IPod Nano Review

The iPod nano is no longer a mini version of the iPod classic. The fourth generation model is a distinctive iPod in its own right, with styling, features and a choice of nine colours that set it apart.

First impressions

The curved design, for instance, calls to mind the MacBook Air and gives the impression that the iPod nano is even thinner than its modest 6.2 mm (0.24 inch). The aluminium and glass body, combined with the new shape and a weight of just 36.8 grams (1.3 ounces), also make the iPod nano comfortable to use. The one possible drawback to the comfort factor, though, is the sharpness of the corners. This shouldn’t be a problem unless you have the iPod nano in a pocket and it jabs you as you sit down.

The corners are a minor niggle, however, and perhaps an inevitable aspect of a design that places the iPod nano screen in an “upright” position. The display, in fact, is the same as the third generation iPod nano horizontal widescreen – but round the other way.

When you switch on the iPod nano and work through the menu, it’s clear that this change to the screen’s orientation has led to improvements. The Preview Panel, for example, is smaller and allows significantly more space for menu titles and item names. You can even deactivate the Preview Panel for yet more display space.

These enhancements come hand in hand with a larger font size, a revamped layout, and new graphics. The overall result is an iPod that’s simpler to navigate than its predecessors.

Features

Simplicity is always welcome, as are features that boost the pleasure of using an iPod. The nano has three new features in particular that are well worth a look.

Genius is a piece of software available with iTunes 8 that now runs on fourth generation iPod nanos. The best way of summarising Genius is to say that you can choose a song and let Genius recommend music that goes well with it. Genius also creates 25, 50, or 100 song playlists based on these suggestions.

Another key extra relates not to music but to video. You may already be wondering about the advisability of playing videos on the iPod nano’s vertical screen. Apple’s answer is straightforward: you put the iPod nano on its side, to either the left or right. A built-in accelerometer takes note and broadcasts your video in normal widescreen format.

If you’re searching in the main or Music menus, the accelerometer also brings Cover Flow onto your screen when you tilt the iPod nano through 90 degrees. You can then search for an album by browsing the covers (which appear in alphabetical order).

The games players among you will immediately recognise the potential of the accelerometer. Sure enough, you can now move the iPod nano, from side to side for instance, to help you negotiate the challenges of games such as Klondike, Maze, and Vortex.

A further technique now available thanks to the accelerometer is “shake to shuffle”. Give the iPod nano an energetic shake when you’re listening to music, and you’ll hear your songs in random order.

This does raise the issue of whether your iPod nano will switch to Shuffle mode when you’re jogging or at the gym. Tests show this doesn’t happen: you need to wave your iPod nano fairly enthusiastically to activate “shake to shuffle”. In any event, if you’re concerned about this you can simply press the nano’s Hold switch to turn “shake to shuffle” off.

The final new feature of the iPod nano is Spoken Menus. This improves the nano’s usability for people with visual impairments (as do other accessibility features such as the white on black video captions and the availability of a larger font).

Spoken Menus tells you what you’re browsing. It gives you the titles of menus, songs, albums, and artists, and lets you know when the battery is running low. All in all, it’s an impressive addition.

Technology

The fourth generation iPod nano’s screen is the same as the preceding model: a two inch LCD with LED backlight, and 320 x 240 pixel resolution at 204 pixels per inch. This still keeps the screen at the forefront of available technology.

With storage Apple has improved capacity by doubling it for the two new iPod nano models to 8GB and 16GB. This means you can place up to 2,000 or 4,000 songs in 128Kbps AAC format on your nano; 7,000 or 14,000 iPod suitable photos; or 8 or 16 hours of video. When you bear in mind that you can also store items in your iTunes library, you have more than enough room for daily use.

Performance

The screen may have the same technology as the third generation, but there’s nothing wrong with this. Picture outlines are sharp, and the colours vivid. The edges curve slightly to match the styling of the nano’s aluminium body, but there’s no evident picture distortion. And although the screen’s covering is now glass, it resists glare and provides clear images.

Audio quality with the iPod nano’s standard earphones is easily as good as the excellent sound reproduced by the third generation models. If you have the good fortune to own top of the range headphones, however, you’ll notice that the fourth generation nano is better because it eliminates background hiss almost completely.

As for power, tests show you can squeeze about 25% – 30% more life from the new iPod nano battery than Apple’s official figures of 24 hours for audio and 4 hours for video. Add this to a charge time of just one and half hours to 80% capacity, and three hours to full charge, and you have a long-lasting and easily revived digital media player.

Conclusion

Once again, Apple has produced an iPod that sets a high standard for others to follow.

Pros

Great range of colours
Distinctive design change
Lightweight
Improvements to accessibility
New features such as Genius and the accelerometer
More storage
Good battery life

Cons

New shape has sharp corners and may not appeal to everyone

Ben Wilson writes about iPods, in particular the iPod Nano
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