- Review Price: £104.45
I wasn’t really a fan of the third generation iPod nano. Apple’s decision to make its svelte player look like a traditional iPod was misguided in my opinion, and made it aesthetically less appealing, while also making it far less usable. The thin, but rather wide design made it hard for me to hold comfortably in my hand, especially when I was using the Clickwheel to navigate the device. Whereas the first and second generation nanos were long, so you could keep a good grip on them while navigating, the third generation device always felt precariously balanced in my hand while I scanned through my music library.
”’(centre)The history of the nano, including the 3rd gen design hiccup.(/centre)”’
Clearly I wasn’t the only one who disliked the third generation nano with its larger screen in a landscape orientation, because the fourth generation device has returned to the thin, longer design of the original.
General consensus in the office is that this is the best looking incarnation since the original iPod nano, and I agree wholeheartedly. The original device had a very distinctive look, but unfortunately many consumers complained about the screens and fascias scratching too easily. Strangely, even after years of use, the screen on my nano hasn’t scratched, but then I’ve never been stupid enough to put it in a pocket with my keys or a bunch of loose change!
As you can see from the picture on this page, the new nano continues Apple’s trend of using aluminium for the case, and in this instance it really does look stunning. The case is constructed from a single billet of aluminium, so there are no seams or joins to spoil the lines. In essence the case is a very slim cylinder, into which the workings of the iPod have been inserted. The case is also tapered at the edges, making the nano ellipsoid in shape. This makes the device very comfortable to hold in the hand and has the added advantages of making it look far slimmer than the first and second gen units, while also being lighter.
The new nano is available in a veritable plethora of colours, although the orange version that Apple sent me is clearly the pick of the bunch! I’m also happy to say that the finish is pretty robust, with my review sample picking up no scratches whatsoever, despite being my constant companion for the past couple of weeks. And, unlike my iPhone, the nano doesn’t feel like it will slip out of my hand every time I take it out of my pocket.
The screen is the same as the one used in the third generation nano, but obviously mounted in a portrait format this time. It’s an impressive display and a million miles from the tiny screen in my first generation nano, but is it good enough to actually watch video on? I’m not so sure. Although I know that Ed will disagree with me, I think that a 2in screen is just a bit too small for watching video. In fact I’d go as far as saying that the screen on my iPhone is about as small as I’d want to go for video, but if the nano and all its tiny competitors are anything to go by, there are many out there who disagree with me.
Despite my reservations about video playback, the screen really does enhance the whole iPod experience – cover art looks superb, especially when the albums are randomly scrolled along the bottom edge while navigating menus. Also, despite the fact that I think of Coverflow as a pretty gimmick that you’ll probably play with once, then never use again, it looks very good on the nano. Basically, whereas the screen was simply functional on the first and second generation nanos, on the third gen and the new model it’s a highlight. You can of course view photos on the nano too, but whether you’d want to bother when your mobile phone probably has a better screen is debatable.
Below the screen is the trademark Clickwheel, which is as user friendly today as it was when Apple created it. Despite the fact that Apple has moved onto touchscreen interfaces for both the iPhone and iPod touch, the wheel interface is arguably still a simpler and more intuitive way to navigate a large music library. Just make sure that you turn off the annoying clicker as soon as possible.
The bottom edge houses the ubiquitous iPod dock and a 3.5mm headphone socket – thankfully Apple has refrained from using a recessed socket since the original iPhone. The only control on the top edge is a lock switch, and this is more important than ever considering the shake to shuffle feature. Yep, that’s right, just like the SanDisk Shaker, the new nano can be shaken in your hand to shuffle the tracks. Although this seems pretty cool at first, I can imagine than you’ll get some odd, if not angry looks from the guy opposite you, while you “shake” your hand in his direction whenever you want to shuffle your tracks. It’s also a little like Coverflow, in as much as you might use it a few times before realising that it’s far simpler to just hit the wheel to shuffle to the next track.
Although the shake to shuffle feature is definitely a gimmick, there’s one new addition to the nano that definitely isn’t – crossfade. Anyone who’s been using iTunes to listen to music on their computer for the past couple of years will have encountered crossfade – the ability to fade the outgoing track into the incoming one. I’d always wanted this feature to work on an iPod, but unfortunately Apple’s mobile players weren’t able to decode two tracks simultaneously, which is what’s needed for crossfade to work. Thankfully, the new nano has obviously had its decoding powers enhanced, because it will now happily fade one track into another. This is a brilliant feature, and throws up some surreal moments – Frank Sinatra fading into Oasis being a particular highlight!
Something that hasn’t really changed is the overall quality of sound produced by the nano. Let’s face it, people don’t buy iPods because they’re the best sounding music players on the market, which is a good thing, because they’re not. If sound quality is your main concern, you’re probably not looking in Apple’s direction; instead checking out the latest fare from Sony, iRiver or even Creative, each of which will probably have Apple beaten in the fidelity stakes. But would I recommend that you avoid iPods because of their sound quality? Not at all.
