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December 07, 2007

Choosing The Right iPod For You: 2007 Edition

In last year's edition of this guide, I wrote of the three iPod models that, "for all their aesthetic similarity, they are three very different machines." This year, the five iPod models are closer in basic features than before. But there are now two dramatically different user interfaces to ponder and some models can access the internet and even make phone calls. You'll probably find it slightly more challenging to chose your perfect iPod than last year but the upside is that you'll be delighted by various new ways to make your iPod part of your life. No worries; every iPod still does what iPods have always done best: play your favorite tunes. Only now you can extend your iPod's usefulness beyond music until it becomes the center of your personal media experience. From privately enjoying your music through headphones to effortlessly buying a song you like while standing in line for coffee to watching a two-hour movie on a plane, the iPod makes it all possible.

Let’s look into each current model’s unique properties, followed by a section dedicated to older iPods you may come across on eBay and a section on how you put your media onto your iPod. Once you have the right iPod for you, just add a few accessories to make your iPod that much more enjoyable and well-fitted to your unique life. One thing to bear in mind is that you can sync multiple iPods to one computer, so don't think you have to limit yourself to a single iPod. The catch is that you can sync any iPod with only one computer, be it a Mac or a Windows PC. Sounds confusing at first, but it makes sense once you give it a chance.

iPod classic
What used to be called called simply “iPod” is now known as the iPod classic. It ships in two storage capacities, 90GB and 160GB, and two color schemes, white and black. It has everything ever offered by the various models that preceded it: peerless digital music playback, digital photo display, digital video playback, basic voice recording with an optional accessory microphone, rudimentary personal organizer functions, and games — all accessible from the most refined user interface on this planet. Everything is stored on a tiny, shock-mounted hard disk and synchronizes with the included iTunes software on your Mac or PC. Connection is via the included USB 2.0 cable for both syncing and charging the battery. Earlier iPods could sync and charge using a FireWire cable, but that transport has been phased out in favor of the more common USB.

The 80GB iPod classic ($249) should be your choice if you want to have the most fun with your personal media and have a moderate library of audio, photo, and video files you want to carry around with you. If you have boatloads of media files, then get the ever-so-slightly thicker 160GB model ($349).

The iPod classic is compact and easy to carry, but if you want it so small you barely notice it's there, you’ll need an...

iPod nano
This years iPod nano is a tiny marvel. This “impossibly thin” device loses the mini hard drive and replaces it with solid state flash memory in either 4GB ($149) or 8GB ($199) capacity. The new nano has a surprisingly large color screen that’s great for navigating songs, displaying album art, and displaying your photos and videos.

The iPod nano is for those who like to travel as light as possible and who don’t need or don’t want to carry their complete media library around. This is also an excellent choice for very active people, as the nano has no moving parts or spinning hard drive. Which naturally leads us to the...

iPod shuffle
Apple wanted to shut out the competition at the extreme low end of the digital audio player market, so they created the controversial iPod shuffle. Like the Studebaker Avanti, Hillary Clinton, and Beethoven’s late string quartets, the iPod shuffle polarizes the world into two camps: you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. The redesigned iPod shuffle comes in no less than nine colors and is a lovely little wafer of tech goodness. It makes the original "chewing gum pack" design seem a bit tawdry and awkward.

Some love their iPod shuffles for their ultra-small size and low cost ($79), while others can’t get past the lack of a display or their paltry 1GB capacity. Most reviewers feel that the shuffle succeeds in offering what Apple intended: a supremely simple, inexpensive music player for active people who like to listen to one big playlist of songs played in random order. Pre-teens who have yet to accumulate a large music library, who generally lack access to excess disposable income, and who are often very hard on their personal electronic devices are the primary target buyer for an iPod shuffle. Second to them would be the existing iPod owner who wants a second, smaller device for exercising and rugged outdoor use.

Bored with "old-school" iPods? Ready for something completely different? Consider the...

iPod touch
By now you've seen the iPhone, a category-bending, worldwide smash hit iPod/mobile phone/handheld computer/internet access device. What you may have missed in all the fuss is the iPod touch, an iPhone without the phone. Marginally smaller than the iPhone, its features are a unique combination of iPod nano, iPod classic, and iPhone. It uses 8GB ($299) or 16GB ($399) of flash memory like a nano, so it's not affected by shock, runs forever on a charge, and syncs faster than the hard drive models. It has a huge 3.5" screen with touch sensitivity. There is no clickwheel; all functions are accomplished through touching the screen. The big screen sucks more battery than the other iPods, but it's so gorgeous you'll never notice or care. This machine was made for visual media, though it plays music as well as any iPod.

But that's not all folks. The iPod touch has WiFi (wireless internet access) and a powerful version of Apple's web browser built in. You can get online, grab your email, almost anything you normally use a computer for. If you're at Starbucks and hear a song playing that you like, whip out your iPod touch, tap the Starbucks icon that magically appeared on your home screen, and buy the song on the spot. When you get home, song purchases sync back to you iTunes library, just as though you'd purchased it from your computer. It's absolutely brilliant and there's never been anything even remotely like it, but only you can decide if it floats your boat or not.

Still not enough for you? Then there's only one iPod that will satisfy your craving for ultimate personal tech supremacy, the amazing...

Take everything you just read about the iPod touch, graft in the best mobile phone you've ever imagined, add a few millimeters around the edges, a tiny speaker, one hundred dollars to the price of the deice, a $36 activation fee, and a 2 year phone contact ($60-$100 per month) with the ethically challenged AT&T Corporation, and you've got an iPhone. You also get a few more built-in applications, the most important of whcih is Mail. On an iPod touch, you have to access your email from the browser -- a workable solution for casual emailers. But if you live and die by email like I do, you need a full-blown email application like Mail. As of this writing, the only stoarage option is 8GB. That's adequate for the majority of users but frustratingly limiting for the rest of us.

But the main thing to keep in mind is the cost over those two years. At a minimum, US buyers will spend $1875. If your battery wears out because you use it a lot, add another $86 for a replacement battery -- ouch!

This Old iPod
Even though the original 5GB fat monochrome iPod from 2001 will work fine as a basic MP3 player today, you’d have to be a bit of a crank to limit yourself to one. Older iPods had relatively primitive battery technology that tended to lose capacity pretty rapidly. For the roughly $50 price of a new replacement battery, combined with the hassle and risk of cracking the casing open and installing it, you are probably wasting your money and time.

A better bet would be a gently used fourth-generation iPod with a clickwheel. The iPod models prior to this were a bit harder to operate and more prone to problems with the navigation wheel. Expect to pay about half the cost of a new model of comparable capacity. You’ll lose photo display capability on all models that lack color displays and video playback on all fourth-gen models.

Our advice: don’t buy anything older than fouth-gen with clickwheel. You’ll probably become dissatisfied with any previous iPod's limitations: increased bulk, shorter runtime per charge, lack of photo/video playback, lack of color, and its complete absence of any coolness. Apple iPod Apple iPhone

~David MacNeill

Posted by dtm at December 7, 2007 07:49 PM