Review: Apple Inc. iPod nano (Fifth-Generation)
Company: Apple Computer
Model: iPod nano (fifth-generation)
Price: $149 (8GB), $179 (16GB)
Pros: An iterative update to the 2008 iPod nano, most notably adding a low-end video camera, very good FM radio tuner and microphone, and a fine pedometer as integrated hardware. New 2.2” wide, brighter TFT screen makes videos more viewable than on prior model, while preserving the rest of the prior nano’s interface and ability to play music and games. Continues to include font size options and optional voice prompting to aid those who would otherwise have trouble reading the small screen, as well as a less intrusive VoiceOver feature for those who just want occasional song title prompting. Maintains high audio quality from prior iPod nano, improves battery life for audio and video. Changes prior anodized aluminum texture to a new polished gloss, with updated colors that may appeal more to some users.
Cons: Video recording quality is mediocre, even by reference to simple camera found in iPhone 3GS, and consumes considerable battery life; lacks still photo capability. Game support for nano models has flatlined during growth of App Store, and appears unlikely to recover. New colors and glossy texture won’t thrill all users. Continues to have somewhat dull knife-like feel in the hand, albeit softened a little from prior version, and smaller Click Wheel is less than ideally sized. Lower-end version has little storage capacity for video recordings. Otherwise impressive radio tuner has slightly confusing “Live Pause” recording interface and mostly useless tagging feature. Build quality and longevity are concerns in light of a couple of tested units.
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Color-screened iPods have been able to display photos on their own and external screens since 2004, but Apple has made clear that it doesn’t care too much about the feature: every year’s screened iPod hardware makes only the most modest of tweaks to photo playback, typically gaining a few photo-to-photo transition effects while losing a few. This year’s model is no different.
The fifth-generation iPod nano’s Photos mode has added one neat feature, the “Ken Burns effect,” which pans and zooms in on images gently as they’re being displayed. It also regains a Cube effect, which transitions from image to image with the very rough appearance of a 3-D side-shifting cube—a disappointment, really—and a Flip effect, while preserving Dissolve and Push effects from the prior model. It loses Slide, Fade Through Black, and Zoom, and retains the ability to randomize the transitions rather than using the same one every time. Pictures can be displayed in horizontal or vertical format depending on the nano’s accelerometer-judged orientation.
Apple has made more substantial, though not entirely disclosed changes to the fifth-generation nano’s Nike + iPod functionality. Found under a new menu titled Fitness, the new model adds an integrated pedometer, which is capable of making an approximate count of how many footsteps you’ve taken, based on your weight and motions observed during your movement. Calories burned and time consumed are tracked by the feature, which doesn’t have Nike+ voice prompting, but obviously does let you listen to music while you walk, and keeps track of your walking results for synchronization to a Nike server. While the pedometer is not perfectly reliable, we found that its count was only off by a handful of steps per walk, and Apple has enabled it to provide you with daily step goals that can be automatically tracked every time you turn on the nano, or manually activated as you desire. No additional accessory is needed for this, and a little shoe icon appears at the top of the screen to let you know the pedometer is active.
Apart from layout tweaks, the past Nike + iPod Sport Kit functionality continues to work in the fifth-generation model as it did before, now speaking its verbal cues through the nano’s integrated speaker if you don’t have headphones connected. A prior option to use a wrist-mounted wireless remote control remains intact here, and has been augmented by a mysterious option called “Heart Rate Monitor.” Apple’s web site briefly referenced an iPod nano 5G-only accessory of this name before pulling down the document; one can guess that it adds yet another monitoring capacity to the nano’s existing walking hardware and the Sport Kit’s wireless running hardware.
Additional “Extras” on the device remain substantially unchanged from before. The nano continues to offer multiple integrated alarms, world clocks, a stopwatch, and a sleep timer, calendar and contact synchronization, a text file display app called Notes, and a Screen Lock feature. Apple now includes 30 different translated languages for its menus, including right-to-left languages, many supported via VoiceOver as well.
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