Mac Happens

Four Kinds of iPods, Six Storage Capacities: Which Is Best for You?

Evan Kleiman - 2005.02.11

With the recent addition of the iPod shuffle to Apple's current lineup of digital music players, choosing which iPod is best for you can be a daunting task. For some people it's hard enough to decide what color iPod mini to get!

Today we'll talk about which iPod is best for you.

The Regular iPod: Perfect for Music or Backup Junkies

There's no doubt about it, the regular iPod is huge. It comes in two sizes: 20 gig and 40 gig. It seems to be best for people who have large iTunes libraries and listen to more than 4 GB of music. People who plan to expand their music collection also seem to favor the regular iPod.

When used with the FireWire interface, the iPod offers another useful capability. Since it's essentially a hard drive, it can be used as a FireWire disk to boot your Mac. Twenty or more gigabytes is more than enough space to install OS X and some diagnostic tools - along with your normal music - to make the iPod a useful dead Mac resuscitation tool.

As far as value is concerned between the two regular iPods, the US$399 40 gig is the best value. For only US$100 more than the 20 gig model, you get double the storage and a dock that would run you US$39 to buy separately.

The bottom line: Buy the regular iPod if you have more than 4 GB of music you'll listen to regularly or want an easy bootable backup for your system.

iPod mini: For the Music Lover Who Knows What He Wants

Size and style seem to be the major points of this iPod. Here at Temple University's main campus, there are easily more iPod minis than regular iPods. This college demographic is very focused on aesthetics, something that the mini boasts. Coming in five cool colors and smaller than it's big brother, the iPod mini is a hit with this buying sector.

As I've noticed, many people don't listen to all of the music in their iTunes libraries. Even if they have enough to fill an iPod 20 or 40, they simply don't regularly listen to that much music. (No one can honestly say they listen to every track on every CD they own, right?) Even having this much music can become cumbersome on the iPod. As easy as it is, scrolling through several thousand songs on an iPod - even with multiple playlists - is much harder than on iTunes.

The bottom line: If you're style conscious or have less than 4 GB of music you listen to regularly, the mini is for you.

iPod photo

The iPod photo is the iPod that had been predicted for years. It has a color screen! It comes in both 40 and 60 gigabyte sizes. (Remember, regular iPods max out at 40 gigs.) Along with the color screen and large drive, it has presentation ability. You can hook it up to your computer and upload iPhoto pics.

Why is this useful? You can use it as a presentation tool on the go. Store a few slides on it and use the video-out to connect it to a TV or projector, and you have an instant setup. Carrying around an iPod is a lot easier than lugging an iBook or other laptop to give a presentation. Plus, you can tout pictures of your loved ones as much as you show off the nifty color screen.

The bottom line: If you absolutely need 60 gigs of storage, a color screen, or presentation capabilities, this is the iPod for you.

iPod shuffle

The shuffle, Apple's newest member of the iPod family, is something different. I don't necessarily like this new product, but to keep this article impartial, we'll wait to talk about why I don't like it until next week.

The iPod shuffle does have its niche in Apple's marketing strategy. It's so popular that the estimated ship date at time of writing this article is two to three weeks from The Apple Store.

They're clearly selling like hot cakes. But whom are they selling to?

The normal iTunes user probably has a music library larger than one gigabyte, so storing your whole library on the shuffle is probably impossible. Apple recognizes this and includes the "autofill" feature on the latest version of iTunes. Autofill lets you fill the iPod to capacity using your iTunes library with songs that match your predetermined criteria.

Given this characteristic of the iPod shuffle, it's clearly for an audience that wants to listen to a specific collection of music at one time. They also have to be okay with changing the collection only as often as they charge the battery.

The bottom line: The iPod shuffle is certainly a niche product. Autofill is a nice feature that makes it more useable (does anyone know if you can use autofill on a mini or regular iPod?).

If you want an iPod on the cheap and don't mind it sans screen or real music control, this is for you.

The Value Equation

The overall value equation for the iPods:

  • $15/gig for the iPod 20
  • $10/gig for the iPod 40
  • $12.50/gig for the iPod photo 40
  • $10/gig for the iPod photo 60
  • $62.50/gig for the iPod mini
  • $200/gig for the iPod shuffle 512
  • $150/gig for the iPod shuffle 1 gig

Broken down this way, the iPod 40 gig and iPod photo 60 are the best values based on storage capacity alone.

People that follow this analysis alone forget that style, size, and quality are important factors. This kind of math makes me think of Napster's awful ad campaign, the $10,000 iPod.

The math does offer one useful piece of information - many people were in shock at the price of the iPod photo 60 gig. We can see that you pay the same price per gigabyte ($10) for the highest capacity regular iPod and iPod photo. For the same price per gigabyte, you get all of the iPod photo's enhanced capabilities and a bigger hard drive. LEM

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