With the latest iPods shipping this week, you'll be wanting to know whether an upgrade is necessary — or whether to take the plunge into the wild world of iPoddery. So far, this is what the reviews are saying:
Both cameras are capable of taking still shots as well, but the results don't hold up to the 5-megapixel camera (with LED flash) found on the iPhone 4. Essentially, these photos are simply video stills, which equate to a 960x720-pixel resolution using the using the camera on the back, or 640x480 pixels using the self-portrait cam. You get the same tap-to-focus capabilities found on the iPhone 4, but the shots won't make your digital camera jealous.
Overall, the iPod Touch works well as a pocket camcorder, though we still prefer something like a Flip UltraHD when it comes to video quality, audio quality, and plug-and-play flexibility. That said, you can't browse the Web, download apps, or e-mail your friends from a Flip, so take product comparisons with a grain of salt.
As with the new nano, the touch did seem to sound a little better than previous versions, but it's not such an astounding difference that you should toss your last gen model in the garbage. Overall, playback seemed solid to us — at least it didn't leave us wanting for quality. If you're planning on using the external speaker for listening, however, you might want to reconsider. We can't remember the last time we heard something so tinny. Of course, it's not surprising considering the size of this housing. Even though it's located in a similar spot as the iPhone 4's speaker, the volume and quality of audio it produces is not even in the same vicinity. Still, how often will you use this?
Moreover, there's a sweet high-resolution 3.5-inch Retina display that nearly matches the screen on the iPhone 4. Touch doesn't quite have the wide viewing angle of the iPhone 4, which the latter achieves through technology called "in-plane switching." Side by side, the Touch appeared slightly dimmer than the iPhone.
Still, even teeny-tiny text on the Touch is supersharp and readable. And Touch has the same snappy A4 processor that powers iPhone 4. The power-friendly chip will help push battery life for audio up to 40 hours, Apple says.
Since the iPod touch is not a phone, it can't use phone numbers for FaceTime video chats, instead, it uses e-mail addresses. iOS 4.1, which enables e-mail address use in FaceTime, wasn't publicly available before we published this review, so I was only able to test the feature with reps from Apple. That said, I was using my home Wi-Fi network in New York City while video chatting with them in their Cupertino offices, and was blown away by the results. Images were crisp and clear, and I could understand everything my chat partner was saying, and never was a call dropped.
Apple quote up to 40hrs audio or 7hrs video from a fully-charged iPod touch, though what with the PMP's inherent flexibility – don't forget there's a browser, email app, Google Maps and FaceTime on there too, and that's before you start wading through the App Store – it's unlikely you'll be doing any one thing solidly. Still, we found we were comfortably able to get through a couple of days very heavy use, with a mixture of audio and video playback, browsing, some FaceTime calls and third-party applications. Considering the 7.2mm thickness that's highly impressive stuff.
For some, the nano's emphasis on simple music playback, rather than gimmicks such as recording or watching films, will be a huge plus point. Moreover, its excellent battery life and compact size make it an indispensable exercise companion for runners and keep-fit fanatics, particularly with Nike Plus and a pedometer built in to the device.
But the fundamental problem, for me at least, is that it doesn't feel like an iPod. It lacks the cheap and cheerful charm of the shuffle, and the premium lustre of the touch. It feels as though you are paying extra money just for the privilege of tapping a touch-screen rather than clicking a button.
In short, it feels like the sort of device other companies churn out when they are trying to emulate Apple's Midas touch.
There's one potentially annoying difference between the nano and the shuffle. The nano's headphone cord measures almost 11 inches longer. While this won't make a difference to walkers, frequent gym-goers might find that extra cable getting in the way while they're working out. Also, the shuffle's large buttons are easier to press than the nano's. With the nano clipped to our pants, we either had to twist our wrist at an odd angle to push in the small volume buttons, or use our other hand to steady the player, giving us more leverage.
When a song plays, its album cover fills the Nano screen and looks a little like a colorful postage stamp clipped to you.
I especially liked flicking through photos on the Nano, double tapping to zoom in on images and moving the images around with one finger. The iPod Nano comes in seven colours and its battery lasts for 24 hours of music playback.
The sound quality on the device is solid - in line with previous generations of nanos. And the 24 hour audio playback that Apple lists in the specs seems about right. I have been unable to wear the battery down all the way over several days.
One unfortunate side effect of this new tiny size is that Apple had to remove video support. This means the iPod nano can no longer play videos, nor can it record them (there is no longer a camera). I suspect people may be disappointed by this until they see the actual device. Can you imagine watching a video on this screen? Because I sure can't.
The radio tuner on the Nano works great: reception was what I'd expect from, say, my car radio, and the tuner interface mimics a conventional radio dial (mine's always set to KCRW). Photos, music, radio, podcasts, pedometer and run history for running/jogging: All this in a device small and lightweight enough to wear on your wrist, as a neck pendant, or clip on your t-shirt. It weighs less than a single ounce (.74 ounce/21.1 grams, to be precise).
After the elimination of control buttons entirely in favour of an in-line control for the Shuffle's last go-round, the button wheel that was originally found on the second-generation model is back. VoiceOver, the digital voice that announces song titles and playlist names, is still there, and works as well as ever. The Shuffle holds 2 GB-the only configuration-in a package about the size of a Starburst candy.
One odd disappointment I had while using the 4G shuffle: While listening to music with the shuffle clipped to the bottom of my t-shirt, I kept bumping into things, which had the effect of changing tracks or altering the volume. Yes, I used to bump into things while using the 2G shuffle as well, but that device had a trick: If you held down its centre button for a few seconds, it would lock out all the controls until you pressed and held the centre button again for a few seconds. I used that feature all the time to prevent mistaken button presses; I couldn't find any combination of button presses that would lock out the controls on the 4G shuffle model.
The battery gives just under 14 hours continuous play before needing a recharge and the supplied Apple headphones are about as good as ever – ie: not very. In the case of the Shuffle, adding more expensive cans won't greatly improve the range, bass and punchiness of the audio, but it'd be nice to at least have earphones that stay in your ears during a treadmill session, or won't annoy your fellow commuters through ‘leaky' sound.
However, putting buttons on the iPod shuffle makes the device even more useful. I've found after using it over the past week that I'm reaching for the headphone Remote much less than I used to and I'm using the buttons on the shuffle more all the time.
Being able to break the habit of using the Remote so quickly showed me that the design change was a good one.
If we have just one complaint of the fourth-gen iPod Shuffle design, it's the difficulty using the clip without accidentally triggering the track skip control (specifically the back skip button). The second-generation design avoided this problem by offsetting the navigation to the right, leaving a blank space for you to pinch down and open the clip without affecting the controls. With the new design, you need to carefully pinch down near the corners of the player, or throw caution to the wind and pinch the track skip button in the process of clipping it on. We figure the thing's called "Shuffle", so if you're going to be a stickler for what song gets played, you should probably think about getting a different device.