On Sundays, Gothamist runs opinion pieces on issues relevant to life in New York. The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

2005_10_ipodvideo.jpgApple's recent introduction of the fifth generation (5G) iPod has once again brought the portable music player to the front of world consciousness. Now featuring video playback functionality, the device brings new questions to the thought of owning and using an iPod in NYC. I recently got my hands on one, and after smudging it with my fingerprints, I think I can answer a few.

I don't intend to do a full-blown review of every last details of the new iPod; if you're looking for something like that, you can read the reviews in the Times, the WSJ, or Ars Technica.

The 5G iPod comes in four configurations, with two hard drive sizes (30GB / 60GB) and two case colors (black / white). The 30GB configuration retails for $299, while the 60GB retails for $399. It should be noted that students or educators can receive a discount by showing their ID while purchasing at the Apple Store. These prices match the previous generation, so the new functionality does not add a further premium to the price, which is a big plus for me.

The body is slightly thinner than before, and the screen is now a 320x240 2.5" color LCD. It is a notably larger screen than previous iPods, and gives ample room to display artist and song information. Video content plays cleanly, without noticeable ghosting or streaking that has affected other portable video players. I purchased a copy of the Lost pilot from the iTunes Music Store, and have no real gripe with the quality of video displayed.

Battery times are always a touchy spot with the iPod, especially for those of us who owned third generation iPods. The good news is that reported battery times for just playing music are lengthy - 14 hours for the 30GB, 20 hours for the 60GB. This varies based on usage - backlight settings, frequency of track changes, volume, etc. - but should be long enough for nearly everyone. However, the video battery life expectations are significantly shorter - just two hours for the 30GB, and a slightly better three hours for the 60GB. The huge difference between music and video play times is due to the hard drive having to constantly spin during video playback, which is not necessary for the audio. This makes the iPod less than ideal for movie watching unless you have an outlet nearby, but certainly good enough to pull up a music video or two if you feel the need.

Also: If you have an older Mac, you should know that the iPod now only supports USB for syncing. Firewire can be used to charge but not to load your iPod up with content.

All in all, the 5G iPod is a well-rounded product that doesn't differ a ton from the previous generation. The video features are nicely done, although the battery life prevents from acting as a full blown portable video recorder.

iPod And The City

As the MTA and newspapers hammer home the idea that the iPod is the mugger's prize of choice, there's a few things worth noting for NYC iPod owners that may make or break your purchase:

When Apple announced the iPod was going to be available in black, many people hoped that the white headphones may be ditched - but unsurprisingly, Apple is still bundling white headphones with all iPods. If you're the kind of person who believes the color of headphones you wear will prevent you from getting mugged, you'll still need another pair.

As you might expect, the video functionality does require you to have the iPod in your hand, and this may lead to some fear watching it in public. Furthering your frustrations is that Apple has removed the remote port from the top of the iPod, breaking tons of accessories and requiring you to fetch the iPod to change tracks or the volume. There also are not currently any cases shipping for it besides the one that Apple gives you (which looks like it came from a summer camp!); while you can use the scroll wheel through this case, it takes some practice.

So how do you keep from having your iPod ripped off? Use some common sense:

  • Don't sit by the subway door and hold the iPod in your hand.
  • Try to keep your iPod buried in your bag, coat, or fastened to your clothing as much as possible.
  • Keep the volume at a reasonable level, so you can be aware of what's going on around you.
  • While you're at it, be sure to look up every now and then. You don't want to miss your stop.
  • If it's late at night and you're walking around unsavory parts of the city, maybe it would be a good time not to put on your headphones.
  • If you're really tired, you might also want to skip on the music - falling asleep on the train makes you an obvious mark.

Finally, I've had a lot of people ask if the screen is as prone to scratching as the iPod Nano allegedly is. After having the 5G iPod kicking around my bag in the case for nearly a week, the screen hasn't been damaged in the slightest - your mileage may vary, but my experience has been good.

Dan Dickinson blogs and the like at vjarmy.com . His parents really wish he would stop spending his money on this crap and grow up already.