Review: Apple iPod nano Fourth-Generation (4GB/8GB/16GB)
Pros: Apple’s highest-capacity mid-range flash player to date, with an outstanding array of nine color options that for the first time are available at a $149 base price rather than as a premium option. Preserves most of the features of last year’s flat A-rated version, adding an accelerometer that adds modestly to photo, game, and audio functionality. Includes font size options and optional voice prompting to aid those who would otherwise have trouble reading the small screen. Streamlines prior features, including Cover Flow music browsing and Nike + iPod, while adding new ones such as Genius playlist creation. Doubles past year’s storage capacity for same price. Best audio quality yet in an iPod nano.
Cons: Battery life for video and game playing has dropped from prior version, though audio playback time is roughly the same. New tapered shape feels like a dull knife in the hand, versus the softer curves of prior iPods and nanos, and requires rotation for playing videos and most games. Audio recording functionality has changed from past version, losing settings control and now outputting in Apple Lossless rather than the more compatible WAV format. Curved glass screen cover is a little more fingerprint- and glare-attractive than the predecessor, though also likely to be more durable. Incompatible with past FireWire charging accessories; will not charge when placed in Bose’s SoundDock, Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi, or certain car kits.
In 2007, Apple released three substantially new iPods: the biscuit-shaped third-generation iPod nano (iLounge Rating: A), the metal-faced iPod classic (iLounge Rating: B+), and the phoneless iPhone called iPod touch (iLounge Rating: B-). This year, Apple has updated all three models with new features that range from trivial to important, generally improving each while boosting storage capacity for the dollar. Our review of the fourth-generation iPod nano (8GB/$149, 16GB/$199) covers all of the key changes and details you want to know about.
You’re probably already aware that the iPod nano occupies a specific space within Apple’s family of iPods: it’s the company’s mid-priced media player, larger, pricier and more capable than the screenless iPod shuffle, but smaller, more aggressively priced, and more colorfully packaged than the flash-based iPod touch and hard disk-based iPod classic. It has just enough storage capacity to hold the average user’s entire collection of songs and/or some videos at respectable bitrates, though traditionally neither its screen nor its audio quality were first-rate by Apple’s standards. Users came to consider it the ideal workout-ready iPod because of its small size, flash-based storage, and unique compatibility with the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, a jogging sensor that tracks a runner’s performance.
Last year’s iPod nano was a standout during an otherwise disappointing time for high-end iPod fans, who found themselves forced to choose between the iPod classic’s capacity and audio quality, or the iPod touch’s bigger screen and Wi-Fi capabilities. Back then, Apple gave the nano a great new screen, the ability to play videos and games, a new interface, and aggressive pricing, though it deviated from the candybar shape of prior iPod nanos and minis to achieve a larger screen size. There was no reason that Apple had to radically change last year’s device; it could easily have preserved the same general form factor, changed the colors, and boosted capacities.
Instead, the fourth-generation iPod nano is a different animal. Gone is the once-controversial nearly square shape of its immediate predecessor, replaced by the familiar anodized aluminum candy bar body of the much-loved second-generation iPod nano. There are now nine different colors to choose from, and you can pick any of them for either $149 or $199—the first time Apple has offered so many color options at its lowest nano price. Gone is the polished metal exterior of the prior model; the color once again wraps completely around the shell, except for white or black plastic top, bottom, and Click Wheel parts.
The major reason for last year’s shape change, a two-inch, 320x240 display, has been flipped on its side to become taller than it is wide, and in addition to changing the nano’s interface, Apple has added an accelerometer to detect the device’s orientation. Videos and games now play only when the nano is in wide mode; everything else works in tall orientation, and in some cases, both. Notably, the screen’s aspect ratio remains the same as the prior iPod nano’s, and has not shifted to the 1.5:1 format used by movies, the iPod touch and iPhone.
Another big change is in capacity. The $149 iPod nano now includes 8GB of storage space—twice what last year’s $149 model offered—while the $199 version offers 16GB. Viewed another way, you’ll have to pay an $80 or $100 premium to get an iPod touch with the same capacity, a substantial premium for the larger display and wireless capabilities. There are other changes, too. Some are evident just from watching this video of the new interface; others are not. We walk through of all of them in the sections below.
[Editor’s Note, September 18, 2008: Days after the release of the 8GB and 16GB iPod nanos, Apple was discovered to have given international third-party distributors a limited number of 4GB fourth-generation iPod nanos to sell at a price of €129. Apple has suggested that this 4GB model will not see general release, though it is available in the full array of nine colors. Our review discusses only the generally available 8GB and 16GB models.]