iPods have come a long way since the initial music-only device that magically appeared from Steve Jobs' jeans pocket in October 2001. Now the iPod touch has full access to the internet, can play movies, and even make video calls using FaceTime.
The iPod line up is not what it used to be though, with the majority of Apple's music player models having been discontinued. A new iPod touch was launched in May 2019 and is the only iPod that Apple sells.
Here we round up the various features of each model, and explain where you can buy the models that have now been discontinued by Apple.
At a glance:
- iPod Shuffle - Discontinued, small, compact size, no display, inexpensive
- iPod nano - Discontinued, small, slightly more pricey, touchscreen
- iPod Classic - Discontinued, large capacity
- iPod touch - Larger screen, great for gaming, connectivity options, expensive
If you're looking to buy an iPod, the question of which one should you choose is easy to answer. Apple has discontinued all but the iPod touch, so if you would prefer one of the smaller, cheaper options getting your hands on one won't be as easy as it used to be, but it isn't impossible.
In many ways the decision about which iPod to get is really a choice between the iPod touch and the next step up - an iPhone 7 (which is now the cheapest iPhone Apple sells), or an iPad. We would generally say that the iPhone or iPad offer a good alternative to the iPod touch. Even if you are thinking of buying the device for someone who won't have a SIM card you can still use an iPhone without a SIM.
Despite the attractions of the iPad and iPhone, the iPod touch may well be the iPod for you. It offers far more than just a simple music player, coming equipped with essentially all the features of a fully fledged iPhone bar the cellular call capabilities, and it costs less. It's not cheap though, starting at £199 for 32GB. A 32GB iPhone 7 costs £449, just to put things in perspective.
Alternatively the 9.7in iPad introduced in 2018 costs £319 for a 32GB version.
With the high price of the iPod touch and the other Apple gadgets in mind, there will still be some people interested in the smaller, since discontinued iPods, and for that reason we will still include them in our buying guide.
In this guide we will compare the various features of each iPod - such as capacity and battery life - to determine which iPod is the one best suited for your needs, although if you're in the market for an iPod Shuffle, nano or Classic, you'll have to look beyond the Apple Store as they're no longer on-sale.
Read our iPod reviews including:
Pricing and availability
An important part of any buying decision is knowing your budget. Before we go into any more detail, it's worth noting that Apple has discontinued the iPod Shuffle, nano and Classic, so you'll only be able to purchase those from third-party retailers.
If you really aren't looking to spend a lot on a device, and don't mind a limited set of functions, then the 2GB iPod Shuffle is still very tempting option. It's been discontinued by Apple, but you may be able to find one on Amazon or eBay. It cost around £50 back in the day, so you shouldn't pay much more than that unless you're desperate.
Moving up to a nano will give you a few more advanced features and eight times the storage, but the price jumps up at the same time. Again, Apple has stopped selling this model but there are options on Amazon and eBay. This used to be available new for around £140 so don't go too much higher than that if possible.
If you're looking for a classic iPod design, well, go for the iPod Classic. It's a little harder to find but you should be able to find one online - take a look on Amazon here, on eBay here and on Gumtree here. You might be surprised at how high their price tags are though - which means if you've got a classic to sell you could fetch a decent sum of money for the old iPod.
Which iPod is best?
In the battle of the features, the iPod touch is in a different category to its smaller siblings. As the only iPod to run a full version of iOS, the iPod Touch has access to the full App Store, with all the games, productivity tools, social media, and camera apps that you'd expect to find on an iPhone.
Apple updated it in May 2019 for the first time since 2015. It now has the A10 processor (the same as the iPhone 7), can run AR apps and works with Apple Arcade. Its 4in display makes it the smallest screen on an iOS device that Apple still sells.
The iPod touch is also a fully functional internet device, so FaceTime, browsing, chatting, and shopping are all available via its 4in Retina screen. The built in camera, while not quite up to the iPhone quality, still offers great shots that will go well on Instagram or Facebook - both of which are also available. It also has a headphone jack - and comes with a set of EarPods, obviously.
It's easily the most advanced iPod there's ever been, and with the category declining due to the proliferation of smartphones.
There are still people for whom the iPod nano is ideal. Like the touch, it is also a capable device, but small enough to carry anywhere. If you want a small iPod to pop into your pocket at the gym, and you are happy to look at second hand models, this may well be the one for you. However, even when Apple was still selling the nano it wasn't cheap, it cost £159 for 16GB.
