Review: Apple iPod nano (Fifth-Generation)
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.
The fifth-generation iPod nano preserves most of the accessory compatibility of its predecessor model, which notably rendered FireWire charging devices—including ones found in prior speaker docks, car kits, and other accessories—incompatible and useless for power purposes. It continues to work flawlessly with most other accessories released over the past several years, including some but not all prior iPod nano cases, subject only to the potential for obscuring its camera, microphone, and changed bottom port orientations.
Though the iPod nano 5G is only a couple of days old at this point, our tests have already revealed a couple of notable potential defects that may inhibit your enjoyment of the device. During our testing of the video and speaker output capabilities of our yellow 8GB iPod nano, specifically the second of two tests that brought the unit’s total run time to a little under 7 hours, the nano completely died and could not be resuscitated. We have no idea what caused the failure, but it had not been connected to any unusual accessories, dropped, or otherwise subjected to scenarios that might have been deemed “abuse.” A local Apple Store had to be visited to replace the device, which to the company’s credit was hassle-free, apart from the hassle of having to drive to and from the Store to get a replacement for a brand-new device.
The second yellow fifth-generation iPod nano also had a problem: even obvious through the box was the fact that its its front casing left too much of a gap around the Click Wheel; closer inspection of several other fifth-generation iPod nanos revealed that they too had gaps, albeit not as pronounced as this one, making it less likely that they’d fill up inside with pocket lint or dust over time. Notably, the 11 different fourth-generation models we tested had no such problems, though some developed odd little quirks during a year of on-and-off use; our impression is that Apple has adopted a relatively casual “it happens” attitude towards such defects and assuming that the devices don’t betray any abuse, will similarly be replaced without a problem. It goes without saying that 2 out of 10 iffy iPod nanos in our testing does not a bad product make, however, we’d strongly advise potential customers to examine their new nanos before purchase by tilting the box a little to see if the Click Wheel moves, and buy only if you can make meaningful use of a return policy in the event that something happens to your nano.
With that unfortunate bit of discussion out of the way, we will note that there is one way that the fifth-generation iPod nano has impressed us in build quality relative to its predecessor: the paint. It is not easy to gouge or disfigure the polished anodized aluminum of the iPod nano, a big surprise given the historically awful scratch attraction of almost every one of the heavier stainless steel iPod shells that Apple has released. While this model isn’t going to withstand true brutality, we believe that its colored surface will do at least as well as the fourth-generation version’s, and may well serve as an early example of the materials planned for eventually colored iPod touches.