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.
Apple rightly describes the fourth-generation iPod nano as its thinnest iPod ever, though other changes to this device’s enclosure are several in number and equally important. At 3.6” tall by 1.5” wide by 0.24” deep, this model is a little thinner, narrower, and taller than any prior nano, each difference slight enough that you mightn’t notice it unless you were actually putting the devices next to each other.
In a direct comparison against the second-generation nano, however, the physical changes are stark. Put aside the color differences, addressed separately in the next section of this review. The new nano has a tiny, swirled metal Hold switch on the top where there used to be a larger plastic bar, and the distance between the Dock Connector and headphone ports at bottom has been cut by roughly 60%. These changes are in line with ones made to the third-generation nano, though the fourth-generation’s ports are even closer together, and the Hold switch looks a little smaller, but it’s easier to use thanks to its slight elevation above the device’s otherwise flat top surface.
Every prior nano, particularly the second-generation version, had soft corners, but the new one feels like a dull knife in your hand, with radiuses that are better for grip but worse for comfort. Cup your hand on the nano’s sides and, unlike the second-generation model, you can’t easily make it slide. One wonders whether Apple’s continued obsession with thinness will eventually lead to something so sharp that it creates paper cuts; there are times when thicker is better. Despite its larger size, the new second-generation iPod touch feels better in the hand.
Another area of mixed improvement is the new nano’s screen. Apple has switched to a curved glass coating that matches the curve of the device’s front, adding both glare and a tendency to attract unsightly fingerprints. On the flip side, this new coating is supposed to be more durable than its plastic predecessors; we’ll have to see over time how that plays out.
Pack-ins and packaging haven’t changed much from the two prior generations of iPod nano. Once again, the device comes in a clear plastic box with a white cardboard insert, which conceals a pair of standard iPod earbuds, a USB-to-Dock Connector cable for synchronization and charging, and a Universal Dock Adapter to help the nano recline in widely available iPod-agnostic dock accessories. This Adapter is numbered 17, for those keeping count; the new iPod touch’s Adapter is 16. The only other pack-ins are two Apple stickers, a warranty and safety pamphlet, and a simple black and white Quick Start manual. You’ll need to download iTunes 8 (or later) from Apple’s web site to place music, videos, and other content on the nano, as no software is found in the box.