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iPod, Therefore I Write

This is getting a little predictable: Every fall, Apple updates the iPod and I wind up devoting a column to trying out the new hardware. Thing is, with the iPod, this year's model bears little resemblance to last year's model. Apple keeps tweaking the design, like a writer who keeps running a story through the typewriter with different characters and conflicts each time.

That brings me to today's column, which begins by assessing the dramatically upgraded iPod Nano and the not-quite-so-upgraded iPod Touch.

(BTW, in case you've been wondering why this blog's been so quiet this week, I wish I could tell you I'd been wrapped up in exhaustive real-world tests of these media players, or that I'd been drafted to help out in our coverage of Wall Street's meltdown. Unfortunately, I've been fighting off some kind of nasty stomach flu. It's a real picnic spending two days feeling so blah that you don't even want to eat... but I digress.)

Uh, where was I? Anyway, writing today's review reminded me of one thing I like about covering the electronics business. For all the junk it puts out, it allows buyers to make seemingly impossible demands for their next gadget and have them fulfilled in short order.

In my case, I look at the iPod Nano I bought two years ago, a silver, 4-GB model. Even after I've managed to drop it on the sidewalk twice, leaving some scratches at the top, it still seems to work fine (aside from some recent wonkiness with the screen). But now I could get a new, distinctly thinner iPod Nano with four times the memory and about twice the screen size--plus video- and game-playing capabilities--at the exact same price.

That's pretty cool.

At the end of today's column, I briefly touch on Microsoft's updates to the Zune. These did not wow me as much. The desktop software certainly has progressed considerably since its 2.0 relaunch last year--it does smart playlists and offers a much better podcast directory--but the Zune players only feature more memory, without any other changes to their hardware. Keeping last year's design does not seem like an effective way to keep up with Apple.

The new Zune "buy from FM" feature felt like a particularly wasted opportunity. It may just be that I tried it in the wrong city--the D.C. radio market can seem like a wasteland compared to many other cities. (For example, we've got nothing close to Seattle's alternative station KEXP.) And many of the more creative music outlets around here don't tag their songs over the air--WPFW, for instance, doesn't do this, so if you don't catch the title of the jazz cut you just heard, you're out of luck.

(Some HD Radio receivers include iPod docks that let you tag songs you like for later purchase off the iTunes Store; I'm somewhat skeptical of this feature as well, but at least some mainstream stations are being relatively creative with their HD Radio secondary channels.)

What else would you like to know about the iPod--or media players in general? Ask me at my Web chat, starting at 2. Or post your thoughts in a comment here.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 18, 2008; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Music  
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Next: Microsoft's New Message: I'm A PC


I notice that you always cover Apple's iPod, and occasionally MS's Zune, but what about Creative's Zen? I have a couple of friends who bought it and seem way too happy with them, despite the fun me and my buddies make at them for not going with the flow and getting an iPod, which looks way better and, well, we all owe one!

Posted by: Mike | September 18, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

The Touch looks nice, having WiFi is great for emailing.

For the money and memory, I still prefer my Sandisk 6GB 100$ FM/Video/MP3/Voice Recorder.

Posted by: JayCanada | September 18, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

(I'm an iPod user too, but...)

Looks like MS overtook Creative in MP3 player market share this year, so it actually does make sense to preferentially cover the Zune. However, Sandisk has about 11 percent of the market compared to the 4 percent that Microsoft has, but it doesn't seem to get as much coverage. (source:

Rob, not that I personally have any interest in hearing about Sandisk players, but do you have any insight as to why Sandisk doesn't seem to get as much press?

Posted by: BR | September 18, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I had pretty much been sold on the iPod Touch until I watched Steve Jobs introduce the new Nano. I'll have to mull it over for a bit, but with the apparent WPA2 WiFi problem with the Touch, I may have to go with the new Nano for my first iPod purchase.

Posted by: Jeff G. | September 19, 2008 12:03 AM | Report abuse

Gotta say, I'm one insanely satisfied Touch owner. The price cut stings a bit but I got mine in April so I can't complain overmuch.

I'm on a college campus: there's wifi everywhere. Essentially, my iPod is a blackberry, video player, web browser, news reader, game machine, WORK machine (I can ssh into my work machines or actually use remote desktop to control them), eBook reader, GPS device, note taker (wish I could use my bluetooth external keyboard from my Palm days, though) annnnnnd music player.

I'm sure I missed about 30 other functions.

Honestly, at this point, I think playing music/podcasts is the LEAST used of the Touch features.

It's an astonishing device. If Apple would let podcasts be updated over wifi and I could use an external keyboard, I'd probably never use a larger machine again.

I love my MacBook, I adore my little eeepc and I'm writing this on my iMac, but it's the Touch I'm reading a book on right before going to sleep and that I'm using to check email as I wake ("can I laze about or must I move into WORK MODE right away..?").

And it fits in my pocket! Woot!

Posted by: Bush -- not related | September 19, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

WTMD is our best alternative station. It's close in Baltimore and in Northern VA on 105.5 and You don't have to look far for great radio even if it's not right in dc.

Posted by: Bill | September 21, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

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