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Smaller than a business card, and only a little thicker, the new Apple Nano iPods can hold over 130 CDs of music.

A high quality color screen completes the overall 'wow' factor of this miniature marvel.

Costing less than $200, and with up to 24 hours of nonstop battery life, these popular devices further enhance the concept of personal (and portable) music.

 
 
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Apple iPod Nano 8GB Personal Music Player

The third generation of the Nano series

The new third generation Nano iPod is necessarily wider than its predecessors, so as to accommodate its larger screen (2" diagonal rather than the 1.5" of earlier model units).

To compensate, at least in part, it is much shorter, so ends up being only very slightly larger (and heavier) overall than the units it replaces.

Part of a series on the Apple iPod - see links on the right for more parts of this series.

 

 

 

An amazing example of miniaturization and perhaps as small as a portable music player can ever get (size limits being set now by the screen and control sizes, rather than by the internal electronics) the iPod Nano is beautifully designed and manufactured to a high quality, making it an object of beauty and engineering art.

Software limitations, both due to in part gratuitous imposition of copy protection on the music you load onto the unit, and Apple's over-control of the unit, interfere with the Nano's usability.  But most people who enjoy popular and casual music will seldom notice these issues and will find the unit an excellent way of carrying vast amounts of music with them, wherever they go.

Although the larger and much higher resolution screen (than its predecessors) is being touted as video-capable, the screen is truly too small to enjoy watching video, other than as a short term novelty, and the unit's storage capacity is also insufficient to hold a sensible amount of video.

While not recommended for video, Apple's leadership in the personal music player arena is confirmed, yet again, by the release of this new design iPod Nano.


What You Get With Your iPod

Everything about the Apple iPod Nano is elegant, starting off with its packaging.  A phrase much used some years ago by many manufacturers, but rarely adopted with any meaningful success, is 'the out of the box experience' - a phrase that refers to the new owner's first impressions upon receiving and opening the item.  The theory is that this experience should be strongly positive and reinforce in the buyer's mind the wisdom of their purchasing decision, setting the scene for an ongoing positive experience as an owner and user.

Few companies seem to have done much more than pay lipservice to the concept, and it seems to have somewhat gone out of fashion (being replaced by cost austerity and 'green' type packaging and recycling).  But Apple is very good at designing not just their products but also the out of the box experiences for new owners.

In the case of their latest 8GB Nano iPod, the Nano is packaged inside a clear plastic box, nicely framed in a cradle mount at the top of it, reminiscent of how a piece of expensive jewelry would be displayed.

How to open the box?  There's a little discreet sticker showing you where and how to peel away the scotch tape that seals the box shut; after doing that, the box hinges open to reveal the Nano, which you can then remove from its cradle.

Underneath the cradle you open up two light cardboard flaps to find a set of headphones, a connecting cable, a cradle adapter, a short quick start guide, an 'Important Product Information' sheet full of disclaimers, and a couple of Apple logo decals.

The quick start guide is a fanfold piece with very little information in it, and the information it does have is overly simplified.  Perhaps the most useful piece of information in the guide is where to go to find a more detailed manual on Apple's website - this is the current link.

The 72 page manual that one can download from there is written in the same annoying style as the iPhone manual - instead of referring to 'the iPod Nano' it omits the definite article, and talks instead in phrases such as 'The controls on iPod Nano are easy to find and use'.  Anyone who speaks English as their first language will find this affected and annoying.

The Nano comes with a one year non-transferable warranty, including a single support incident within 90 days.  This can be extended to two years of warranty and unlimited support by buying Apple's Applecare protection plan, which costs $39.

The Applecare protection also covers battery replacement in the event the battery life reduces down to 50% of its initial capacity.  If you use your Nano a lot, this might be an issue, although with a claimed 24 hr battery life (for music playback) you'd have to be playing it almost non-stop, 24/7, to have your battery worn out to the point that it needs replacing within two years.

The real value in this warranty extension is probably the two years of phone support.  And because the Applecare plan can be purchased at any time during the first year of ownership, your strategy is probably to wait until you need to place another support call before signing up for the coverage.

