Apple's iPod harvest: hands-on with new Shuffle, Nano, Touch

As predicted last week in the Boing Boing agricultural almanac, Apple this week releases three new varieties of iPods for the fall crop.

All three bear improvements over earlier generations of this familiar fruit, but some of the new additions—and in some cases, what's missing—may surprise you. Following are snapshots of the new iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, and iPod Touch, with taste-test notes.

You can find them all in your local farmers markets soon, or order them now at the online Apple store.

Above, the reverse face of the 4th-generation iPod Touch ($229 for 8GB, $299 for 32GB, or $399 for 64GB). It's thinner and lighter than ever, with a much slimmer profile than iPhone: 0.28 inch (7.2 mm) thick, and 3.56 ounces (101 grams).

It's also the highest-resolution iPod yet, with a 960x640 backlit LCD display and 326 pixels per inch, and includes some of the new features introduced with the iPhone 4's launch, such as FaceTime video calls made possible with a front-facing camera and a rear-facing HD camera.

In tests performed over the past few days with the device, video capture performance seemed on par with the high expectations set by the iPhone 4.

For still snapshots, the camera is solid, but falls just a bit shy of the very high bar set by iPhone 4. The rear-facing camera on iPod Touch can shoot video at 720p, with maximum resolution of 1280x720. For still photos, maximum rez is 960x720 (720p at 4:3 ratio). Unlike iPhone 4, the Touch doesn't allow you to to tap-focus on specific spots in the photo you're about to take, because its camera is fixed-focus. Tapping allows you to tweak exposure and white balance, but that's all. And, alas, no flash.

On the upside, the Touch now includes that same A4 processor that makes the iPhone 4 so zippy: as a result, speed and responsiveness are similarly delightful.

Above, the 4th-generation iPod Shuffle, now navigable by clickwheel or voice controls. It's the cheapest music player in the Apple lineup at only $49 for 2GB, and seems like a solid deal if a bare-bones music player is all you need.

Below, the new sixth-generation Nano (8 GB for $149, 16GB for $179, available in seven different case colors). That little display's pretty crazy, about an inch and a half in both directions, give or take a smidge. The screen seems visually identical to the crispness and resolution of iPhone 4's "retina display."

Just three buttons: up/down for volume, and on/off. Everything else is multitouch. You navigate the menu, and songs or photos within, by swiping and tapping. Flick your fingers one way or the other to shift orientation, and various tap gestures allow you to go deeper into options, or back your way out.

Took me a little getting used to on first use before I felt like I knew my way around with the new UI, but that display and lack of button cruft sure feel nice. You'd think something this small would be frustrating to use for touchscreen input, and two fingers at a time might sound impossible—but I didn't find that to be the case. A big change, but the result is an intuitive UI, and music you can literally wear on your sleeve, like the punk rock pins with band logos we used to wear in high school (with help from a little clip on the back, same as the Shuffle).

A device this tiny isn't going to be used as a primary photo display device—but sharing baby photos at the gym, or quick references to visual tokens while you're out and about? Sure. The notion of storing and showing photos on the Nano becomes more plausible with the new high-res display. But the lack of ability to zoom in or expand "landscape"/widescreen format photos is a bit of a bummer.

No video in this iteration: video playing has been removed from this new generation of Nano. But who really watches video on a wristwatch-sized display? I use a Nano at the gym a lot, and I don't think I'll mourn this feature. The Nano is a music device at heart, and performs solidly.

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, as shown in the snapshot below). 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: just .74 ounce/21.1 grams.

Below: At left, the new iPod Touch next to a third-generation iPhone. At right, the new Touch next to an iPhone 4. The Touch really is quite slim, and has a more tapered silhouette, compared to the iPhone 4's more rectilinear form.

Below: A Boing Boing Video episode (Markets of Britain, by Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper) on the Touch. Video playback performance is as solid on the new iPhone 4, and I can imagine spending many spare moments YouTube surfing while in transit. No surprises there: it's a powerful little multimedia device, with a number of evolutionary advances over its predecessor.

Three rows of screengrabs below: Music, Ping, then FaceTime on the new iPod Touch. With FaceTime, others call you using your email address, instead of a phone number, since the Touch is not a phone.

Ping, Apple's new social networking service for music, is one of two socially-minded additions to the Touch this time around: Game Center, for social gaming, is the other. More on those in future Boing Boing posts.

All photos shot on iPhone 4, by Xeni Jardin; screen captures from iPod Touch.)


  1. Big ups to the classic BoC album. Perfect for the pics. And if you haven’t listened to Boards of Canada, try the song Turquoise Hexagon Sun.

  2. Does the return of the shuffle back to a prior design (they did this with the Nano at one point too) not indicate a complete failure of Apple to put function before design? Prediction…next Nano will again revert back to the candy bar format.

    Apple…stop farting around with design…give us function (ie….why the heck does the Touch not have GPS and a decent camera? (.7mp…wtf)

    1. Why do I need buttons on my iPod? When I’m using my iPod on the go, the only way I interact with it is the remote on the headphones. I picked up a third-gen shuffle this week before they all got sent back.

    2. It could also indicate a company willing to experiment and take risks. There’s no way to know what really works for people without getting it into their hands, is there?

    3. Perhaps the reasons the iPod Touch doesn’t have a GPS or a higher quality camera might just have to do with cost. No phone carriers are subsidizing this model and Apple probably thought that a $500 iPod Touch might not sell that well.

      Apple came out with a Shuffle design, it didn’t work out that well. So they went back to a design that worked better. Why assume that the previous design was form over function. Do you have any proof for this assertion. Do you assume that any design based on function will be successful? Apple thought that people would like using the shuffle without buttons. They were wrong. But they kept good points of this Shuffle design (voice control and playlists).

