Apple's iPod updates: What's new

Apple has overhauled its entire iPod line, unveiling new versions of the video iPod, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle. Having a hard time keeping up on all the changes? Here’s a summary of the key changes to all three iPod offerings, including how they compare to their predecessors.

iPod

The big news: “We’re going to make the iPod more affordable and accessible,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at the iPod’s September 12 unveiling, and he wasn’t kidding. For just $249 , you can have a 30GB iPod capable of storing music, showing photos, and playing videos—the lowest price Apple has ever charged for a full-sized iPod. That’s a $50 discount from the fifth-generation 30GB iPod’s price tag. The top-end iPod’s price has also dropped $50, to $349 , while its capacity has jumped to 80GB from 60GB.

New features: Beyond the price tag, the most significant changes to the iPod include a brighter screen—60 percent brighter, Apple says—and longer battery life, at least on the 80GB model. Apple claims the higher-end iPod offers up to 20 hours of music playback, six hours of slideshows with music, and six-and-a-half hours of video playback. The 30GB iPod continues to feature 14 hours of music playback, though battery life for slideshows and videos has ticked up an hour and an a hour and a half, respectively.

full-size iPod
The iPod software has also undergone an overhaul, gaining support for 640- by 480-pixel video; a new search feature that lets you use the scroll wheel and Center button to enter letters for instant searches of the iPod’s content; and a Quick Scroll feature that displays a rectangular overlay of the letter you’re currently scrolling through when browsing long lists of items. Support for gapless playback—an iTunes 7 feature that allows songs on classical, jazz, and concept albums to play seamlessly—has also been added, as has the ability to control screen brightness. Finally, these iPods can also play the nine new iPod games Apple sells for $4.99 from the iTunes Store. (The games also play on fifth-generation iPods, which, via an iPod software update, also gain support for the higher-res video, Quick Scroll, brightness control, and gapless playback.)

Accessories: Jobs says Apple has spent the last 18 months working on improvements to the iPod earbuds—these new earphones ship with the overhauled iPod. Other accessories include a USB cable, dock adapter, and sleeve case.

What’s the same: The dimensions of the iPod remain the same, with the larger-capacity iPod still just a little bit thicker than the 30GB offering. The display may be brighter, but it remains the same size—2.5 inches. The iPod’s interface is unchanged, and you continue to sync and charge via Apple’s USB dock-connector cable. Both configurations are available in either white or black cases.

What we think: We’re currently in the midst of evaluating both the 30GB and 80GB iPods and testing Apple’s battery-life claims. We’ll update this story with a link to the review once it’s posted later this week.

iPod nano

nano family
The big news: No, the iPod mini hasn’t made its triumphant comeback, but it’s easy to see the mini’s influence over the second-generation nano’s new look. Gone is the high-gloss case of the previous iPod nano; this model comes in an anodized aluminum body (all the better for resisting the sorts of scratches the glossier nano was prone to picking up). Not only that, these nanos come in different colors—blue, pink, green, silver, and black. That’s virtually identical to the rainbow of iPod mini models available back when that music player debuted in 2004. (Only the gold option is missing in action.) Another key difference from the mini’s color selection is that, with the nano, certain colors are only available in certain capacities. The 2GB nano only comes in silver, the 4GB model comes in silver , green , blue , and pink , and the 8GB offering is only available in black.

Capacity changes: The original nano came in 2GB and 4GB sizes; a 1GB model was added earlier this year. Now, the smallest nano you can get is a 2GB version. The second-generation version also comes in 4GB and 8GB sizes.

Pricing: The range of iPod nano prices remain unchanged: $149 for the 2GB model, $199 for 4GB, and $249 for the 8GB offering. But since capacities have grown, as noted above, you’re actually getting twice as much storage space for your buck.

New features: Many of the new features added to the full-sized iPod have also been incorporated into the nano line—specifically, Quick Scroll, search, and gapless playback. As with the new iPod, the nano comes with a brighter screen—40 percent brighter, according to Apple—but you can’t adjust the brightness level. Battery life has also been improved, from 14 hours of music playback to up to 24 hours. The nanos also pick up a capability that’s been present in full-sized iPods for a while: the ability to record voice memos with a compatible accessory. Speaking of accessories…

Accessories: Included add-ons remain the same as before—earphones, a USB cable, and dock adapter—though the included earphones are the redesigned ones that Apple also ships with the new iPods. It’s worth noting that the headphone port is farther away from the dock connector than it was on the original nanos, making first-generation accessories that plug into both connectors incompatible with the new model.

What’s the same: Technically, the dimensions of the nano have changed—the device is now 0.26 inches thick instead of 0.27 inches. But if you’re able to detect a difference, your sensory powers are far greater than ours. And, of course, the overall shape and finish have changed. But everything else remains nearly identical to the original, including the bottom-mounted headphone port, top-mounted Hold switch, and USB-only syncing.

What we think: “The second-generation iPod nano is both a welcome step back to the more colorful (and scratch-resistant) days of the iPod mini and a moderate step forward in functionality.” —From Christopher Breen’s iPod nano review

iPod shuffle

ipod shuffle
The big news: When the second-generation shuffle debuts in October, it will sport an entirely new, smaller design. While the old flash-based player resembled a stick of gum, the latest version looks more like a wafer. It’s only 1.07 inches tall, 1.62 inches wide and 0.41 inches deep—and that depth measurement includes an attached clip that fastens the shuffle to your clothes. The shuffle has dropped some weight as well, weighing in at 0.55 ounces, down from 0.78 ounces in the original model. Gone too is the USB connector that used to charge the shuffle; now, you connect, charge, and transfer music via the headphone jack.

Capacity changes: The 512MB option is no more. The second-generation shuffle comes in one capacity—1GB.

Pricing: Whether the pricing has changed depends on whether you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type. On the one hand, at $79, the second-generation iPod shuffle is $20 cheaper than the 1GB model that preceded it. On the other, you used to be able to buy an entry-level 512MB shuffle for $69; you’ll have to pay $10 more to get your hands on a new shuffle.

Accessories: The shuffle now comes with a USB dock for connecting to your computer; as mentioned above, it plugs into the shuffle’s headphone jack. The shuffle also includes Apple’s new iPod earbuds.

What’s the same: The spartan interface of the shuffle hasn’t changed—there’s a central play/pause button ringed by controls for fast-forwarding and replaying songs as well as adjusting the volume. Battery life remains rated at 12 hours.

What we think: Other than to marvel at the shuffle’s slimmer size, we’ll defer on making a definitive assessment on the new device until it arrives in October.

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