Love it or hate it, and opinion seems firmly divided, there's no getting past the look of the third generation iPod nano. Gone is the candy bar design of the Minis and first two nanos. In is the iPod Classic shrunk in the wash look, which conspires to be both fat and thin at the same time. Fat because the new nano is now almost as wide as it is tall, and thin because it's actually millimetres thinner than the second-gen nano.
Does the new iPod Nano look fat to you?
The body is now a two piece affair -- an anodised aluminium front with a chrome back -- instead of the all aluminium version seen in second-gen unit, which we still prefer. Naturally the shiny back was a fingerprint magnet -- Apple should really include a cleaning cloth with all chrome-backed iPods. Worse though was its lack of scratch resistance, after just a week the back was scuffed worse than a rugby player's knee after sliding in for a try.
An upshot of the Nano's new shape is the fitment of a larger, brighter and clearer 320 x 240 2-inch screen -- up from 1.5-inches on the old model. It allows nano-ites to watch videos on their iPods for the first time. Thankfully the plastic which protects the screen proved to be more scratch proof than the shiny back, although we suspect that if you don't treat your Nano with kid gloves, you'll end up with scars that will your mar your photo and movie viewing experience.
Sited below the larger screen is a miniturised Click Wheel, which not only looks out of proportion but is awkward to use. By shrinking the thickness of the wheel, Apple has made it harder to accurately select items in lists or menus. And on multiple occasions, we accidentally hit Menu or scrolled when attempting to click the centre button.
The nano's only other external control, the hold switch, has been relocated from the top edge to the bottom, alongside the proprietary connector and the 3.5mm headphone jack. The new location now makes it impossible to operate the nano with one hand.
Papa Steve has sent the nano off to uni. So while it may have lost some of its good looks, the nano can now do all the things its big brother, the Classic, can do. And even do some of them better.
Cover Flow, first seen on iTunes and the iPhone, allows you to flick through your collection of music as if you're in a record store. Although we're still not sold on whether it's a more effective way of searching for music it looks great, but only if a majority of your music has cover art attached, otherwise you'll be flicking through layer upon layer of blank albums covers.
2007's iPods debut a preview pane which splits the screen in half, with the traditional iPod menu on the left and a panning preview of your assortment of album art, video stills or photos on the right; it looks swish and we spent much of our time picking jaws up off the ground. There's currently no option to turn it off but that's of little consequence on the nano because, unlike the Classic, there are no hard-disk lag issues to deal with.
We were unable to test video output onto a TV because, like on the full-size iPod Classic, Apple has disabled video out from either the headphone jack or through docking devices without an authorisation chip. This has caused much gnashing of teeth on Internet forums as many video capable iPod accessories, ranging from AU$5 cables to far more pricey items, are now incompatible with the new generation iPods. Rubbing salt into the wound is the fact that Apple's new nano- and Classic-friendly component and composite cables are AU$79 -- cables for the old video-capable iPods are only AU$29.
You can say "au revoir" to the tinny, hollow sound that was a signature trait of nanos past; the new nano sounds as good as the full-size iPod Classic. Sure it's no sonic superstar but if you chuck away the included cool-looking but dreadful-sounding white earbuds, you'll get an acceptable level of sound.
Generally music sound a little flat, as if it's missing a certain something. When listening to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", it's clear that the percussion lacks kick and the piano is missing its pleasant warm tone. On rockier tracks the vocals are harsh on the ears and gets painfully so when volume approaches maxiumum. Bass is satisfactory but uniformly dull.
We had few complaints with video performance, though. Picture quality is clear and crisp, there's enough processing grunt to handle action scenes and colours are well saturated. Indeed, the colours on the nano are a smidgen better than on its big brother, the iPod Classic; this is because of the nano's smaller screen size (two inches diagonally versus 2.5 on the Classic). As with all portable media players the viewing angle, both horizontally and vertically, is pretty shallow. The nano's almost square body is much easier to hold in the hand than the candy bar shaped Sony Video Walkman, and as such we suffered none of the neck and hand cramps that we experienced during our time with the Sony.
Apple claims 24 hours of battery life when only playing music and five hours for video playback. Although we didn't test these claims directly, these figures seem reasonable enough as we managed two days of music and video enjoyment on a full charge.
While we're still not bowled over by its looks, by almost every other measure the new nano is a far better device. For the first time you won't have to be a feature pauper to enjoy a compact iPod. And it's reasonably priced too: the silver-only 4GB model is priced at AU$199 and the 8GB model, available in silver, black, blue, green and PRODUCT(RED), is AU$279. And yes, we, like many on the Net, are irked by Apple's decision to disable compatability with old iPod video accessories and devices, but for those upgrading from a Mini or a nano this shouldn't be an issue.