      Keep in mind that Apple is not designing its iPods for you. They make iPods that they think will sell well. And sometimes they are wrong. I’m impressed that they do so well so often.

  3. Others call you using your email address, instead of a phone number, since the Touch is not a phone.

    With more and more free wifi spots around the country, it’s only a matter of time before this will replace a phone number.

    1. Oh you urban USAnians. How local your world view is. How close your horizons.

      Try living in the rural depths of Scotland or France or (ooh I, don’t know, North Dakota?)

      Wi-fi hotspots? When the local copper phone exchange is still too far away to make anything other than dial-up work, I think your prognosis is highly optimistic and possibly coloured by the accusation in my first para above. (Apologies if you are not an urban USAnian.)

      1. Frankly, as an Urban “USAnian” I miss Japan; because I was always near free Wi-Fi in Japan, but here in the USA I frequently out of both Wi-Fi and even 3G mobile phone range.

        Point taken though… ;-)

  4. succesful business ignores its customers, and retrogrades features?like video recording?
    I get a kick from Xeni’s joy with toy/tool, but feeling the pinch of Sony today with restrictivenesses and Apple doling out features piecemeal, new touch has a camera, but only .7megapixel.iphone 4 has smaller screen, still doesn’t do it all..yet. being green and growing things meshed/paired with toxic toys(which give access to creative expression) gives me that meh humbug curmudgeon feeling,or is it self loathing conspicuous consumeritis.maybe it was more fun when my 1st gen was illegal in Canader, and you could get root access to do more. ah, I’ll have to get a phat iphone 5 and stfu, since toxic is as toxic does, & I actually use imovie on iphone for clients

  5. I heard that with the last touch generation the cheapest model had an inferior graphics processor – and all the snazzy new games wouldnt be quite as good on it. Is there any differences between the new touch models now?

  6. Apple is a brilliant company when it comes to industrial design. I’m particularly fond of using the new nano as a watch. I don’t own, nor plan to own any Apple products, but the new nano is tempting.

  7. One thing that was mentioned elsewhere and why I’ll be looking for a predecessor Nano is the lack of physical controls. I use my 1st generation Nano in my pocket most of the time, but still like the convenience of seeing the name of the song or choosing one from a playlist. A touchscreen isn’t as useful for blind usage.

    Another reviewer noted that the Nano also took a step back with the default headphones – Apple no longer packs the phones with the remote & voice built into the cord, and like the reviewer I suspect it’s a sneaky attempt by Apple to sell the controls separately, like the dock.

    The Classic is getting a little long in the tooth, and I think it’s because it still sells well but Apple doesn’t know what to do with it. If I could make a suggestion, Apple, you should beef up the hard drive and add Time Capsule functions, making the Classic a portable hard drive foremost, with the iPod interface as a way to access media while on the go.

    1. i completely recommend getting a sansa clip given your needs. dead simple, cheap as hell, awesome battery and fairly durable. you can get an 8 gig for under $40 if you shop around, and dont be afraid of refurbs.

      i rock an ipod touch and a sansa clip. the clip is useful for pulling stuff off strange computers, since you don’t need any managing software, just drag and drop. works as a regular old thumb drive, too, with zero fuss.

  8. For me, and how I listen to music, the Classic is perfect. I really do not want a touch screen interface, the iPhone is an occasional pain to use.

    I have a sizable collection of movies formatted for my Classic, and they work surprisingly well on the small screen. I don’t really get leaving video off of the Nano, unless they are positioning it to replace the Shuffle.

    I just wish Apple would fix the issue with album art getting scrambled. It’s been a problem for years, and they seem to just ignore it.

  9. I’d totes wear the Nano as a wristwatch. A thick black leather band that would hold it would be supercool.

    1. I don’t know that I will, simply because I don’t like putting anything on my wrists — jewelry, watches, anything! But one certainly could. Highly wearable. It’s really very light, and the display looks cool when active.

  10. What’s the deal with “nano” stacking? The release photos show them put together like those brick people. Do they interact with nearby units or just fit neatly together?

    1. I’m not aware of any interactivity, i think the point of those glamour shots is simply to show off the attractive physical form. The size and form is really kind of delightful, and it’s lovely to have such a crisp, colorful display in such a small device. I don’t have more than one on hand, so I can’t confirm stackability. It’s funny that they chose to offer exactly seven colors, as if one would purchase one for every day of the week….

  11. I have the last-most-recent nano and I have watched *a lot* of video on it … filming with it has also been really fun. Losing that is a big step backwards in my mind. Oh Apple, so fickle. We love/hate how you play hard to get like that girl in 10th grade chem …

  12. I love my Nano 5th Gen. I love the video camera, I love watching movies and TV shows on my Nano5. Most of all I love the form factor, the Touch is to big for convenience. They should have used the same form factor for Nano 6 and upped the display to use the entire face. That way they could have kept all the features and made real use of multi touch. I am going to buy another Nano 5 before they are out of stock so I have as a spare.

  13. I know I can buy an iPhone sans service for about $500, anyone know if it can be activated without service and used like a fancy, expensive, iPod touch but with better features?

    Also, is there a no contract, no deposit, pay-as-you-go service provider in the US that the iPhone can be used on? I don’t care about fancy AT&T-iPhone only features, as long as it can do voice, text, and maybe picture messages.

    I’m on Virgin now and like it, but they use Sprint.

  14. (The pixellated e-mail address is still readable, you might consider a stronger from of redaction if desired.)

  15. Any truth to the rumor that they’re planning to ad a sim slot and a cellular data plan to the ipod touch? i think i’d buy one of those tomorrow..

  16. codesuidae:

    Yes, I had an iPhone 3gs for a while, was using it like an ipod touch without a data plan…then I dropped it in a toilet.

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