for such small screens needs to be specially edited with closer closeups.
Some sample music was also on the iPod. I tried it out on a bus (a challenging environment for any gadget). The sound quality was very good, masking the sound of the diesel engine. The third party case was essential, as otherwise the small shiny iPod would have slipped from my hand. The dull black case also was good at masking the white ipod finish. I would have preferred a set of black earphones to the white ones, so it would look less conspicuous (but some might like to show off their gadgets). I was able to adjust the volume while the unit was clipped to my belt without looking. With some experience I exoect I could select content without looking.
After the impromptu commuter test I tried plugging the iPod into my laptop. This was the second disappointment (the first being no sound on the ACS video). Microsoft Windows XP recognized the iPod as soon as I plugged in the USB cable and the iPod appeared as a disk drive. However, the disk was reported as unformatted. It appears the unit is formatted for an Apple Mac by default. It wasn't clear to me what to do: reformat it or look around for a special iPod driver?
Not knowing if I could simply reformat the disk using Windows, I went to the Apple web site and found the iPod updater. Assuming this was the software for interfacing to the iPod, it took 20 minutes to download the 45 mbytes of software. After a reboot, the software seemed to do nothing at all.
At this point I considered downloading Apple's iTunes music store software. But I don't particularly want to buy or play music, I want to make and play podcasts. Also iTunes is another 45 mbytes of software, so I left it for another time.
About all I could do was format the unit for Windows, so I did that. I was then able to copy files from windows to the iPod. However, this seemed to erase the iPod's operating software and resulted in an iPod which was only usable as a portable disk drive. It just displayed a web address for iPod support when turned on and would not show any menus or play music.
At this point the usefulness of the iPod update I had downloaded became apparent. I ran that and it restored the iPod's operation (after warning it would erase any content on the disk). As well as that, I was now able to copy files to the iPod and have them appear on the menus alongside the music and videos. But the MPEG video I copied didn't play, web pages didn't render (just displayed the HTML source code). GIF and JPEG images did not display, nor did SMIL and video files which worked with Apple's QuickTime video player.
Obviously I need to hunt down the specifications of the media formats the iPod supports. Just as obviously I need to stop thinking of the iPod as a little computer. It is, at least in its out of the box form, limited to playing a few media formats. It doesn't appear to be able to display the sorts of documents my computer or my mobile phone can.
In summary: so far the video iPod seems to be good for playing music, but not much else.