Just be aware that even though it has a screen, it does not run iOS.
The most obvious feature that differentiates the iPod nano and the iPod Shuffle is the 2.5in multi-touch display. This enable the iPod nano to have a range of included apps that broaden its appeal. Music is, of course, still the primary function, with the cool ability to create Genius mixes on the fly by tapping a button while a song is playing; the device will then automatically generate a playlist from your library based around that track.
A screen also means video, with the iPod nano happily playing any media synced to it from your iTunes account. It's admittedly not the biggest display for Hollywood blockbusters, but for quick fixes on the go, or to entertain the little ones, it does the job.
You can also store photos on the iPod nano, and a built-in FM radio app makes it easy to keep up with the latest music, news or sporting events. If you are a Nike Fitness user then you'll find the bespoke app on the iPod nano a handy addition, as the device doubles as a fitness tracker that can sync up to your NikePlus account with details of your workouts.
Bluetooth is also a useful feature, as you can listen to your tunes wirelessly on bluetooth headphones, or connect to a number of home and car speakers. Unfortunately it won't work with Apple Music.
There have been many iPod nano models over the years, the most recent one looks like the picture above, and has an Home page with icons on it offering access to apps - but not the kind of apps you buy from the iOS App Store, unfortunately.
If you find a square iPod nano for sale, note that this model, first introduced in 2010, has become obsolete, which means Apple is no longer supporting it.
The iPod shuffle was the cheapest option, inexpensive, and tough - perfect for taking to the gym. It's only failing was the lack of storage space, maxing out at 2GB. Just not enough for most music libraries. It also lacked a screen so choosing music wasn't a simple process. But you could probably pick one up for next to nothing on eBay these days.
In many ways the Shuffle is probably the most true to that original iPod, as it focuses solely on playing audio. The lack of a screen has meant that in the past you had to remember what was on the device, and switching between tracks was something of a lottery.
Later versions offered a Voice Over feature: the iPod Shuffle would read the name of the track, podcast, audiobook, or playlist to you and allow you to choose the one you want to listen to with nary a touchscreen in sight.
This meant that you could have multiple playlists on the device without having to return to your iTunes library. It was a simple addition, but it really did make the Shuffle a far more capable device than past iterations. For that reason we would suggest that if you were looking to pick up a second-hand Shuffle you should make sure that it is a 4th-generation model.
Which iPod is right for you?
The first question you should ask yourself when considering a technology purchase is this - what do I want from the device? It's all well and good buying the latest and greatest gadget, but this will be a waste of money if you only intend to use a fraction of its capabilities. If all you want is some musical accompaniment while you work out at the gym, the iPod touch is probably overkill - although now that it includes the M8 chip for fitness monitoring it might be exactly what you are looking for.
Conversely the shuffle can become a very frustrating device if you like to change the music you are listening to often as it's not very flexible - essentially shuffling the tracks you listen to.
How are the iPods different?
To lay out some of the more basic capabilities of the various iPods available we'll start with the storage capacities of each model.
With the 160GB iPod classic now a distant memory those wanting a large amount of storage on their iPod will have to fork out for an iPod touch.
The iPod shuffle is available with a rather humble 2GB of storage, while the iPod nano boasts a more spacious 16GB. It's worth bearing in mind that this means the shuffle can hold around 450 songs encoded at 128kbps, with the nano's 16GB topping out at around the 4,000 mark.
The only model to go higher than 16GB is the iPod touch which is available in 32, 128 and 256GB variants. 128 and 256GB should be more than enough for most people's iTunes collection. It's just a tad galling that Apple sells the 32GB for £199/$199, and then a £100/$100 premium to boost the storage: 128GB is £299/$299 while 256GB is £399/$399. But that is still cheaper than buying an iPhone with the equivalent storage option.
Bear in mind that the true storage capacity of an iOS device such as the iPod touch is less than the advertised capacity.
iPods may not have the same always-on nature of smartphones, but battery life is still an important factor for any electronic device. You might think that the iPod shuffle would win this category due to the lack of a power-sapping screen, its diminutive size though means that it lasts for only 15 hours. This loses out to the nano which goes for around 30 hours, and the iPod touch - which houses the largest battery in the range - holding out for a massive 40 hours of listening time.