The unit does not come with a power charger, just a USB cable that assumes you'll always be close to a computer USB port to charge from.

Happily, there's a huge range of after-market products, including chargers, for you to choose from.  All sorts of external amplifiers and speaker sets, and even video monitors are available.  None of the other brands of MP3 players have any appreciable amount of after market product available at all.  This factor alone is a strong reason to consider the iPod product range.

About the iPod Nano

The Nano is a delightfully small unit, measuring approx 2.75" x 3.1" x 0.25", and weighing a mere 1.7 ounces.  It is solidly constructed with an all metal case - mirror polished chrome on the back, and a matt metallic aluminum color on the front (it is available in six somewhat subdued colors).

On the bottom side there is a Hold slide switch (to lock the controls), a socket for an Apple iPod to computer/USB connecting cable, and a headset out socket.

On the front is a color screen that measures 2" in diagonal (ie 1.6" x 1.2"), with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels.  This works out at 200 pixels per inch which is a commendably high pixel density (but it does not compensate for the screen's small size).  Apple says it is 65% brighter than the screen on the earlier (long thin style) Nano units.

The screen has an aspect ratio of 4:3, same as traditional television screens.  If you're watching a widescreen movie, the image size and pixel count reduces still further due to the letter boxing top and bottom.

Below the screen is Apple's distinctive wheel type controller, with four push zones on the wheel part, plus another push zone in the middle part, and also the touch sensitive rim that you move your finger around to scroll up and down through menus.

There are no other controls on the unit.

Using the Apple iPod Nano

My review unit is an 8GB model (the Nano is also available in a 4GB capacity), but the 8GB is actually only 7.41GB of available data storage space.  In case you're not doing that sums, that means the 8GB claim is almost a 10% exaggeration; and while 600MB isn't much if we're talking about many tens of GB, the reality is you're probably going to fill an 8GB iPod before too long, and you'll then wish your 8GB iPod truly held 8GB.

My Nano had software version 1.0.2 on it, and when I first connected it to my computer, I was immediately advised (through the iTunes interface) of an available upgrade, to 1.1, which was described as mainly containing bug fixes.  Upgrading to the 1.1 software was easy and quick.

When I first turned the Nano on, it brought up a configuration program, offering 22 different languages, many in different scripts (like Russian or Mandarin).  I chose English.

The Nano seems easy to accidentally turn on.  A brief push on any of the button parts of the controls will turn it on - this can be an issue if you accidentally turn the Nano on and it then accidentally starts playing a long playlist and uses up battery life that you were relying on being available subsequently (eg on a long plane ride).

On the other hand, turning it off is not fully intuitive.  In a manner eerily reminiscent of the infamous Windows concept 'You click on the Start button to turn your computer off' you click and hold the 'Pause/Play' button on an iPod to turn it off.

And if your iPod should ever freeze and need to be rebooted (this has happened to me with my full size 80GB iPod), don't go looking for a reset button or hole or anything as intuitive as that.  Nope - to reset the iPod you have to slide the Hold switch over to 'On' (so the red part is visible) then back to 'Off' again, then after that, press and hold both the Menu and Center buttons until the Apple logo appears on the screen (at least six seconds).  Is that intuitive - or an engineer's nightmarish parody of how to make something as complicated as possible?

Imagine if you're in the middle of nowhere, and without your printed out iPod manual with you, and your Nano freezes.  How will you remember this reset procedure?

The control wheel on the Nano is quite a lot smaller than on a regular iPod - it has a 2.4" circumference around the mid-point of the touch sensitive rim, compared to a 3.5" circumference on a regular iPod.  This means that the 'clicks' around the rim are very much more closely spaced, and it is harder to have fine control, trying to move the wheel sensor only one click.  It seems there are about 20 or so clicks around the rim.

Video

The good news is that the screen resolution on the new third generation Nano is much higher than on the earlier second generation units (up from 176x132 to 320x240 pixels - more than three times as much picture information) and the screen size is also larger (2" diagonal, up from 1.5" diagonal).

