Katherine Boehret

With New Sizes and Features, iPods Grow Up

If you missed Apple’s new iPod lineup among the frenzy that surrounded last month’s iPhone 5 announcement, you aren’t alone. But these were the first new iPods from Apple in two years.

This week, I found out how much the iPod family has matured since 2010. I tested the new $299-and-up iPod touch and the $149 iPod nano. These are very different products, but they both carry Apple’s simple touch interface. And both make good gifts because they won’t saddle the recipient with monthly phone bills: The iPod touch runs on Wi-Fi and the iPod nano doesn’t wirelessly connect to the Internet.

First things first: What’s new? The iPod touch screen now has the same screen as the iPhone 5: A four-inch Retina display with sharp, bright colors. The previous iPod touch was thin, but at 0.24 inch thick and 3.1 ounces, this new one almost feels like a mock-up of an iPod touch. Its notably improved camera now includes a flash, as well as image stabilization and face detection. And it runs iOS 6, the latest operating system from Apple, so it has features like panorama for photos, full Facebook integration, iMessage and Passbook.

Meanwhile, the iPod nano, which is somewhat of an Apple wild child because of its ever-morphing shape and size, has sloughed off its predecessor’s square shape for a return to the rectangle. A 2.5-inch screen and small Home button take up the face of this 1.1-ounce, seventh-generation iPod nano. It resembles a teensy iPhone that a squirrel could use. A new play/pause button runs along the side between volume up and down. This remains the only iPod with FM radio, which works when connected to EarPods — a redesigned version of the white earbuds that come with all iPods. The nano has Bluetooth for the first time, though it still lacks Wi-Fi. But that is just fine for how most people will use this iPod.


The new iPod Touch has the same 4-inch screen as the iPhone 5. (Photo is not to scale.)

On the downside, Apple’s new EarPods weren’t music to my ears. During a cross-country flight, I had to take them out after just 30 minutes because they hurt so much. When I tried them again during a walk, I had the same reaction. But as Apple’s TV commercials are fond of saying, everyone’s ears are different.

I started small, first testing the iPod nano. This device is ideal for people who aren’t super tech savvy yet want a way to listen to music and track their fitness progress. Out of the box, the iPod nano will play music via an FM radio and will monitor your fitness stats using a preinstalled Nike+ app. (When the app was first introduced years ago, it only worked with a piece that fit into special Nike sneakers.)

You can plug the Nano into a computer to sync with music, photos, videos and podcasts.

The nano’s Nike+ app tracks data like steps walked, as well as calories burned, time and distance during runs. I tapped on the Nike+ icon and entered my weight and height, which helped calculate personalized data. In the morning, I tapped “Walk” in Nike+ before my 15-minute walk to the Metro, and a pedometer started and stopped as I did. You also can upload the data to the Nike+ Web site.


The new iPod nano now has built-in Bluetooth and weighs just 1.1 ounces. (Photo is not to scale.)

The Run section in Nike+ let me choose Basic, Time, Distance or Calorie to determine the goals I wanted to set. If you wear headphones while using this device, you’ll hear audio encouragement in your ears as you go. A History section tracks personal bests and workout totals.

I really liked using the FM radio. I tapped a star icon to save favorite radio stations and hit the skip ahead or back buttons to jump to save stations. I tapped the screen to display controls for pausing and rewinding live radio as far back as 15 minutes.

Battery life for this iPod nano is expected to last 30 hours, according to Apple’s estimate. I used it intermittently for various activities, but never had to worry about charging it.

Speaking of charging, the nano and the touch both use Apple’s new Lightning connector, though neither ships with a wall adapter, like the iPhone. They come with USB cables that let you charge the devices by plugging into a computer’s USB port.

I used the new iPod touch in many of the same ways I use the iPhone 5: Downloading apps I own (thanks to Apple’s iCloud backup service) and playing my iTunes music. I corresponded with friends via email and iMessage, created Photo Streams to share with people and navigated around town with Apple Maps. But I usually had to be in a Wi-Fi network.

The 5-megapixel, iSight camera on this iPod touch is a pleasure to use. Its flash makes it reliable in all situations. And videos I recorded in 1080p HD quality looked like I captured them on an iPhone 5.

The new iPod touch comes in two versions: a 32-gigabyte version for $299 and a 64GB version for $399. Apple is still selling its fourth-generation iPod touch in black and white colors, starting at $199 for the 16GB version.

The new features and slick designs of these new iPods give the category a boost that makes them desirable devices rather than second-tier siblings to the iPhone.

Email katie.boehret@wsj.com

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