Review: Apple Computer iPod nano (1GB/2GB/4GB)
Pros: Incredibly thin color-screened iPods with audio and photo performance virtually identical to full-sized fourth-generation iPods, but at 1/4 the weight. Bleeding edge engineering and industrial design with visual cues from best prior iPods, resulting in a museum piece-class digital music player. Now includes soft carrying case.
Cons: Lower storage capacity for the dollar than prior iPod minis, fewer color options and lower battery life as well. Because of relocated and changed headphone port, incompatible with virtually all top-mounting iPod and iPod mini accessories. Requires powered USB computer port (or optional wall charger) to recharge battery. Latest 1GB model’s screen is less impressively backlit than earlier 2GB and 4GB models.
[Editors’ Note: This review was first posted on September 11, 2005 for Apple Computer’s original 2GB and 4GB iPod nano models. On February 7, 2006, Apple released a new 1GB iPod nano, which is now covered in a special new section of this review (“What Is The 1GB iPod nano?”) and noted in several small edits to the original piece. Additionally, following publication of our initial review, Apple opted to include a simple protective case in each nano’s package, now discussed in a second new section (“The iPod nano’s Included Case”). No other changes have been made to this review.]
While it takes a lot to excite us these days, Apple Computer’s new iPod nano (1GB/$149, 2GB/$199, 4GB/$249) is as close to pure electricity as we have seen from the company in a year. Like the best iPods that have come before, iPod nano instantly inspires a “wow” reaction when you see it, a smile when you try it, and a combination of reverence and satisfaction when you’re using it. Mostly because of its small size and slick industrial design, nano feels like you’re holding the future in your hand.
But if you put aside its looks and judge it on specifications alone as a replacement for Apple’s earlier and exceedingly popular iPod mini (iLounge rating: B+), iPod nano is actually a step down in many ways from its predecessor. You get less storage capacity for the dollar than the mini, which sold for $199 in 4GB capacities and $249 in 6GB capacities. Fewer color choices are available - only two (white or black) to the mini’s original five and later four. And though it remains solidly built, nano feels infinitely more fragile on the outside than the anodized aluminum, scratch-resistant mini. Like Apple’s other polished acrylic and metal designs, it was born to show fingerprints and scratches - the black version especially.
We consider all of these factors and more in our complete review below. Rather than create separate “new user” and “power user” reviews, we’ve added comments in our Conclusions section for both types of users to explain the above ratings.
What Is iPod nano? (Click here for details.)
What Is the 1GB iPod nano? (New: Feb. 8, 2006) (Click here for details.)
Box Design and Contents (Click here for details.)
The iPod nano’s Included Case (New: Feb. 8, 2006) (Click here for details.)
iPod nano: What’s Outside (Click here for details.)
iPod nano: What’s Inside (Click here for details.)
Interface and Menus (Click here for details.)
New Software Features (Click here for details.)
Familiar Old Features, Here and Gone (Click here for details.)
Battery Performance (Click here for details.)
Audio Quality (Click here for details.)
Value (Updated: Feb. 8, 2006) (Click here for details.)
New Accessories (Click here for details.)
Compatibility of Existing Accessories (Click here for details.)
With iPod mini and iPod shuffle, Apple showed the world that the right design at a low bottom line price can outsell a substantially more fully-featured design at a slightly higher price. Less conspicuously, it has demonstrated that there are ways to functionally differentiate multiple inherently similar products beyond their different price levels, giving each an advantage that may lead one person to own two or three of them at once.
As Apple has suggested, iPod nano is a major gamble - not just because each is lower in storage capacity and battery life than the iPod mini it replaces, but also because it loses the resilient, four- or five-colored aluminum shell designs that spurred so much talk in early 2004. Aside from size, the biggest positive physical differentiators between iPod and iPod mini have disappeared in nano, a factor that may turn some people away.
But size matters. So does beauty. And apart from one or two omissions, iPod nano manages to best its predecessor in overall looks and performance while losing half of its thickness and weight. We think that most people will be willing to buy iPod nanos, protect them, and carry them around everywhere - even places only the iPod shuffle was welcome before, because of its size. And despite that size, nano is even a near rival in functionality for its larger, more expensive iPod brother.
Mostly because of value, and partially because of accessory incompatibility, iPod nano’s a little off the full-sized iPod’s flat A rating for new users, but still highly recommended, and equally so for second iPod buyers looking for a workout companion. If you can afford it, it’s a significantly better option functionally than the iPod shuffle. Power users - people with needs for more capacity and better performance - will think nano to be a lot like what they thought of its predecessor, a good but not great performer that’s a clear second-place finisher to the full-sized iPod.
We love our nanos, and are betting that this will be a big success for Apple, quite potentially the basis for both higher and lower-capacity models. Hopefully, new colors will also be in the cards for 2006. Until then, we’ll be playing with our white and black ones, and just waiting to see the next tricks the company has up its sleeves.