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Photos Plus Music Equals an Expensive iPod

By default, photos are copied to the iPod Photo in compressed form to save disk space; this doesn't affect how they look on the device or on a TV, but it does increase the time needed to copy them to the iPod the first time. This also prevents you from copying your photos from an iPod Photo to another PC.

You can avoid both problems by selecting a less-than-obvious option in iTunes to preserve photos' full resolution -- even the 40-gigabyte iPod Photo has more than enough room to allow that. (If you want to simply haul photos from computer to computer, without viewing them on the iPod's screen, any old iPod will suffice if switched into the "disk mode" that lets it double as an external hard drive.)

(Photo Illustration by C. Kelley - The Washington Post)

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When playing music, an iPod Photo looks and works like a garden-variety iPod, except that it displays any album cover art stored in iTunes.

Those images, however, show up no bigger than a thumbnail. If you haven't bought any songs from Apple's iTunes Music Store, which includes cover art with each download, you may not even know this feature exists, since iTunes (unlike Microsoft's Windows Media Player) doesn't automatically show album art for songs in a collection.

Apple did manage to add photo capability without adding much size or weight. The iPod Photo is only slightly thicker and heavier than a music iPod -- 3/4 inch thick and 6 3/4 ounces. Nor is there any compromise on battery life: I got 16 1/2 hours of music playback with the screen's backlight off, 90 minutes more than Apple's estimate. With the screen illuminated full time for slide show viewing, the battery lasted about 5 1/2 hours.

Like other iPods, this model doesn't allow easy replacement of its internal, rechargeable battery. Apple charges $99 for that service, while third parties offer it for a bit less.

This entire package is certainly much more pleasant to live with than such competing devices as the Archos Gmini 400 audio/photo/video player. This $399, 20-gigabyte device is a bit smaller, a bit lighter and a lot cheaper than the iPod Photo and offers the bonus feature of video playback, but it suffers greatly from a senselessly cluttered interface and the lack of any photo-synchronization option.

But the iPod Photo's biggest obstacle isn't other products, it's human nature. As I wrote several weeks ago when I reviewed a Portable Media Center handheld, it's a lot harder to gawk at pictures while walking, running or driving than it is to listen to music; none of Apple's engineering wizardry can change that.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.

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