new iPod range, September 2007
Major improvements or cosmetic makeover?
Apple's iPod line-up
has been increased by the addition of a new model - the
'Touch' - as well as changes to their two core products -
now termed the Classic and the 3G Nano.
The little Shuffle remains unchanged.
Part three of a series on the Apple iPod -
see links on the right for more articles.
The iPod transformed Apple from
a largely moribund and irrelevant computer manufacturer and gave
it an entirely new - and very profitable - role in the provision
of digital music players and the digital music tracks to be
played on them.
With the new confidence given
to the company by the iPod, Apple has now launched the iPhone as
well - another device that promises to redefine a product range.
And now, hot on the heels of
the iPhone comes the latest generation of iPods, with one new
model - the Touch - taking design cues and user interface
concepts from the iPhone, plus tweaks and changes to the three
core models in the iPod lineup.
Here's what is new, and what is
The Evolving iPod Range
On September 5, 2007, Apple
announced its latest updates to its iPod product range.
These superseded what had been known as the 5.5 generation range
of players, units that had been on the market since September
12, 2006, a model life of just one year.
The new products are termed
the 3G (third generation) of Nano iPods, the 'Classic' series of
hard disk based iPods, and a new 'Touch' product range.
When writing about possible
changes to the iPod range in October 2006, I predicted an
iPod with a larger screen, units with double the capacity for
the same price, and a 16GB Nano iPod. How close did I get?
There is indeed an iPod with
a larger screen, the units now do have double the capacity for
the same price, but Apple did not release a 16 GB Nano (although
they did eliminate the 2GB smallest capacity unit). I hope
you'll agree that two out of three predictions isn't bad.
With slightly smoother, more
rounded corners, and some tweaks to the user interface, the new
units are generally evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and
indeed, the new interface serves to lock users even more
strongly into the limited filing system Apple uses to store its
music tracks on an iPod.
The one exception is the new
Touch, a product which brings a revolutionary new design to the
market, modeled closely on the new design and interface of the
iPhone. But as exciting a product as it is, it is also
very expensive and limited in terms of battery life and
Generally prices have stayed
the same, but the storage capacity you get for your dollar has
doubled. And, unlike regular computers, music and video
files still take up exactly the same space as they always have,
so this is a true doubling of effective storage, making the
units truly capable of holding twice as many songs or videos as
The iPod Shuffle remains
essentially unchanged, and is still at the $79 price point.
The only difference - if one can even call this a difference -
is that it is now available in five different colors.
Few people will have much
interest in this unit.
Update Feb 08 : The
iPod Shuffle is now priced at $49. With an iPod Nano now
only slightly larger than a Shuffle, is it too much of a stretch
of the imagination to guess that the Shuffle is finally being
New Nano Features
The new 3G Nano iPods have
been completely redesigned to give them a larger screen.
The screen had formerly been a 1.5" diagonal with 176 x 132
pixel resolution, and has now grown to a 2" diagonal with 320 x
240 pixel resolution, requiring the unit as a whole to be
The new screen has massively
increased resolution, but is still a very small size. We'd
earlier found the 2.5" screen on a 5.5th generation iPod to be
way too small for convenient viewing of video, to attempt to
watch video on the 2" screen is almost laughable, and with a
maximum capacity of 8GB, you can't store a great deal of video
on the unit anyway.
The new units are larger and
heavier than the units they replace. They're not as tall,
but they are wider, and they weigh slightly more (49 gm instead
of 40 gm). This increase in size underscores a common
problem in electronics these days - the size reductions are
limited not so much by the internal electronics, but by the
external controls and displays.
The new units offer only 4GB
or 8GB capacities. The 2GB units have been discontinued -
this is sensible as the cost difference was minimal and it is
fairly easy for people to use up 2GB. The new units
cost less - the 4GB unit costs the same as the older 2GB
unit ($149), and the 8GB unit costs the same as the older
4GB unit ($199). This is a nice improvement in value,
because the larger and higher resolution screen definitely adds to
the manufacturing cost.
The new 3G Nano units have
the same claimed battery life as the units they replace - about
24 hours of audio playback (or, for these new units, up to 5
hours of video, if for some inexplicable reason you choose to
try and watch video on the screen). The larger screen
probably consumes more power, and so keeping battery life the
same is actually an improvement.
Both the 4GB and 8GB units have the same
dimensions, weight, and battery life.
The 3G Nano units have a
larger screen and the ability to play video as well as audio,
but the screen is way too small to usefully display video.
Otherwise, the units are
slightly larger and heavier than the units they replace, have
similar battery life, and offer more storage for the same price
points as previously.
