iTunes 5 – First Look review

3.5 out of 5
free

For

Smart everything

Against

Smart Shuffle isn't really that Smart

With the array of new portable music options launched by Apple yesterday including the iPod nano and the Motorola ROKR, comes a new update to iTunes. But what do you get from the free download? Pocket-lint.co.uk downloaded it to find out.

The first difference is an updated interface. It's nothing major, more a redefinition of the current design. Aside from cleaner lines the main addition to the design in the expansion of the mini view. Instead of just a forward, backwards and play button, Apple has added a mock LCD display to show you vital stats like song title, artist, time to go and time played.

Apart from the tinkering of design, Apple has also introduced a new Search Bar that breaks down your library or the iTunes Music Store into manageable chunks. Headings include Music, Audiobooks, Podcasts, Videos and Booklets. The video is an interesting option and currently it only features video content either on your computer or content attached to music files. However it will still open the floodgates to rumours that Apple is one step closer to announcing a Video iPod. Within the search heading you can then search via artist, album and name of song.

For those with a burgeoning music catalogue, the search certainly does improve the ability to find music files, however we have to admit we never really found this an issue before and really this will only appeal to those with huge music collections already stored on their computer or heavy users of iTMS.

Get past the search function and you've got Smart Folders to get your head around. Like Smart Folders in Apple's operating system 10.4, you can now create Smart Playlists that are linked by artist, name of song, or anything else you can think of. Say you want to have all the songs in your collection that feature the word Magic, anything that fits the bill will appear in the folder for you to play, burn or simply share.

Other new feature that is “Smart” is Smart Shuffle and a new parental control system. The later allows parents worried about explicit lyrics to have some, and we mean some parental control over music. Choices are limited to Disable Podcasts, Disable Music Store, Disable Shared Music or restrict explicit content from the Music Store. However there doesn't seem, in all our searching, a way to block any current explicit content you have in your collection. Whatever's already on your machine is your problem.

The final major new feature in iTunes 5 is the introduction of Smart Shuffle. According to Apple, users will “have greater control over random playback”. What this means in reality is the ability to choose whether tracks from the same artist or album are more likely, the same as they have been previously or less likely to appear near each other in a random playlist. You can then take this a step further and choose to shuffle via song, album and groupings.

We put this to test on a collection of just over 2500 tracks. We then selected “less likely” as the shuffle mode and pressed play. To our surprise, especially measured against the excitement of this at the launch, we have to say that we didn't really notice any difference. Out of the 2500 tracks we have 25 Coldplay songs. However in the first 20 randomised songs presented, three of those tracks were Coldplay. Not really that random after all.

Verdict

iTunes 5 is free after all is said and done, and considering this, the features are plentiful. However we can't see people jumping up and down getting excited by it. The new additions add to the functionality. However you probably won't notice much difference over iTunes 4.7. We do love the mock LCD display on the mini view though.