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Apple iPod nano 4GB Review

Highs

  • Attractive design; small size; color screen; exceptional sound

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 7

Lows

  • Integrated battery; proprietary USB cable
The Apple iPod nano is nothing short of remarkable.

Summary

In what could be considered the biggest break-through in recent MP3 player development, the new Apple iPod nano is the first flash player to break the 1GB threshold. Available in two flavors, 2GB and 4GB models, the new iPod Nano not only adds more memory than its little brother the iPod shuffle, but it adds a color display and a full navigation wheel to a player that is thinner that your average #2 pencil.

What most analysts might not be considering is the impact that a 4GB flash player might have on the mini-hard drive based player market. Why spend $249 or more for a 5GB hard drive player when you can get a 4GB player for roughly the same price. RAM is more durable than a hard drive and surely sucks up less battery juice. Read on to see why the iPod nano is so revolutionary.

*Editors Note 9/28/05 – Our long term tests have shown that the screen of the nano scratches very easily. As a result, we have lowered our review score of this product. If you do decide to purchase the nano, we recommend you also purchase a protective case.

Design and Features

Probably the sweetest part of the new Apple iPod nano is the surprise announcement that caught every site and publication off guard. Even the “insider” Apple fan sites missed this one coming. The second surprise is that Apple decided to replace their infamous iPod mini with a flash player with roughly the same storage space (the Apple iPod mini was originally introduced with 4GB of storage). It only make sense that Apple phases the mini out. Most 5GB players out now feature color displays, FM tuners and a myriad of features. Apple is clever to introduce a player with the same storage space as their mini, while using flash memory; it again puts the company back on top of the ingenuity chain.

In what can be considered a combination of the iPod Shuffle and the full-sized iPod Photo, the nano is a little wider and taller than the Shuffle at 3.5″ inches tall and 1.6″ inches wide. But since the player uses NAND Flash memory (developed by Samsung) instead of an internal mini hard drive, the nano is only .25″ inches deep. That’s thinner than your typical #2 pencil! Available in black and iPod white, the new Nano comes with a 1.5-inch color LCD display and a navigation wheel reminiscent of the iPod mini. The back of the nano is bathed in a shiny chrome mold. If you are worried about getting visible marks or fingerprints on the front of your nano, we recommend you go with the white version over the black. Plus, most accessories out there for Apple’s products are white anyways. Expect to get fingerprints on the back of both units.

Powering the iPod nano is a built-in lithium ion battery which is non-removable. Apple says you should be able to get 14 hours of battery life on normal use, but shoot a little lower like 12-13 and that will be a little more realistic. 14 hours for a flash based player is not very long, but if you take in mind that the nano has a 1.5-inch color display, we suppose that sounds about right. The biggest downside here of course is that the battery is not removable, and with Apple’s history of battery issues, this could pose a problem, but our fingers are crossed.

The nano uses a USB cable to connect to your PC or Mac and interfaces directly with Apple iTunes only. You should be able to store around 500 songs encoded at 128kbps AAC on the 2GB version and 1000 songs for the 4GB version. If you plan to use the nano for storing photos, you should be able to store around 25,000 photos on the 4GB player according to Apple. The iPod nano supports the following formats: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Music Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV. If you are a current Napster To-Go, Real Rhapsody or any other 3rd party music subscriber, get ready to cancel your subscription and switch to Apple iTunes, because that is the only music subscription service the iPod family supports. The iPod nano comes with white ear bud headphones, a USB data cable, and a dock adapter that lets you use the nano with future Apple iPod peripherals that are part of the “Made for iPod” program (the dock adapter will not with with docks designed for earlier iPod models, but the nano might still work with these docs without the dock adapter being needed.)

Other cool features that the iPod nano supports include a 20-setting equalizer, sleep timer, various alarm modes, contact manager, world clock, calendar, audio book playback and more. For complete specifications, please click on the specs tab and link found above and below this review.

The iPod nano is compatible with Mac OS X v10.3.4 or higher and Windows 2000 SP4+ and Windows XP Home or Professional with SP2 or higher installed. The iPod nano comes with a 1 year limited warranty which includes 90-days of telephone support.

