Grey is the new black, and Apple’s refreshed iPod Nano is… the new iPod Shuffle. OK, maybe that’s oversimplifying a bit, but there’s no denying the overwhelming resemblance of the new Nano to its much cheaper sibling, the Shuffle. A dramatic revamp of the iPod Nano leaves it without video playback, a larger screen and becomes pretty much an iPod Shuffle with a touch screen, and more storage. Has Apple watered down its own Kool-Aid too much this time around?
While last year’s update to the Nano saw Apple challenging the likes of Flip video recorders by recasting the Nano as an impromptu camcorder, Apple has pulled a complete u-turn for 2010. In the interest of shrinking the Nano to proportions fitting of its name (roughly an inch and half square and a third of an inch thick), the Nano shed both its video playback, notes, games, calendars and contacts, picking up a 1.54-inch LCD touch screen along the way. Other vitals remained the same: the Nano comes in either 8GB or 16GB capacities, and it still includes an FM radio, photo browsing, and a pedometer.
Size and Portability
The Nano has now reached the same clip-me-on-a-shirt size as the Shuffle, which, in case you’re keeping notes, has a few fractions of an inch on the Shuffle in terms of footprint, and 8.6 grams on the scale (21.1 on the Nano vs. 12.5 for the Shuffle). But Kate Moss and Paris Hilton might as well be scrapping it out: They’re both small to the point of absurdity and the difference is moot.
Quite unlike their emaciated celebrity doppelgangers, neither iPod really suffers in the looks department at the expense of its ethereal dimensions. In fact, the Nano is gorgeous. Apple has spared no expense on the solid aluminum body, precisely milled buttons, or sturdy clip, which never made us think twice before snapping the $150 player on a jacket and going for a run. A power button and two volume buttons sit up top, while a standard Apple dock connector and 3.5mm headphone jack all but fill the bottom. The truth is, if Apple built this thing any smaller… well, you would have the gimped Shuffle of last year, which sacrificed so much functionality for style that Apple had to puff it back out to fill size for this year.
Anyone who has ever used an iPod Touch or iPhone – which should be pretty much be everyone at this point – will immediately feel familiar with the touch interface on the iPod Nano. It’s as if Apple chipped a corner off an iPod Touch and built a player around it, complete with app-style icons for every function, grids of four to a page, and the ability to rearrange them as you see fit. Without the “home button” found on the iPod Touch and iPhone, users simply swipe left from any screen to go back, or press and hold. You can even twist two fingers on the screen to rotate the view 90 degrees.
Apple has distilled the touch screen experience down to a sugary sweet, intuitive perfection, but like all of today’s button-less wonders, you can’t operate it from a pocket or without looking. That will diminish a lot of the Nano’s utility for runners, bikers and other active users, who will suddenly find that reaching down to click a button when a dud of a song comes on suddenly involves looking down, turning the screen on and carefully tapping next, or worse, unclipping the player to even see it. The tradeoff, perhaps, comes from the fact that it has a clip at all, eliminating all the goofy elastic contraptions that you formerly needed to take a Nano out on a workout.