The Reviews are In: New iPods are a Mixed Bag

New iPod Touch

When I ran down the announcements from Apple’s big music event last week, I specifically mentioned that we’d have to take a wait-and-see approach to the new iPod models, specifically the untested and unproven new iPod Nano, which ditched the clickwheel entirely for a completely square, all-touch screen design with controls on the outer rim.

Now, PC Mag has weighed in on the new iPod Touch, the new iPod Nano, and the new iPod Shuffle:

The new iPod Touch fared incredibly well – far better than I expected from the model, and represents a pretty big step forward from the previous generation. All of the best features from the iPhone 4 are in the new iPod Touch, including the front-facing camera and the compatibility with FaceTime for real-time chat, HD video camera and still camera on the back, all in a smaller form factor with iOS 4.1’s speed and updates. It’s still just as good a media player as it’s ever been, and with the new Retina display it’s just as good a gaming machine as well. It’s incredibly pricey, which normally docks it a few points, but the PC Mag editors liked it enough to give it 5/5 stars and the Editor’s Choice award, which is pretty remarkable. I have an original iPod Touch and never really saw a need to upgrade aside from the fact that the newer models had a speaker where the original iPod Touch did not, but now I’m sorely tempted.

[ PC Mag :: Apple iPod touch (4th Gen. with Camera) ]

Predictably, the new iPod Shuffle did well enough, the addition of on-body controls and the lower price point for the storage makes it a great value for people looking for a dead-simple non-nonsense music player, but it’s still difficult to really recommend when there are other players on the market near the same price point that have displays on-board. I get what Apple is doing here though – they want to make low-end music players something of a commodity: something you can clip to your shirt and if you lose it you won’t be heartbroken – you’ll simply buy another. The moment you put a screen on it, you feel like it’s a little fancier. Still, it’s regrettable.

[ PC Mag :: Apple iPod shuffle (4th Gen. with Click Wheel) ]

Perhaps most surprisingly, the new iPod Nano didn’t fare well at all, only 2.5/5 stars – the new tiny Nano with a touch-screen failed to impress, and the features that Apple took away from the device in order to fufill their vision for it just seemed to outweigh the benefits. Like a number of observers – myself included – noted on the day of the launch, the fact that apple stripped the device of its video camera and changed the form factor could be a harbinger that the Nano just isn’t what it used to be, and not only did they remove the camera, the square screen can’t display video of any type, or even Apple’s own Cover Flow for selecting media to play, which every generation of Nano used to be able to do.

[ Apple iPod nano (6th Gen. with Touch Screen) ]

I haven’t laid hands on the devices yet, but PC Mag’s reviews are usually spot on, and I don’t just say that because I freelance for them – I say that because the buying decisions I’ve made in light of their reviews tend to be accurate in my experience.

Still, nothing can hide my appointment over the iPod Nano – I understand that Apple wanted a smaller device with a touch screen, but sometimes it seems that Apple forgets that overall they’re giving their customers a device with less value overall, even if it meets a technological or generational vision that they have for their devices. Then again, some people would argue that this is the story of Apple in general, from computers to phones to media players, but I’m not someone who would agree with that across all product lines – even if I do think they’ve done it before in specific cases.

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