Apple's new iPods are better than ever

Search feature

In updating the iPod's interface, Apple introduced a search feature on both the video and Nano iPods. The search feature is a welcome addition, particularly if you have a large iTunes library synced to the iPod, or if you have a large collection of songs or albums from a single artist. Until now there has been no way to locate a song, artist, or album other than by selecting from a playlist that you know contains what you're looking for, or by scrolling through all the music on an iPod. This presented a challenge if you couldn't remember what artist recorded a particular song or which album it was on.

The search feature is the first attempt to enable users to enter text onto the iPod directly. And that is somewhat evident in the way Apple chose to implement the feature. It works by requiring you to scroll horizontally through the entire alphabet and then use the Select button to "type" a letter in the search field. As you enter letters, all songs, artists or albums that contain the entered text are displayed and can be selected. Deleting a letter requires you to scroll to the Delete icon before the beginning of the alphabet.

The process can be cumbersome, but given the iPod's click-wheel interface and limited buttons, it is impressive that Apple was able to pull off a search function at all. That said, some form of adaptive text interface like those used in the text-messaging features of many cell phones could make the search easier, as would assigning one of the buttons as a Delete key. Overall, this will either be a feature that you love, particularly if you don't create specific playlists or organize your music very much, or one that you'll avoid using.

New headphones

Another change in all of the new iPod models is in the headphones. The earbud style headphones have remained roughly unchanged since the iPod's introduction five years ago. Some earlier iPods included headphones with a remote control attached to the cable, but the design of the earbuds themselves has been consistent. The new headphones still sport the same white color, but they are more rounded and slightly slimmer. They also include a rubber edge along their outer surface and at the base where the cable connects. Apple has also stopped including foam pads that can be slipped over the earbud.

Overall, the slimmer design and rubber edge are significant improvements in both comfort and in the ability to fit securely in the ear. Sound quality remains very similar to the original iPod headphone design. However, the rubber casing around the cable on each earbud seems less resistant to daily wear and more prone to damage than the original design.

Note: Apple is selling the new headphones as a separate product for use with all iPods for US$29.

iPod Nano

Like the video iPod, the Nano line had few major changes in this revision. Screen brightness and battery life were both improved, and the search feature and new headphones were included. An 8GB model was also added to the lineup. However, the biggest change is the design of the case.

Responding to complaints that the Nano's surface scratched too easily for a device that is carried around in a pocket, Apple reverted to using a metal case with a choice of five colors: silver, green, pink and blue, with the 2GB model made available only in silver, and black reserved for the 8GB models. The new case makes the Nano significantly more durable, and though it can be scratched, it will take a good deal more punishment than the original Nano or the video iPod. The metal case not only fends off your pocket change, it can withstand falls and harsher abuse without major problems. Some scratches are still inevitable, meaning you should still consider using a protective case or sleeve.

As with the original Nano, the new models are excellent because they allow you to keep a decent amount of music and photos with you in an easy-to-carry device. The design clearly reflects that Apple views the Nano as distinctly different from the full-featured video iPod. The Nano sacrifices screen real estate (and therefore video or more advanced games) to fulfill its purpose as a small and lightweight but fully featured music player. This division of purpose is evident in the pricing of the 8GB iPod Nano and the 30GB video iPod, both of which are priced at US$249.

While I haven't been able to test Apple's claims of 24 hours of battery life (another sacrifice for ease of use and size), based on the experience I've had, I would expect that the battery life could easily reach 18 or more hours.

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Ryan Faas

Ryan Faas

Computerworld
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