Overall, minor improvements
with the biggest differences being a different shape and lower
We vote 'cosmetic makeover'
for the Nano units because we do not feel the major change -
video playback capability - is of any practical use.
New Classic iPod Features
Apple's original line of
hard disk based iPods continues largely unchanged, with
increased storage and increased battery life, and the new
The earlier range of three
units (30GB, 60GB and 80GB) has been changed to two units, with
80GB and 160GB capacities. The new 80GB unit is priced at
$249 (the same price as the earlier 5.5G 30GB unit) and the
160GB unit is priced at $349 (the same price as the 5.5G 80GB
Externally, the units are
almost identical in size, with the 80GB unit being a bit thinner
than the earlier 5.5G 80GB unit and the 160GB unit measuring
about the same as the older 80GB unit. The 80GB unit
weighs a bit less than the previous 80GB unit (4.9 oz compared
to 5.5 oz), and the 160GB unit weighs almost the same (5.7oz).
Both units have the same
screen and controls as the earlier 5.5 generation iPods.
However, the cases are now made of anodized aluminium rather
than polycarbonate plastic, and Apple's trademark white color is
no longer offered. The new Classic iPods are available in
either black or silver.
The user interface has been
slightly reworked so that miniature pictures of the albums you
are selecting music from appear on the screen. This is an
interesting concept but is also curiously outdated -
increasingly music tracks are being freed from their 'album'
The 160GB unit has
substantially longer battery life than the 80GB unit.
Apple claims 30 hours of audio or 5 hours of video with the 80GB
unit and an impressive 40 hours of audio or 7 hours of video
with the 160GB unit. By comparison, the 5.5G 80GB unit
offered a claimed 20 hours of audio or 6.5 hours of video.
We're guessing they've increased the memory buffer in the 80GB
unit (so as to run the hard drive less often) and increased the
actual battery capacity in the 160GB unit.
These audio battery life
numbers are so good there's little point in Apple extending them
further, but clearly a short 5 or 7 hours of video isn't even
enough for a single long flight. However, as we commented
in our earlier review of the
5.5G 80GB iPod, the 2.5" screen is too small to comfortably
watch video on, and the new Classic version iPods do nothing to
improve this, with the same screen size and picture resolution.
They remain primarily audio players only. Don't consider
them for video.
Almost identical in
appearance, size, and weight, the only noticeable changes are
increased disk capacity and longer battery life.
We accordingly vote
'evolution' rather than 'revolution' for the Classic units.
This is an entirely new
device, and is clearly designed to leverage off the publicity,
recognition and success of Apple's iPhone.
It features a large 3.5"
touch screen and all controls are 'on screen' rather than on a
separate control pad. The large screen is also higher
resolution than the other iPod screens, with a 480x320 pixel
display, allowing for twice as much picture information (and a
larger picture) than on the Classic iPods (with a 2.5" screen
and 320x240 pixels).
You may or may not consider
the screen large enough to watch video on. The 2.5" screen
is clearly too small for just about everyone, and a 4.3" screen
(480 x 272 pixel resolution) such as found on the
Archos 504 is large enough for most
people, with this 3.5" screen falling in a 'grey' area that
would probably satisfy most people with average to good
The Touch also has Wi-Fi
connectivity, allowing you to browse the internet and download
music from iTunes when you're connected wirelessly through a
The screen also detects
whether it is being held horizontally or vertically and
re-orients itself and the images on it automatically to suit the
way it is being held and viewed.
The units come in two
capacities - 8GB and 16GB, with solid state memory rather than
hard drives. They are priced at $299 for the 8GB unit and
$399 for the 16GB unit.
Update Feb08 : The
iPod Touch now comes in a 32GB capacity too, priced at $499.
Battery life is similar to
the Nano, with a claimed 22 hours of audio playback or 5 hours
of video playback.
Unfortunately, for units
that are clearly designed to be video players as much as audio
players, these storage capacities are ridiculously small for
video storage. Apple says the units can hold up to either
10 or 20 hours of video (and now a more realistic 40 hours for
the 32GB unit), and probably this is correct, although
people seeking higher quality imagery may find they store
considerably less than these numbers. However, whereas we
have become used to almost limitless storage capacities for
music, being restricted to 20 hours (ten movies, or 40 half hour tv shows) suddenly changes the paradigm from 'put everything you
have onto the unit and still have room for much more' to
'carefully put only what you know you're going to watch' onto
Most of us want to be able
to load up our portable audio/video players with as much stuff
as possible and don't want the hassle of having to add and
delete files before each time we plan to use our unit. If
you have a unit with maybe half the space used for music, this
means the iPod Touch will only have space for 5 or 10 hours of
video; a ridiculously short amount of capacity.