But the bad news is that the screen is still way too ridiculously small to watch video on.  Even its larger brother - the regular iPod, with a 2.5" screen, is still much to small; it is only when you get the 3.5" screen on an iPod Touch (or iPhone) or the 4.3" screen on an Archos unit that you enter the realm of big enough for up-close personal viewing.

However, you can do something else with videos stored on your Nano.  If recorded in sufficiently high quality (ie 640x480) they'll look as good as any other video if played back through a regular television or video/computer monitor.  But you'll only be able to store about 4 hours of video on your Nano at this resolution, which is much too little for most practical purposes.

Battery Life

One of the great features of the Nano is its wonderfully long battery life - due in part to not having a hard disk inside it.  Hard disks use a lot of battery power to be started up and spun around; solid state memory uses very little power, allowing for the twin benefits of smaller batteries and longer battery life.

Even though the new 3G Nano has a larger brighter screen (needing more battery power) it offers the same battery life as its earlier 2G predecessor - rated at about 24 hours of audio playback or 5 hours of video playback.

Some test results have been reported as suggesting that it is possible to get more than this life from a single battery charge, other test results have suggested that the battery life seldom meets the promised specification.  Which should you believe?

Actually, both types of results are probably correct - the big variable is how you use your iPod Nano.  Keep the screen set as dim as possible, and try to keep the screen off as much as possible.  If you do these two things, and if you keep the volume turned down a bit, you're going to get the best possible battery life, and with a new unit and unused battery, you'll probably get close to Apple's claimed 24 hours of music playback.  That's an incredibly long time (although the 5 hrs of video playback isn't nearly as useful, but you should never use the Nano for video playback, so who cares about that).

No Help, Just Disclaimers

I went looking for a Help file on the unit, but there was none to be found.  But Apple does include a file full of legal disclaimers - what a sad and sorry commentary that is; a company neglects to provide a user with help information but instead provides them with legal jargon and nonsense disclaimers.

Software and interface revisions

The software and interface is subtly different to my 80GB iPod - for example, in the 'Settings' menu the click option now has three settings rather than two - either no sounds, sounds through both headset and mini speaker in the unit, or sounds through the headphones only, or sounds through both speaker and headphones.  Hardly a world-changing difference.

What is a nice improvement is that these different choices have a very slight amount of descriptive narrative offered to the right - the screen splits in two, with the right hand side now providing some information about each choice.  It is strange that Apple is using the smaller screen to display more information than it chooses to with the larger screen of the iPod classic.

Video options are more flexible too.  The iPod classic allows you only to choose from whether the video signal is to be output to a television, which format (widescreen or pan and scan) and which format (NTSC or PAL).

The Nano adds options for subtitles, alternative audio and captions to its video playback capabilities.

It is puzzling that such software based things as all these things haven't been added to the iPod classic software as well as to the Nano software, and somewhat disappointing, too.  Clearly Apple's focus seems to be more on encouraging people to upgrade, than it is in adding new capabilities to existing players.

It is interesting to note that with their iPod Touch, Apple sells new versions of the software for $20 per version upgrade.  This is arguably fair, and at least allows purchasers the choice of upgrading or not.  But with their Classic iPods, it seems Apple simply freezes their capabilities without allowing for ongoing updating.

Shame on Apple.

Apple's new Cover Flow Presentation of Music

One of the much hyped new features in Apple's new iPods is what it calls 'Cover Flow'.

Think of a graphic depiction of an old fashioned Rolodex, with the different cards flipping into view and out of view again.  Now imagine the Rolodex is lying on its side rather than upright.  And, instead of Rolodex cards, think of CD covers.  This is what Cover Flow is and does - it is just another way of working through the list of Albums from which you have music.

This new feature is interesting because, although a new feature, it is actually an anachronism - it ties each piece of music as needing to belong to an Album (ie CD).  With more and more people buying music by the track rather than by the CD, the Cover Flow concept no longer works as well as it might have done, back before MP3 players existed.

Similarly, if you organize your music by Play lists, Cover Flow again fails to apply.

