16 September 2009

iPod Thoughts

As every geek knows, Apple refreshed their iPod line last week. Is there anything to get excited about? Not a lot.

The iPod touch got a price cut for the 8gb model ($199), with 32gb ($299) and 64gb ($399) models following. All evidence points to the probability that Apple had planned to include a video camera in the new models, but had to pull it just weeks before launch, due to technical problems. That camera will likely reappear in at least the 32/64gb models in the near future, with little fanfare. Apple is not calling the new models just introduced the third generation (3G), but rather the "iPod touch (Late 2009)" models. That almost screams, "Don't buy me!"

The 32/64gb models also have new processors that make them up to 50% faster than the previous models and the current 8gb model. They also support a new graphics API which, again, the 8gb model does not. So the 8gb model may be relatively cheap now, but it is also relatively slow and will not be able to run some next-gen software. Stay away.

The new iPod nano (5G) differs very little from the previous model. It includes a VGA video camera, but that camera cannot take still photos and does not have autofocus. It's probably a $2 part and does nothing for me. But the new nano does have a slightly larger screen (.2" larger) that is also brighter (TFT), and now gets an FM radio. All that does not add up to much, and most critics see this revision as just a glomming on of gimmicks to extend its lifespan. But it remains a good basic player and I will be getting one this next year.

I won't even comment on the iPod shuffle. It's still lame.

For competition, there are some great new PMPs just out. In the shuffle class, the new Sansa Clip+ now has a microSD slot, making this tiny, brilliant-sounding player almost perfect. Starting at $40 retail, and with an 8gb microSD card being just $15, you can have a great high-capacity player the size of a matchbook for very cheap. I use my Clip constantly.

In the nano class, two new Sony S series Walkmans starting at $110 (NWZ-S544) and $150 (NW-S644) are looking to be much better players. And starting at $80 (NWZ-E443), the entry-level E series remains a real price-performance bargain. Sonys have always had better sound than iPods and support drag-and-drop music transfer, which is my preference. These models are just arriving in the US.

A Sony NWZ-S544 ($110), with some serious external stereo speakers built in and a nifty kickstand. No reviews out yet on how good they sound, but I think they are a great idea. Why didn't someone do this sooner?

Finally, just announced, the new Zune HD is Microsoft's best player yet (and they have all been good). The tough reviewers at Gizmodo even say it is simply "the best touchscreen PMP on the market." 'Nuff said.

But really, while everyone is beating Apple at hardware and value, iTunes overrides every price and performance advantage that the competition can field. I will be getting a nano, not because I especially like the nano itself, but because I need a small player with a screen that works with iTunes. I listen to podcasts on my way to work, and iPods+iTunes are by a huge margin the best solution for podcasts. In fact, for many podcasts, the only solution. They're called podcasts for a reason.

So, for better or worse, I'm still wedded to Apple.

No comments: