Apple's second-generation iPod Nano
More a remixed re-issue than a bold new album?
The new Nano is a step backwards, of course. A year ago, Apple made such a big deal about the risk of setting aside the popular iPod Mini in favour of the then new slimline Nano, but now we find it going back to the Mini look, right down to the metallic shell, rounded sides, white plastic top and bottom, and the colour scheme...
Of course, having established the black and white pairing and seen it emulated during the last 12 months by a thousand electronic devices, Apple has little choice but to make a change if it's to stay ahead of the game, and at least this time round the colours are bold, not the gentle pastel shades of the Mini.
In your hand, the Nano remains as tiny as ever. Old and new models aren't identically dimensioned, but the difference is marginal. The new version has the rounded sides of the Mini rather than the flatter sides of the first-generation Nano, but it doesn't make the new device seem any smaller, or any more comfortable to use, I found. It's not like the first Nano's edges were harsh, as they were on the very first hard drive-based iPods.
Round or flat is a matter of personal preference, of course. However, all Nano users are likely to appreciate the new model's larger Hold slider, which is easier to move than its predecessor, though it isn't raised any further above the top of the player.
On the base, the earphone socket is once again placed on the left-hand side, but it's slightly further away from the dock connector than was the case with the original nano, so expect to have to replace some of your accessories if you upgrade to a 2G model.
The click-wheel works much as before, but there's a neat new touch: the central button is slightly concave, which makes it easier to locate and press by touch alone, and simply feels better. It's second only to having a raised centre button, but at least there's no risk here of accidental presses.
The new Nano's display is slightly larger than the old version's - it's 1.5in diagonal - and it's certainly brighter, something that folk who plan to keep photos on it will appreciate.
The new search system is a joy to use. It reminded me of entering my initials in old arcade games: just select a letter and hit the click-wheel's centre key. Like Mac OS X's Spotlight search system, as you add more characters, the Nano narrows the search. And to avoid confusion, artists and albums are flagged with an appropriate icon to separate them out from the song titles.
My gut feeling is that this feature will be less useful for obsessive music fans than it will for more casual listeners - the former will know which album and genre a given song is filed under and track tracks down accordingly. Everyone, though, will find the new scroll guide of benefit. Zip through a long list of songs and after a few turns of the click-wheel up pops a large panel indicating the point in the alphabet you're currently scrolling through. It's much easier to read than the initial letters of the scrolling song/album/artist/genre/composer entries are.
The big benefit is the battery life, now boosted to 24 hours - ten more than before. While you might not sit down an listen continuously for a full day - maybe not even the 14 hours the old Nano could run for - the higher capacity means you'll not need to worry so much that when you pick up your player before heading, you'll suddenly find it dead.
The arrival of the 8GB Nano has pushed the old 1GB capacity off the list, but the prices are the same, so you're now getting more capacity for your money or - if 2GB or 4GB is plenty for your needs, a cheaper player. Apple hasn't lost its product pricing guile: if you want a black model, you'll have no choice but to spring for the 8GB Nano, and if all you want is 2GB of storage, you're going to have to have a silver-hued device. But that's the ruthless efficiency of Apple's profit-loss spreadsheet for you.
Of the three capacities, 4GB remains the sweet-spot - that 1,000-song limit is perfect for the majority of more casual listeners. Folks looking to keep photos on their Nano too should opt for the 8GB model, I'd say. The screen seemed more scratch-resistant too, but after only a short play, it's impossible to say so with certainty. Again, time will reveal how well Apple has designed the display's plastic shield.
If you already own a Nano, there's little need to upgrade. People who don't have an MP3 player are certainly not going to be disappointed. The absence of an FM radio is its only drawback.
Will the metal shell prove more robust that the metal-and-plastic first-generation Nano? Only time and usage will tell. The matte metallic casing shows up grease, but at least it's easier to clean without fear of scratching the surface.
The new Nano is certainly more iPod for your money, and there's no doubt that, feature-wise, it's a big improvement over the first-generation model. Me, I prefer the look of the old one, but if the popularity of the multi-coloured iPod Mini is anything to go by, I'm firmly in the minority. ®