Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/28/review_apple_ipod_nano/

Apple iPod Nano third-generation

Is video a feature too far...

By Scott Snowden

Posted in Hardware, 28th September 2007 13:10 GMT

Review Earlier this month, Apple announced the newest embodiments of various iPod lines. The new iPod, the Classic, doesn't look substantially different from its predecessor. The new Nano, which supersedes the second generation product is - on the other hand - a complete revamp.

What you'll notice straight away is its shape: it's a little shorter and much wider than its predecessor. Both the 4GB and 8GB configurations are identical in terms of dimensions - 6.9 x 5.2 x 0.7cm - so it is thinner than the older model, but at 49.2g, weighs a fraction more.

The reason for this change in design is a LCD: now at 2in with a 320 x 240 resolution, a 204 pixels per inch density and with an effective blue-white LED backlight.

Apple's iPod Nano: old and new side by side
Apple's iPod Nano: old and new side by side

Much like the Classic, the Nano's casing is now covered in a tactile anodised aluminium shell, replacing the glossy, smooth finish sported by Nanos of old. Curiously, only the black iPod Nano doesn't have a white scroll wheel, but all of them are narrower than before. The player's corners are nicely rounded and it seems much more resistant to grubby fingerprints and scratches. Of course, only time will tell, as all it takes is a morning rush and a jacket pocket that also contains house keys, and you'll soon see how scratch-resistant your new Nano really is.

Here at Register Hardware we have a Speck ToughSkin covering our first-generation Nano because it was one of the very few iPod covers - and there are a lot around - that actually offered some protection for the display by way of a clear, plastic screen. We foresee one or two potential problems arising with future protective covers given the now small distance between the top of the scroll wheel and the bottom of the display.

Apple iPod Nano
Apple's iPod Nano: top and bottom

Despite the design overhaul, the Nano shell still looks and feels like two separate halves stuck together – granted quite securely. The coloured front curves around and makes up a little of the width; the rest – and the majority – is then once again made up of the silver metallic back. As before, the dock connector and the 3.5mm headphone jack are at the bottom of the player, but now so is the Hold switch.

The new increased width makes this possible, but the Hold sldier is considerably smaller and could present problems to those of use with bigger fingers. It's not going to make life any easier for case manufacturers either. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the move.

More or less most of the major changes that have been made to the Nano are either aesthetic or related to the user interface - which are quite significant, granted - and the quality of playback remains relatively high. However, anyone who is serious about listening to music – especially in a noisy environment like a carriage on the London Undergound – will tell you that Apple's almost-iconic in-ear headphones add more to the background buzz for other commuters than providing any sort of harmonious happiness for the actual iPod owner.

iPod Nano user interface screens
The menu set up and jukebox-style Cover Flow

Of course, this is an issue for most folk in possession of an MP3 player, regardless of brand, and it can be resolved with an additional investment of high-quality headphones. It might be nice though to see some sort of equally eye-catching high-end acoustic accessory like this to accompany the iPod range.

The changes that have been made to the user interface are welcome. Borrowing from the iPhone, the colour menu now fills just the left-hand side the screen, with the right half devoted to graphics. The text is rendered in that familiar smooth, sans-serif, bold lettering

The images on the screen are context sensitive - move the cursor down the list and the respective image changes. Top of the menu is the 'Music' sub-menu, initially showing a bold 'No Music' icon and message, but it's replaced with a dynamic jukebox-style slideshow of album art once you copy over some tracks.

Apple iPod ClassicApple iPod Classic
The new Nano UI features a photo slideshow and a revamped calendar

The UI is identical to that found in the iPod Classic: each album entry is presented with the thumbnail, the album's title in bold above the artist's name in plain grey text. Similarly, other listings are presented with this kind of subsidiary information. Select Genre, and each entry has the number of relevant artists and albums presented below it. Only the Composers and Artists menus don't follow the pattern.

For fear of further repeating the same explanation, feel free to refer back to our Classic review. But one area that provokes concern is the Nano's capability as a video player. The display is 4:3 ratio, placed inside of the 3:4 ratio case, in opposite orientation to allow for the scroll wheel.

If you play a widescreen format video on the Nano, you're going to get a letterbox image the size of a 16:9 postage stamp. So, cramming a 16:9 video inside an already tiny 4:3 screen, you'll either lose the sides if you play at full size, or get black bars, which will reduce the size of the overall picture.

The iPod Nano range
Apple's iPod Nano: available in five flavours

Still, you could argue that at least it does supports video - the previous ones didn't - and it's better to have that than not at all. And it does have a TV Out setting, although only with an optional-extra Apple AV cable.

Apple claims it takes about three hours to fully charge - 1.5-hour fast charge to 80 per cent capacity - which provides audio playback of up 24 hours and video playback of up to five hours - and it didn't fall short of this. But with any product in this day and age the battery life will inevitably diminish over time.

The 4GB version will set you back £99 of your hard-earned, with the 8GB variety costing only £30 more - although the former is only available in the matt silver colour.

File format support is still par for the course, with MP3 (up to 320Kbps and VBR), AAC (up to 320Kbps), WAV, AIFF and Apple Lossless for audio, and H.264 and MPEG 4 for video. And the iPod Nano still has no FM radio, microphone or line-in functionality.

Apple iPod Nano
Apple's iPod Nano: skinny but wide... too wide

Verdict

Apple continues to make great products - you can't deny it. But, at the same time one starts to suspect it's lost its way just a little. Once, any product sporting the bitten fruit logo was going to be both super stylish and durable. Yes, the new Nano fits into a pocket in a pair of jeans much easier than the older incarnation, but it's still extremely susceptible to superficial damage.

In addition, the inclusion of video is arguably a feature too far. The screen is really too small to watch. The only (slight) benefit is being to use the Nano as a player and watch the video on a bigger screen. So, we prefer the older Nano, to be truthful. It didn't pretend to be anything other than a very nice, compact MP3 player with an accessible navigation system.