If you watch video though, things immediately change, with the nano affording 3.5 hours and the touch reducing to 8 hours.
Interestingly, while Apple is claiming the 2015 iPod touch offers improved battery life the figures are exactly the same as previously.
Only the iPod touch offers a camera. This is an 8MP camera similar to that inside the iPhone. You'll get the same camera features such as slow-mo video and burst mode shooting (you won't get time lapse though).
There's also a forward facing FaceTime camera for making video calls, or taking selfies. As cameras go it's a good option, allowing you to edit pictures and share them to Facebook or similar as long as you have access to WiFi. And because you can download any apps from the App Store you can make use of any photography apps you like. The iPod touch can also record video.
Both the iPod touch and the iPod nano can play video, but the iPod touch offers a lot more flexibility, and a bigger screen.
To watch video on the nano you will need to copy episodes of your favourite TV shows or films on to the device. The iPod touch, on the other hand, can stream from the iTunes Store or play video via any app you have.
The iPod nano offers an FM radio and will play up to 4,000 tunes you have loaded onto it. The shuffle can store 450 songs encoded at 128kbps.
The iPod touch has the added benefit of access to the iTunes Music Store, which means you can download tracks onto the iPod, and even stream them from Apple Music (free for the first three months, then a subscription of £9.99 a month).
All three types of iPod come in the following colours: Silver, Gold, Space Grey, Pink, Blue, Red (for the PRODUCT RED charity).
Having explored the various advantages and compromises that each model offers, hopefully we've shed a little more light on the subject. Inevitably there will be some crossover between devices, but we feel that each is distinct enough to occupy its own place on the menu. With that in mind here are a few final conclusions regarding who might benefit most from the various iPods available.
iPod Shuffle - We think that this one was the best for sports enthusiasts, due to the fact it's cheap, hardy, and can clip onto anything. Those with smaller music libraries will also see the value of an inexpensive device that is still powerful thanks to the Voice Over feature, and of course people who don't want to spend a lot on a music player.
iPod nano - Due to its size and sandboxed nature the iPod nano was an excellent iPod for younger children. Those who generally want a svelte device with more capacity than a Shuffle will also find the little iPod a very attractive option, and if you do already use the NikePlus fitness service, then the integrated app might well prove a tipping point.
iPod touch - The touch was a very impressive device, but it has a price tag to match. In many ways it strays a bit too close to the smartphone world to make it an actually compelling device for those who already own an iPhone. If you do want an internet capable, iOS device but find iPads a bit on the large size, then the iPod Touch will give you a good percentage of that experience, including a Retina screen, for a bit less than the iPad Mini 2.
One area where it really shines though is as an entry point to the Apple world for teenagers that want to communicate with friends, watch the latest YouTube videos, listen to their music, and not have ongoing bills for their parents to pay. And the newest models bring a better camera and faster processor. This is also the only iPod that will let you make use of your subscription to Apple Music.
Is it worth owning an iPod these days?
After having written the article, we also thought to ask ourselves if buying an iPod is actually worth it these days. Previously, people would buy an iPod because of its massive storage capabilities. With music libraries ever increasing in size, we find 2-16GB a little insufficient for music storage. Considering around 1,000 songs takes around 8GB, people with multiple different albums will find that a Shuffle and nano doesn't provide them with enough storage space.
Moving up to the iPod touch, it's clear we have more storage capabilities - 32GB (£199) or 128GB (£299) options - but they also come at a hefty price tag. An iPhone might be a worthy alternative, but they are more expensive still.
There are other options out there, which don't run on iOS, such as the FiiO X5 which can be found for around £290 and be used alongside two 128GB microSD cards to boost its storage up to a massive 256GB. We understand this isn't the best of solutions for those who like the iOS platform, but considering the price and actual use of the iPods, it makes a lot more sense to have a player that's cheaper, offers more functionality and most importantly has more storage capabilities for your music.
Therefore, to answer the question, we don't feel an iPod can be fully justified, given the competition they have. However, if you're looking for a device that doesn't hold much space, such as the iPod Shuffle, then we still feel the iPods is still a good music source.
If you currently have an iPod and have a separate phone, it's worth keeping hold of it, as it can provide you with that additional storage needed for your music library.
We will have to see what Apple decide to do with the iPod line, but we feel that either Apple with phase out the iPod line, or add extra storage capabilities for those looking for a better value-for-money buy.