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.
All in all, the fifth-generation iPod nano has many positive characteristics, many of them additions to the fourth-generation model that appeared only a year ago. It is at the core an excellent audio player, a very capable video player, and an increasingly capable workout companion—each the best Apple has ever sold under the iPod nano name—with numerous bonus features, big and small, which it offers with varying degrees of competence. The FM radio, pedometer, and microphone aren’t perfect, but they work very well, while the video camera and speaker are all at least decent given the device’s small size and price. It’s easy to make the comment that they should all improve in the future, but Apple’s first stabs at including these features are all closer to hitting their marks than missing them.
That having been said, going into the fifth-generation iPod nano with high expectations for anything other than its audio, video playback, and workout capabilities will lead some users to disappointment. On the video recording side, the nano is not the match for the iPhone 3GS or bigger-lensed, better cameras; as a gaming device, it has fallen way, way behind the only modestly more expensive iPod touch, and at a time when people still enjoy carrying around still photographs, it continues to merely sidestep prior iPod models in this regard rather than definitively improving on them. Some users will like its newly glossy, tweaked colors; others will prefer the tones and matte surfaces of the prior model. Those who, like us, wind up with defective units will also likely find themselves cursing all the way to the Apple Store, at which point a hospitable, friendly employee might turn the experience around. Or so we hope.
Our B+ rating of the fifth-generation iPod nano may be somewhat controversial. With the device less than three days old, we realize that many critics piled on top of each other to praise the new model before testing even a fourth of its features, and the pale collective “wisdom” has boiled down to “more is better.” Yet having spent time actually using the new devices en masse, as well as time at Apple Stores watching people approach the counters with less than total glee over the new colors and features, it’s apparent that this model will really fire some people up and strike others as pass-worthy. Last year’s models were breakthroughs in color options, capacities, and pricing, handily eclipsing the less than warmly received “fat” third-generation iPod nano; this year’s versions feel somewhat warmed over, as if Apple has come precariously close to running out of ideas to justify its asking prices for 8GB and 16GB devices, particularly with the iPod touch continuing to gain such momentum in both app functionality and capacity. If you’re looking for a small, thin, colorful iPod—particularly for workouts, even in light of the less expensive iPod shuffle—the fifth-generation iPod nano should be in your sights, especially when stocks of cheaper fourth-generation models run out. Similarly, if the idea of having a simple video camera to carry around along with your media player is appealing, the nano is currently the only way to go unless you’re willing to commit to the iPhone. Otherwise, pick the iPod touch, which apart from its absent video camera offers so many of the nano’s features, and many more, that it will be a better long-term companion for its asking price.