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.
Originally added to the iPod nano in the second-generation model, a feature called Voice Memos continues to allow users to record audio when a compatible recording accessory is attached. But there’s been a big change this year: now Voice Memos on both the new iPod nano and the second-generation iPod classic works with both Dock Connector recording accessories and headphone port-based microphones such as the one included with the iPhone and iPhone 3G. Apple will sell a new pair of recording-capable headphones shortly for $29, but the current iPhone headphones do work for this purpose.
Though this feature works generally as expected, there are a couple of unpleasant surprises. First, Apple has removed your ability to choose quality settings for the iPod nano’s headphone or Dock microphone recordings, and second, the nano now creates files in Apple Lossless format rather than WAV. Sample recordings we made with a headphone port-connecting microphone were automatically created in monaural mode, while a Dock Connector recorder automatically recorded in stereo mode, both at 44.1kHz. The benefit is that stereo recordings are likely to be smaller than they would have been before, but the consequence is that you may not be able to modify the Apple Lossless files in your editing software of choice. Another new feature lets you press the nano’s center button to insert chapter markers mid-way through your recording.
It’s worth noting that the second-generation iPod classic has not gained the chapter-marking feature, nor has it lost the ability to choose recording modes. As a consequence, if you have a need for more control over your audio recordings, the classic—or a past nano—may be a better pick than the new nano.
On a separate note, we have for years tracked the speeds at which various iPods synchronize with iTunes under real-world conditions, and have performed tests on both the new iPod nano and the new iPod touch to see how quickly they can be filled with data. In our test environment, it took 1 minute and 29 seconds to put 1GB of mixed video and audio files onto the new nano, versus exactly 2 minutes for the same 1GB of files onto the new iPod touch. You can expect that completely filling the 7.4GB of usable space on an 8GB iPod nano would take nearly 11 minutes, and roughly double that for a 16GB model, which offers 15.05GB of usable capacity.