There's another problem with Cover Flow.  If you're transferring your own CDs and other music to the iPod, you have to rely on being able to automatically have the iPod find the relevant cover art through iTunes.  Sometimes iTunes can find the cover art - for common mainstream CDs that are still being actively sold - but if you have some less common CDs, or if you're recording music from other sources, you may find that there are no pictures for the album cover.  This means that the Cover Flow display becomes a visually unappealing series of blank images (with the name of the track or album below).

And even if you do get lucky and have a picture, it is very small - about 5/8" x 5/8" (125 x 125 pixels).  This doesn't really show much meaningful detail; it is all about flashy 'eye candy'.

Is 8GB (or even 4GB) Enough Capacity?

How much capacity do you need on an iPod (or any other MP3 player) to store your music?

Well, this question contains an important assumption.  It assumes you'll be using your iPod to only store music.  If you're going to store video, then almost right from the get-go, neither 4GB nor 8GB will be nearly enough capacity for you to keep even a very minimal library of video together with some music too.  A typical 2 hour movie will use up about 1.5GB (depending on the quality settings for the video compression), so an 8GB iPod can hold only about five movies on it.

Music takes up very much less space.  An hour of music uses up about 75MB of storage, so you can get about 100 hours of music onto an 8GB iPod (again depending on the quality/compression settings for the music).

It is probably stating the obvious to observe that a full size iPod with 80GB or 160GB of storage can hold ten or twenty times as much material, and the 160GB unit can hold an impressive amount of video as well as lots of music, too.

But these larger units are, well, larger.  There's something enormously appealing about the small size of a Nano; indeed it is so small that, if 8GB isn't enough storage, there's the temptation to say to oneself 'I'll buy two and split my music between them' rather than choosing to upgrade to a higher capacity hard drive based iPod.

Although the idea of buying two 8GB iPod Nanos would not make much financial sense ($398 for two 8GB Nanos, compared to $249 for an 80GB iPod Classic) you would then have 48 hrs of battery life, between the two units (compared to 30 hrs with the 80GB iPod).  But, for most of us, the 24hr life of a single unit is more than sufficient to cover our music listening needs between recharges.

The other alternative, of course, is an iPod Touch with 16GB and 32GB units for $399 and $499.

8GB is barely enough capacity for most people, and 4GB is probably too little.

So, if you have no desire to store or play video, an 8GB Nano, costing $100, is a great choice.  The $50 saved by choosing a 4GB Nano at $149 is not a wise decision.

But if 8GB is not enough, then the 16GB Touch at $399 or an 80GB iPod Classic for $249 are better choices.

And if you want to store and play video, then you probably need the 32 GB Touch ($499) or the 80/160GB Classic for $249/$349.  The Classic holds much more data, the Touch has a much bigger and higher resolution screen.

Other Helpful Information

There's a lot of overlap between the information that could potentially be included in this review and the information already available in the iPod 80GB review, and so we've generally left much of the extra information out of this review.  But go read up the extra material on the 80GB iPod review for a broader appreciation of the Apple iPod in general, and perhaps consider some of the other relevant articles linked at the top right of this article.

Summary

The completely redesigned Apple iPod Nano has resulted in a product with major improvements over the earlier second and first generation units.  Unfortunately, these improvements are largely in a useless irrelevant area - video.  The unit remains completely impractical for either storing or playing back video.

When it comes to simply storing and playing back music, the new iPods are much the same as the ones they replace.  But that is not a criticism; indeed it is perhaps a compliment at the lasting value of the iPod architecture.

A unique benefit of choosing an Apple branded MP3 player is that you get access to a huge range of after-market accessories and add-ons - something that none of Apple's competitors offer.

If you don't already have an MP3 player, and if you don't have 'special' needs (such as being a classical music lover) then the Nano is probably an excellent choice for you, giving you a very attractive piece of 'electronic jewelry' at a reasonable price.  But if you do want the ability to file and retrieve your music in a manner of your choosing, then a less structured type player like an Archos would be a better choice.

 

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Originally published 21 Mar 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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