Journal: News & Comment

Sunday, November 20, 2005
# 9:11:00 PM:

Q&A: how to buy an iPod in Vancouver for Christmas 2005

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iPod FamilyOne of my wife's co-workers wrote to me this week:

I know my kids would love an iPod for Xmas. We're just trying to understand the ipod generation - ipod minis or nanos? We have a PC with windows XP so I think they would be compatible. The boys are l7 and 14 and download for music like most kids but [your wife] was also saying that books/novels can also be downloaded to the devices as well. With that in mind, which would you suggest?

Also, where is a good place to get them? London Drugs always has good customer service but do you have other suggestions?

iPod models

What kind of iPod you get depends on two things: your budget, and how much audio the boys will store on them. Apple has three current lines of iPods:

  • The iPod shuffle - very minimal, just a few buttons, no display screen, looks like a white stick of gum, $130 Cdn for about 120 songs (512 MB) or $170 for 240 songs or so (1 GB). This is what I have (my work bought every employee one earlier this year), and while it sounds great, is supremely light, and is great for exercising or running around, the lack of a screen makes it sometimes awkward to use if you're looking for a particular track. You can only hold a portion of your music collection at once (although it's still something like 10 or 20 CDs' worth) with the relatively small amount of storage on the Shuffle.

  • The iPod nano - the coolest (and thinnest) of the bunch, also quite small, but with a fabulous little colour screen and the trademark iPod scroll wheel control, available in black or white, and $250 for around 500 songs (2 GB) or $300 for 1000 songs (4 GB). This model just replaced the previous iPod mini, which is now discontinued (although you can find it on clearance, maybe for a good price—see below). This is a very functional device that plays music and displays photos, and which you can use to keep track of contacts and other stuff too. It does not play movies, and while 1000 songs is a lot, even the 4 GB model won't hold most people's entire music collection—you can pick songs to go on it when you hook it up to your computer, just like the Shuffle.

  • The iPod - the latest version of the classic "big" iPod is called the "5th generation" model, and while it's physically larger (though still pretty small), it holds a LOT more stuff. For $380 you get 30 GB of storage (around 7500 songs!), or for $500 you get 60 GB, or 15,000 songs, and both come in white or black. For most people, 30 GB will hold every CD you've ever bought plus a lot more. (The couple of hundred CDs in my living room and all the music I've collected or recorded otherwise still only just breaks 40 GB, and I'm a musician.) This iPod does everything the Nano does, but has a bigger screen that also plays movies (including TV shows you can buy from Apple or movies you convert from other formats—you can play them on a TV by hooking up a cable too). Finally, unlike the other iPod models, it can record CD-quality audio with extra-cost external accessories.

As I said, the iPod mini is now an old model, replaced by the Nano, so you may be able to get deals on it—it comes in an aluminum housing in several cool colours, with a black and white screen, and plays music but doesn't show photos or movies. There are 4 GB (1000 song) or 6 GB (1500 song) models that may be kicking around.

Similarly, previous-generation big regular iPods (mostly 3rd and 4th generation iPods) may also be available at lower prices as clearout stock, but they won't play video, and may or may not have colour screens to display photos. Don't buy used: iPods tend to get a lot of use, and the batteries are awkward and costly to replace if they're not holding a charge well any longer.

What they do

Now, all of the iPods, from the shuffle through the big one, will play audiobooks (most cost money) and free podcasts (radio shows that download automatically, and run the gamut from CBC's Quirks & Quarks to people like me recording stuff in their basements), as well as MP3 files you can easily create from your CDs (including audiobook CDs) or get from your friends, and tracks you can purchase from Apple online for $1.30 each, as well as audiobooks from and Apple. Audiobooks and podcasts generally take up less space per minute than music, because they don't need as high quality in their files, so even the Shuffle will hold plenty of such material.

So, the question becomes: if you can't spend more than $200 each, the Shuffle is your only real option, unless you can find a great deal on a clearout Mini. If you can manage $250, the low-end Nano is a good bet. For $380, the low-end "big" iPod offers the best bang for the buck of the lot—I think the $500 one is overkill for most people. The $300, 4 GB Nano is a tough one, because it costs only $80 less than the 30 GB iPod, but holds only 13% as much music. But it is sooooo cool.

Keep in mind that the cost of the iPod itself will be far from the end. While you may not be the one who buys it, the boys will need a case of some sort at the very least, and I would recommend some better headphones, because the included white earbuds don't fit most people well and also don't do justice to the excellent sounds these things produce. The $80 Sennheiser PX100s amaze even snooty audiophiles for the price, and they come in matching iPod white from Future Shop, London Drugs, or many other retailers.

There are a kajillion other accessories out there, but you can let the boys buy their own as they figure those out—with their own money!

Where to buy in Vancouver

London Drugs is a good place to get them. Every store charges pretty much the same, and LD knows what they're talking about. Another good option is CompuSmart at Georgia and Seymour, across from the Bay downtown. Dedicated Apple stores like Westworld and Simply Computing on Broadway, or Mac Station in Burnaby or Yaletown are also good; while they don't know as much about Windows XP, they usually have an excellent selection of cases and other accessories.

Future Shop salespeople don't generally know their stuff well, and I don't have a good enough grip on Best Buy to say one way or another, although they seem like a good store. Even Chapters sells iPods, although I notice on their page that they're still selling old models at the bottom without an apparent discount, which is weird. There is also an excellent buyer's guide (which may be a bit overwhelming) from the site

My picks

So, the big question: What would I buy? My budget would probably only allow for the $250 Nano, but if I had $400 to spend I would be in a tough spot choosing between the cooler, light, more rugged $300 Nano and the video-playing, massive storage, and bigger screen of the $380 big iPod.

Really, if I had to make a snap decision, the $250 iPod nano (in black if you can find it) plus a cheap case or sleeve to protect it would be great. Add the $80 Sennheiser headphones and you'll have Cool Mom points for a very long time indeed.

Oh wait, never mind. There's all those new iPods Steve Jobs introduced on Saturday Night Live yesterday instead.


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