There’s no getting around the fact: Apple’s iPod line — last updated a year ago — was in dire need of a refresh heading into this month’s update. And Apple provided that refresh in spades, updating all its existing iPod offerings and adding a new music player to the mix.
The shuffle. My colleague Christopher Breen summed up the changes to the shuffle thusly: Same iPod. Different colours. The end.
Indeed, the iPod shuffle saw the fewest changes of any existing model. The only difference is a splash of colour — while the silver version introduced a year ago is still around, the colours introduced last January have been replaced.
The shuffle now comes in a lighter shade of blue and green as well as light purple and a new (PRODUCT)RED version.
iPod classic. The new iPod classic gains the nano’s black or silver anodised-metal casing — at least on the front; the back is still shiny metal. This should make the classic’s face less scratch-prone, although the combination of anodised metal on the front and shiny metal on the back looks a bit odd at first. (The classic’s headphone jack remains on the top edge. However, it appears that you can no longer output composite video through this jack using Apple’s iPod AV cable; you need to go through the dock-connector port using Apple’s new Component AV Cable or Composite AV Cable, or a dock cradle that supports video.)
The iPod classic’s screen is the same 2.5-inch, 320×240-pixel version found on the previous model, but battery life is improved significantly. The smaller model’s battery life jumps from 14 hours of music playback or 3.5 hours of video to 30 hours of audio or five hours of video; the cavernous 160GB model gets 40 hours of audio playback or 7 hours of video (compared to 20 or 6, respectively, for the previous 80GB iPod).
Nano family. The new iPod nano is wider and shorter than the previous nano, but the same thickness. Gone is the 2GB model of the previous lineup, leaving a silver 4GB version and an 8GB version available in the same colours as the new shuffle, although with black replacing purple.
In many ways the new nano looks more like a scaled down version of the iPod classic than an updated nano. For example, instead of using anodised metal all around, the new nano has a shiny chrome-looking back, just like its larger sibling.
The new nano’s 2-inch screen (now half an inch larger, 65 percent brighter, and using the same 320×240-pixel dimensions as that of the iPod classic) can also play videos, and the nano now supports the same iPod games as the iPod classic.
The new nano provides the same 24 hours of audio playback as its predecessor, or five hours of video. In addition, it also gains the classic’s ability to output video (TV shows, movies, video podcasts, or photos) to a TV or projector via the dock-connector port, making the nano — as far as we can tell — the smallest gadget ever for transporting video and playing it back on a TV. (You can use the same video cables or dock mentioned above for the iPod classic, and the output is a full 640×480 pixels, like that of the classic.)
The new nano and classic both feature an improved iPod interface that retains the familiar iPod menu system but adds some fancy visuals. For starters, iTunes’ Cover Flow feature is now available via a Cover Flow item in the Music menu. Select this item and the iPod’s Click Wheel lets you cycle through album covers. When you find the album you want, clicking the centre button brings up a list of tracks on that album; select a track to begin playback.
Cover Flow felt quite a bit slower to me on the new iPods than it does in iTunes, and I suspect it will have a similar love/hate following, but it’s an interesting feature nonetheless.
Another new visual can be seen on the main menu and in many submenus: the display is split in half with the menu’s items on the left side and a preview of the selected menu item’s contents — music, podcasts, playlists, artists, etc. — shown on the other. When a music-, photo-, or video-related category is selected, the iPod uses the album art of tracks or videos, or the photos, in that category for this display, and you even get a mild “Ken Burns” panning effect.
The new iPod software also includes a long-requested feature for video-watching: closed captioning.
Final thoughts. My hands-on time with these new models left me with a largely-positive impression. Although the new nano appears a bit squat in pictures, it looks much better in person, and the shorter, wider size feels more practical than the shape of the previous nano. The new screen is stunningly clear and makes it easy to read even very small type.
The iPod classic is less exciting but its considerably better battery life and major boost in storage capacity are welcome changes.