As a straightforward music
player, the Touch units are way overpriced compared to the other
iPod units. You're paying a $100 or more premium to get a
unit that is larger and heavier than a Nano, but with no more
Our feeling is that there's
a huge amount of improvement potential for the iPod Touch.
Don't buy the first generation of this product. Wait until
storage capacities massively increase, and prices drop.
Update Feb08 : As
indicated above, there is now a 32GB version available, but
prices remain firm, with the 32GB unit priced at $499.
This is a viable capacity for people wishing mainly to load
music on their unit, perhaps with one or two short videos as
well, but it is also a high price.
As a completely new design,
the Touch has to be considered as something other than a
cosmetic makeover. But is it a major improvement?
Not really. It is a first generation product that is
overpriced and underfeatured. Wait this one out - there'll
for sure be a better one when next year's lineout comes out.
Update Feb08 : A new
software release in January (not free, but sold for a very
reasonable $20) added considerably to the
capabilities of the iPod Touch, now giving it all the same
functionality as an iPhone (except for the phone part) and
making it a much more attractive unit. The better
functionality, and higher capacity, now make this my favorite
iPod, but the high price means that I won't be buying one
Video watching is almost
practical on the high resolution, medium sized screen, but the
short battery life limits the amount of video you could watch
before needing to recharge.
Should you Upgrade?
If you already have an iPod,
there are few if any 'must have' new features in this latest
range of products.
Of course, if your current
iPod is proving to be limited in some area in which you need
better capabilities - such as storage space or battery life -
then you might wish to take advantage of the new products, which
offer the best value $/GB and the longest battery lives yet.
If you're wanting a unit
that can play video, wait for a future release or buy an
Archos unit now.
Should you Buy Now?
If you don't already have an
iPod or other MP3 player, and are thinking of getting one, now
is as good a time as any.
If Apple follows its
traditional annual refresh of its product line, there won't be
any changes for the next twelve months, and noting that Apple
seems to strictly enforce its retail prices, there are unlikely
to be any bargain prices sneaking out there either.
But only buy an iPod if you
wish to play back audio. If you're seeking a video unit,
none of the iPods offer a good solution (with the possible
exception of the $500 priced 32GB iPod Touch). Too small
screens, too short battery life, and/or too limited storage
capacity make all iPods poor choices for video.
Predictions for the Future,
After reviewing the 5.5th
generation iPods in October 2006, I made some predictions for
the next generation, now released and discussed in this article.
Two of my three main predictions came true (double the capacity
for the same price, and a device with a bigger video screen).
Let's see if I can guess
again for what the next generation may bring, probably in
another year's time.
The Touch unit will keep
its 3.5" screen, or possibly increase it, but only slightly
(ie to 4" or 4.3" but no larger). It will add a 32GB
unit and possibly another, even higher capacity unit.
Battery life will slightly increase. (Update - this came
partially true sooner than expected, a 32GB Touch was
released in January 08 - we'll predict a 48GB Touch in the
September new model releases).
The Touch 32GB unit will
cost no more than the 16GB unit does today.
The Nano will add a 16GB
unit, prices will stay the same but capacity will double for
the same price. Battery life will slightly increase.
The Classic will stay
unaltered with 80GB and 160GB units, but their price will
drop by $50 for the 80 GB unit and $100 for the 160GB unit.
Battery life will slightly increase.
Less likely - the Nano
and Touch product lines will converge into one product line,
with larger and smaller form factors and capacities, but the
same touch screen design.
The Surprising Dog that Hasn't
I'm talking here about
Microsoft's Zune player. A grossly inadequate competitor
to Apple's earlier generation of iPod players, the only thing
that has happened to the Zune since its release in November 2006
has been a slight price reduction - it is now listed for $199,
down from its original $249. Yes, it is $50 cheaper than
the entry level classic iPod, but the iPod has 80GB, longer
battery life, and generally better functionality, making it a
'no brainer' choice for most buyers.
Rumors suggest a second
generation Zune coming out in time for the Christmas buying
season this year, but until it does, Microsoft's already weak
position in the market has become even weaker.
Apple's new iPods are
substantially better value than any of the previous models.
But, and to answer the
question we originally posed, they are in large part nothing
more than cosmetic makeovers, and the only truly new unit - the
Touch - is overpriced and an as-yet unsatisfactory solution for
video playback. Maybe in the next generation, which we'll
probably see in another year, the Touch will be closer to a
viable video player.
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28 Sep 2007, last update
26 Aug 2018
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