Mac Musings

The 2009 iPod Value Equation

Dan Knight - 2009.09.10 - Tip Jar

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Apple did its annual overhaul of the entire iPod yesterday, with changes ranging from ho-hum to awesome.

iPod classic

Let's start with the ho-hum and work our way to the more impressive. The classic iPod form factor has survived for another year with a capacity boost from 120 GB to 160 GB - the same amount of storage space the high-end iPod classic had when the 120 GB model was introduced.

The newest iPod classic retails for $249, and online dealers are closing out 120 GB iPods for $210 and up. Apple has slashed the price on its refurbished inventory, dropping the price of the 120 GB classic to $199 shipped.

If you don't need a lot of features and want more than 16 GB of storage space, the iPod classic is your best value.

iPod shuffle

The 2009 edition of the iPod shuffle looks just like the one introduced a year ago, but with the addition of three color options (blue, pink, and green) in addition to black and silver. The only other significant change is that Apple has introduced a low-end 2 GB model to replace the last of the 2G shuffles.

Prices are $59 for 2 GB and $79 for 4 GB. Refurbished 2G shuffles are available from the Apple Store for $39 (1 GB) and $59 (2 GB). With no significant changes, there is no change in value for the iPod shuffle.

iPod touch

Now billed as a "pocket computer", the iPod touch has 50% more processing power, supports OpenGL (just like Snow Leopard), and comes in capacities of 8, 32, and 64 GB. (Why Apple skipped 16 GB is one of the first questions we asked.)

UPDATE: Only the 32 GB and 64 GB models have the faster CPU and OpenGL support. This article has been modified in light of this.

In terms of features, there's not much different from last year's model. You get the faster CPU and increased capacity for your dollar, which improves value, but there's really no compelling reason to avoid the 2008 model.

In terms of pricing, the 8 GB "iTouch" is an unqualified bargain at $199. For just $100 more, you get four times the storage space - 32 GB for $299. And at the top is a 64 GB iPod touch pricing out at $399.

By way of comparison, last year's 8 GB iPod touch is being closed out at $189, 16 GB as low as $243, and 32 GB for $279. With virtually no difference in price, I can't argue against choosing last year's 8 GB model and saving a bit. The 16 GB model is reasonably priced halfway between the new 8 and 32 GB models - perfect, since Apple doesn't offer a 16 GB model at present.

Even with a $20 difference in price between the 2008 and 2009 32 GB touches, it's hard to justify not spending the little bit extra for the "up to 50% faster" processor (Macworld has discovered that some things are twice as fast). And the 64 GB model is simply lustworthy. This is the generation that should make the iPod touch the "must have" handheld computer for the masses.

There are excellent deals to be had in refurbished iPod touches. Apple is moving the 8 GB model at $149 with its standard one-year warranty, 16 GB for $199, and 32 GB for $249. If you want to get into an iTouch on the cheap, jump at that 8 GB while it's available. And if you're thinking of spending $199 for the new 8 GB model, you might want to consider the refurb 16 GB at the same price - not as much processing power, but twice the storage capacity. I suspect Apple is going to do brisk business in these two models.

The 32 GB refurb is a good deal, but at $50 less than retail and $30 less than the best online price I could find today, its a less compelling choice.

iPod nano

Surprisingly, the iPod nano was king of the upgraded iPods this time around. In addition to a bigger screen and richer colors, it gained several new features: a pedometer, an FM radio, and a video camera - all without an increase in price.

The FM radio uses the earbud/headphone wires as its antenna, a clever touch, and supports song tagging, so you can mark songs you like for later purchase from the iTunes Store. You can buffer up to 15 minutes of music, so you can pause and rewind radio.

2009 iPod nano
The 2009 iPod nano

The big new feature for the 5G iPod nano is the video camera, which includes a built-in microphone. It supports 640 x 480 VGA resolution at 30 frames per second and records using H.264 compression. No you can both record and watch video on the iPod nano. Apples says, "The video file sizes are perfect for sharing on YouTube or emailing to friends."

The 8 GB 5G nano retails for $149, the 16 GB for $179, and the best prices I've found today are just $9 below that. Compare that to a cheap, low-end video camera like the Flip Minio or Ultra ($149 retail), which has the same resolution, frame rate, and H.264 video compression, and you can see where Apple is going to sell a boatload of these little things. And did I mention that these Flip products have only one-half or one-quarter the memory of the low-end iPod nano?

If there's even the least chance you might want a small, light video camera, the iPod nano has become the compelling choice. In fact, with all the new features, dealers might find it difficult to unload last year's model.

Online retailers are closing out the 4G iPod nano with 8 GB for as little as $119 and the 16 GB model for $145. Refurbs from Apple go for $99 and $149 respectively. They're still great little digital music and video players, and if that's all you need, they're good deals, but the addition of video recording will open whole new markets to Apple.

Where the iPod touch is the pocket computer for today and tomorrow, the iPod nano is the pocketable video camera that's going to change the industry.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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