The iPod, ranked
It might not have technically been the first digital music player (according to Wikipedia), but it’s the one people think of as having brought MP3 players to the masses.
If Apple was the one to create the digital music player, it was also the one to kill it. Nowadays it’s much less common for people to carry around a dedicated music player (although there are plenty of reasons you might want to do so) because of how good smartphones have gotten at playing your music.
Their 3G connectivity also means that they’re a much better fit for streaming services, which is increasingly how people are consuming their music.
Nowadays the iPod Classic is long-gone, and all that remains is the iPod touch and the portability-focussed Nano and Shuffle.
It’s been a massive 15 years since the first generation of iPod was released, and in that time the lineup has seen a lot of changes, some for better, and some for worse.
So without further ado here’s our list of Apple’s best iPods, ranked from best to worst.
iPod Nano (4th Generation)
This might be a controversial decision, but in our opinion the best iPod was the fourth generation of the iPod Nano.
Hear us out.
The fourth generation was where the Nano series found the perfect mix between old and new. It had the small form-factor of the Nano, but maintained the classic iPod scroll wheel, and also added an accelerometer so that you could view videos in a landscape format.
Granted you wouldn’t be able to fit that many videos into its maximum of 16GB of space, but frankly it was 2008 and you need to chill out.
iPod Classic (6th Generation)
First released in 2007, the sixth generation of the iPod (otherwise known as the iPod Classic), was where the iPod brand stopped being a focus for Apple.
You don’t have to look far for the reason; 2007 also saw the release of the first iPhone, which would go on to lead the smartphone revolution, and make mass-market music players essentially obsolete.
But the iPod Classic continued to make a decent argument for its own existence, by increasing capacities up to 160GB, at which point you could start going all out with massive libraries of lossless music.
It might have been bulky by iPhone standards, but the iPod Classic managed to stick around for seven years until Apple finally ceased production in 2014. It will always exist as the archetypal iPod.
iPod Touch (6th Generation)
Back in the iPhone’s infancy, the iPod Touch line was a more affordable way for you to experience the new world of smartphone apps without having to pay for a full-on iPhone.
Granted, you’d be limited to Wi-Fi rather than 3G or 4G connectivity, but the Touch line is nevertheless a very useful series of devices, which are great for both listening to music as well as watching videos and playing iOS games.
We’ve gone for the sixth generation of iPod touch on our list because it’s the most recent and hence has the most capacity and fastest processor, although for our money its lack of a bright color-scheme makes the fifth generation touch the better looking device.
iPod Nano (3rd Generation)
We’ve tried to only include major new iPod iterations in this list, but with the Nano series having gone through so many different form-factors over the years we thought the third generation would be worthy of inclusion.
Functionally the third generation of the iPod Nano is almost identical to the rest of the Nano lineup. It had a full color screen, and kept the classic iPod scroll wheel.
What was interesting however was its shape, which made it look more like a shrunken iPod Classic than a Nano (almost all of which are long and thin rather than squat and fat).
At least it was portable.
iPod Mini (1st Generation)
Down at this end of the list is where we get into serious nostalgia territory. It’s not about the features down at this end, but the members of the iPod family that we have the fondest memories of, and the ones that broke new ground for the iPod.
The Mini belongs firmly in the former camp. It didn’t do anything particularly new for iPods, sticking with a black and white screen and leaving the full color screens to the likes of the more premium iPod Photo (more on that later), but this is a machine we can vividly remember spending hours with.
It might have had an utterly tiny capacity of just 4GB, and a somewhat disappointing 8 hours of playback, but in our minds this is one of the absolutely definitive iPods, released during the lineup’s prime.
There’s nothing quite like the retro appeal of a monochrome screen, but its time was always numbered.
2004’s iPod Photo was the first time a color screen appeared in the iPod lineup, and originally appeared as a spin-off to the 4th generation of iPod.
The full color screen would later go on to grace later iPod classics, as well as every iPod Nano and Touch, but it all started with the iPod Photo.
It was a screen that wouldn’t be able to play video until the following year’s 5th generation iPod, but we all appreciated the long-overdue return of album-artwork.
iPod Shuffle (4th Generation)
The Shuffle line is another one that’s been through a fair number of different form factors, but after three attempts its fourth generation saw it settle upon a design that’s persisted since 2010.
The fourth generation of Shuffle is what the line-up’s all about. You can’t select what songs will play - instead the device is set to automatically shuffle your whole library.
It’s meant as something that’s easy to clip onto your t-shirt when you go out for a run, and as such isn’t the kind of device that’s meant for someone with a whole host of different playlists for their different moods.
Or maybe it is if you’re the kind of person that’s as happy listening to MGMT as Enya on your morning run. We’re not going to judge.
iPod Nano (6th Generation)
The sixth generation of the iPod Nano was a weird one. It pushed the boundaries of Apple's desire to rid the world of all buttons, and featured just a screen with no home button to speak of at all.
It was certainly a bold design, and saw the Nano integrate the Shuffle’s clip for the first time, but with the 7th generation of the Nano the company returned to the portrait form factor and has never looked back.
But hey, at least Apple have been willing to play around with the look of its iPods over the years.
iPod Classic (1st Generation)
Relative to the millions that would go on to buy an iPod over the years, hardly anyone bought its first generation.
And with good reason. For starters it only worked with Macs, and featured a weird mechanical scroll-wheel that felt primitive compared to the beautiful touch-wheels that would succeed it.
We’re including the first generation of iPod on this list because it was a fantastic proof of concept for what was to come, but by modern standards it feels positively ancient.
iPod Shuffle (3rd Generation)
It says a lot that we’d put the third generation of Shuffle on this list below the original iPod, but it was a real low-point for the device thanks to the way it omitted any track or volume controls on the device itself.
This meant that in order to control the device at all you were forced to use the Apple earbuds that it came bundled with, the same ones that most people trade in for a better pair of headphones almost immediately.
What made matters worse was that headphones with in-line remotes were not nearly as common in 2009 as they are now, meaning that you were pretty much stuck with the bundled earbuds.
Apple claims that its decision to drop the headphone jack was an act of courage in 2016, but frankly it’s nothing compared to the third generation of iPod Shuffle.