Apple iPod nano compared Apple iPod Nano
Images Courtesy of Ian’s Wife :)

Setup and Use

If you are familiar with any of Apple’s Click Wheel used in other versions of the iPod you will feel right at home with the nano since its exactly the same. The Click Wheel is used for controlling playback (pause, play, fast-forward, rewind and accessing the menus.)  The nano uses the same easy to use touch-sensitive part of the wheel to scroll menus, browse music and control the volume.  The Click Wheel can make it a little tricky at first to skip songs (we frequently end up changing the volume instead due to the thumb sliding ever so slightly in one direction or other), but after some use it becomes easier to do.  This is an important note, since we can envision many people using the nano while working out, where switching tracks by feel is ideal instead of pulling it out of a pocket or off an armband.

As mentioned in the previous section, there are several new features with the nano is capable of. Besides the obvious which is the color screen, the nano also has a built in Stopwatch, World clock, and a Built-in Screen lock feature. The Stopwatch feature is what you would expect, a timer you can use for working out to or timing someone else. It features the ability to record multiple sessions, best lap time etc. You can then save the lap time to compare later on. The built-in World clock lets you set multiple clock times for various world time zones. You can then compare the time from two different zones on the screen if you want. If you travel a lot, you can set multiple sleep timers for each time zone. It’s a nifty feature that not everyone might use, but it shows some thoughtfulness on Apple’s part. The last new feature is called Screen Lock. This lets you essentially assign a pass code to your iPod nano that allows only those with the code to have access to it. Have a little brother that keeps stealing your iPod nano? Don’t sweat it, just lock the darn thing!

We made sure to download the latest Apple iTunes, version 5 which was announced on the same day for use with our iPod nano. iTunes is available for both the Mac and the PC. As expected, we had no problems with connecting our iPod nano to our Windows XP system using iTunes. Accessing the iPod nano using iTunes is no different really than previous iPods. If you have more than one iPod in your household, make sure to name the nano accordingly so that iTunes knows this is a different player. For those of you who have not previously owned an iPod, or an iPod photo for that matter, transferring photos to the nano works in pretty much the same fashion as transferring songs. Simply use the “photos” tab in iTunes to pull pictures from your designated folder to the nano.

iTunes 5.0
Apple iTunes 5.0

Performance

For its size, the nano reproduces music surprisingly well. We would probably put the music reproduction on par with the rest of the Apple product line. Frequency response is 20Hz to 20,000Hz which is identical to the rest of  iPod product line. Interestingly all of the audio specs are identical across the entire Apple iPod line regardless of storage space and size of the unit. If we had to compare the iPod nano sound reproduction to other players on the market, we would probably put it towards the top of the list. The Cowon audio players seem to sound better in our opinion, but the nano certainly holds its own against the others.

There are 20 equalizer settings to choose from depending on the genre of music you are listening too. If you are an Audible audio book downloader, there is a “spoken word” option in the equalizer settings that will work well for you. Each equalizer setting works very well and we were able to tell the difference in the settings.

The tiny 1.5-inch color screen is absolutely beautiful and works great with the nano, but there are a couple things we wish the player could do. We love how you can output images on a regular iPod photo to a television using a special cable adapter. This feature is missing on the nano, so you are stuck showing images only on the screen, at least for the time being, which is a little small to really appreciate the images. Perhaps Apple will release some sort of photo kit for the nano at a later time. The USB cable that comes with the nano is also proprietary so if you lose this cable, you are out of luck. But this makes sense because the nano is so thin that there is not enough room for even a mini USB connection on the player itself. And lastly, we wish Apple would have included a neck strap so you can hang the nano while using it. Really, the nano is only slightly larger than the shuffle, so it would make a good replacement for those that like to listen to music while they work out.

Conclusion

Well, what can we say? Apple has done it again, and has surpassed all of our expectations. The nano is a very attractive little player that has features you would expect from a much larger and more expensive unit. There is a color display, plenty of storage space, and of course it’s incredibly easy to use. Flash RAM is certainly the wave of the future, offering longevity to products while making the overall physical dimensions smaller. Apple would be wise to offer a replaceable battery in their players, especially after all of the lawsuits they had to deal with, but we understand why they probably decided to pass, it would mess up the gorgeous design! If you are thinking about getting this player, visit your local retailer to check it out. You certainly have to see it to believe it. The Apple iPod nano is nothing short of remarkable.

Pros:

–          Very attractive design

–          Color screen

–          Exceptional sound quality

–          Ease of use

–          Affordably priced

Cons:

–          Integrated battery

–          No video output

–          Proprietary USB cable

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