Like the third generation nano before it, this new model lacks volume, and that ultimately limits the amount of aural impact that it’s capable of. I was very surprised to find that I was listening at almost maximum volume with my Shure E500PTH earphones plugged in – I rarely push things over halfway using my iPhone for instance. Of course volume isn’t everything, but I can’t imagine how anyone using the bundled Apple earbuds would hear very much while travelling on the London Underground, or in fact in any noisy environment.
Putting volume to one side, the nano managed to produce a decent amount of clarity and separation, assuming that the test material wasn’t too demanding. Listening to Jack Johnson’s excellent Brushfire Fairytales album was handled well by the nano for instance. The opening track Inaudible Melodies sounded smooth and melodic, with the subtle mix of acoustic guitars, vocals and background snare all rendered beautifully. Turning to something a little more complicated like Battleflag by the Lowfidelity Allstars, revealed that the soundstage can sometimes come across slightly compressed, with minute detail lost somewhere in the aural assault that this track becomes.
When push comes to shove though, the chances are that most consumers wouldn’t even notice the sound quality limitations of the nano (overall volume aside), and anyone who would notice, will have probably ruled out an iPod already. As long as you do the smart thing and dump the bundled earbuds in the bin as soon as you open the box, then replace them with something decent, you’ll have a good audio experience. Having tried the nano with a wide range of earphone options, I think the perfect match would be the Klipsch Images – they’re as light as a feather, incredibly comfortable, sound good and look as cool as the nano itself.
Apple quotes a weight of 36.8g for the nano, but it registered only 35g on the TrustedReviews scales, making it amazingly light considering that it’s got a pretty good screen built in. In fact I took the nano to the gym with me, coupled with the Klipsch Images and actually managed to run on the treadmill with it in my pocket. I usually put my player on the treadmill while I’m running, to stop it pulling at my pocket, but with the nano I couldn’t even feel that I had anything in my pocket.
Of course no iPod review would be complete without mentioning the features that it doesn’t have. First up, codec support is as limited as it always was with only MP3, AAC and Apple Lossless on the menu. There’s still no sign of WMA or FLAC support, which means that anyone who has ripped a significant amount of music in either of those formats will have to transcode to a format that an iPod can playback. To be honest though, I came to the realisation a while back that I need to encode everything at 320kbps MP3, that way I know it will playback on any device I come across.
Apple still sees fit not to include an FM tuner in its iPods, and although I have never felt the need to listen to the radio on my portable player, I know that there are many out there who see this omission as a deal breaker. And of course, there’s still no drag and drop functionality, making you a slave to iTunes and all the potential problems that go along with that relationship. In fact the new nano will only work with iTunes 8, which meant that I had to download the new software before I could even use this player.
The reason that the nano needs iTunes 8 is so that it can show off another new feature, Genius mode. Genius mode let’s your iPod decide what you want to listen to next, by cueing up tracks in a similar genre or tempo. Apple is by no means the first to come up with this kind of feature, and I can’t say I’m a fan of the concept. Personally I prefer to listen to the music I want to listen to, rather than what my player thinks is best – isn’t that what playlists are for after all?
Battery life for music playback is an admirable 24 hours, just like the outgoing model, but strangely video playback is only four hours on a full charge, as opposed to the five hours offered by the third generation model. Of course this reduction could be attributed to the more svelte dimensions and lighter weight than the outgoing nano, but then I would have expected music playback time to suffer too. The new nano retains the fast charge ability of its predecessor, which means it can go from empty to 80 per cent charged in only 1.5 hours, with a full charge taking three hours. The quick charge is pretty handy if you know you’re going on a trip and forgot to charge your iPod overnight.
In the box you’ll find a pair of Apple earbuds, which are best left untouched. You also get an iPod docking cable, and a docking plate, so that the nano will sit comfortably in a speaker dock. Unfortunately, Apple only supplies a white docking plate, so if your speaker dock happens to be black, it’s going to clash somewhat. Of course if you buy yourself a B&W Zeppelin, then you won’t need a docking plate at all.
The 8GB version of the nano that I’m looking at here can be had for £104, which seems like pretty good value to me. Yes there are small 8GB players on the market that cost less, but none of them are quite as cool as the nano, or feature a navigation method as good as Apple’s wheel. Ultimately, if you need a small and stylish player and have £100 burning a hole, the nano should be high on your list.
There’s no doubt that the fourth generation iPod nano is the best so far. The design is beautiful, even by Apple’s high standards, and the user interface is as intuitive as it always was. Crossfade is superb, and makes listening on shuffle even more enjoyable, but the nano still lacks some of the features seen on competing devices, like an FM tuner. The nano also looks a little pricey on paper compared to other players, but then no other player is as thin, light and stylish as this one.
Sound quality isn’t quite up there with the best players available, but I’m sure that the vast majority of non-audiophile users will be more than happy with it. Pair the nano with a pair of Klipsch Image earphones and you’ll have the perfect combination of small, light and comfortable mobile listening. My trips to the gym just won’t be the same once Apple picks up the nano.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7