Just about a year after Steve Jobs first wowed the tech press (and much of the general public) with the ultrathin sleekness of the first iPod Nano, Apple has unleashed Nano number two into the world. Aside from a drastically different, iPod Mini-like casing and much-improved battery life, the new Nano isn't much altered from its predecessor. Apple has done away with the 1GB version in favour of a $380 8GB model and adjusted the pricing on the 2GB and 4GB capacities down to $219 and $299, respectively. With prices like these, SanDisk -- maker of the video-playing, 8GB e280 -- had better watch its back.
The second-generation (2G) Nano shuns simple white and steps out in a metallic colour parade, with shiny silver available in the 2GB and 4GB flavours; bright pink, green, and blue offered in 4GB; and sombre black taking the 8GB version. The body casing itself is rather like a minified Mini shell: it's seamless anodised aluminium, which means the 2G Nano is not only less scratch-prone than its predecessor, but also more durable in general. As with the old Nano, the 2G features the much praised iPod Clickwheel, which serves as the player's only controls (other than the hold switch on the top). Above the Clickwheel is the rather small (1.5-inch) colour display, which is 40 percent brighter than that of its predecessor, and the bottom edge of the player houses the headphone jack and proprietary dock connector. A larger screen would have been a welcome improvement, but the benefit is the uniformity of screen size and overall dimensions (the 2G is just a hair thinner and taller than the previous Nano: 90 x 40 x 6.5 mm): all the made-for-Nano accessories should work fine with the new model.
As with other iPods, the 2G Nano is a snap to navigate, though the Clickwheel may take a little getting used to for first-time users, especially those used to other MP3 player controls. The Main Menu includes selections for Music, Photos, Extras, Settings, and Shuffle Songs -- this last is particularly handy. Music is conveniently sorted by Playlists, Artists, Albums, and so on. And if you can't remember who a particular song or album falls under, you can use the new Search function (found in the Music submenu).
The 2G Nano is light on extras, though its small, excellently designed packaging includes all that you might need for basic use: a dock adapter, a USB cable for syncing/charging, a pair of white earbuds, and a quick-start guide. You'll have to download iTunes from the Web, since Apple doesn't include a disc in the box -- a forgivable omission, considering that it cuts down on use of materials for packaging.
If you want to listen to FM radio on the Nano, you'll need to pick up Apple's $79 Radio Remote (or similar accessory). Similarly, recording features require a separate accessory. It'd be a nice surprise if Apple would include such features in an iPod, but at least it's nice that you have the option to add them. Features the Nano does have built in are photo viewing (with a neat 3x3 thumbnail preview grid) and album art support. Video playback is conspicuously absent, as many Nano competitors have it (the Creative Zen V Plus, iRiver Clix, and SanDisk Sansa e200 series, to name a few). But we're not sure we'd want to watch video on the tiny screen anyway. The 2G Nano is capable of gapless playback (finally!), but that must be designated in iTunes 7.
The latest version of iTunes is a nice improvement over version 6, and you can read more about it in the CNET.com.au review. As far as the 2G Nano is concerned, iTunes continues to make iPod's usability excellent. As long as the software is installed, all you need to do is connect the Nano to your computer, and you're ready to roll. You can then choose whether you want automatic or manual syncing, the latter of which is necessary if you intend to sync with more than one library. Naturally, the Nano is compatible with protected AAC files purchased from the iTunes Music Store; it also plays MP3, AAC lossless, AIFF, WAV, and Audible files.
We're pleased to note that Apple had a stab at the original Nano's rather paltry 12-hour battery life, doubling that rating to a respectable 24 hours (check back for lab test results). As far as sound quality is concerned, we couldn't notice a difference between the old Nano and the 2G: it still sounds excellent across nearly all genres of music. Bass response could be tighter, and we didn't think the included earbuds sounded that great, but they're certainly passable (the design seems a bit more ergonomic than earlier ones). We had some mixed results with gapless playback -- albums transferred from a Windows machine still had hiccups, while those from a Mac were seamless -- but this is likely an iTunes issue, rather than a Nano one. Navigation was superspeedy, thanks to a fast processor, and photos loaded quickly.
The 2G Nano doesn't really bring anything new to the table in the fast-advancing world of MP3 players, but the improvements over the original are certainly welcome. This player is sure to be a top choice among a wide range of users, and it's a stellar option for first-timers. Just make sure you're aware that the same $380 for an 8GB Nano will get you a larger but video-capable 30GB iPod.