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Apple may have blazed a trail in the world of digital music players for the past few years, but in the flash player stakes it's beginning to fall behind the competition. Not in the number of players it sells, or the amount of legal music downloads its customers enjoy, but in what it's managing to fit into its smaller players.
It still insists on not squeezing a screen onto its shuffle while other manufacturers' tiny players are building them in. And its latest nano, despite much of the competition incorporating video playback features as standard, is still sticking to its music-only philosophy, even though it has a lovely colour screen.
So is it a case of less is more? Possibly. There's no doubt that the new nano is better engineered than the original nano. Though it looked superb, it was plagued with problems with its screen, which scratched and cracked easily. The problem was fixed by Apple, but not before the reputation of the nano had been damaged severely.
This time there's none of this fragility and it manages to retain its class-leading looks. Like the iPod mini before it, the chassis is constructed using anodised aluminium in a choice of lurid colours. Unlike the candy bar mountain bike accessories of the early Nineties, however, the nano looks good in its colourful jacket and you don't have to keep wiping fingerprints off it either. It feels extremely sturdy too. Push the colour screen firmly and there's no evidence of discolouration or pressure points at all.
But apart from the new colours, and the iPod mini styling, is there anything that revolutionary going on here? Well, on the surface it would seem not. Apart from the styling, the nano seems to be identical to its predecessor. Its top edge still has just a hold control on it, with the headphone socket and iPod connector on the bottom edge. As with the previous nano, this one has the same sync connector as the bigger iPods, so you should be able to use many of the same accessories and use spare or old connectors if you have them lying around.
It still shares the same tried-and-tested click-wheel navigation system, not that this is a bad thing of course. I've used many MP3 players over the years and Apple's system is still up there with the best, allowing you to browse through long lists of albums and tracks effortlessly. It does have its disadvantages – you have to use the hold switch more often than you do with players that don't have touch sensitive controls in order to avoid turning the volume up and down inadvertently – but its ease of use outweighs this relatively small inconvenience ten to one. And, of course, its integration with iTunes is still brilliant, beating most other manufacturers' solutions hands down.
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