Review: Apple iPod nano (with video, 4GB/8GB)
Pros: A massive upgrade to Apple’s smallest-screened media player, adding very good video- and game-playing capabilities to the previously music- and photo-only, popular iPod nano. Achieves better than promised battery performance, as well as nearly equivalent video and audio performance to the iPod classic, making better use of its smaller components. Though shape is different, and screen is bigger and more detailed, volume is not dramatically increased over prior nanos. Available in
six colors and two storage capacities at very reasonable prices.
Cons: Screen and flash memory sizes aren’t ideal for video. Prior iPod Games, and iPod video accessories, are generally not compatible with this model. Mirror-finished rear casing returns, ready to scratch and smudge.
Unlike the iPod classic, which saw a noticeable change or two in audio performance from its predecessor fifth-generation iPods, the new iPod nano hasn’t changed much from the second-generation nano in sound quality. When used with premium earphones, there’s a more instantly apparent base level of noise than in the iPod classic—basically equivalent to the second-generation nano’s—and as a consequence, careful listeners with top-quality earphones will still be able to hear a little hiss overlapping the silent parts of audio tracks. But this sound is relatively slight, and not only hard to hear without using great earphones, but also less likely to be heard by users of the less expensive, lower-capacity nano. In other words, unless you’re an audio snob, you’re unlikely to notice this, or even care.
Entirely new to the iPod nano family is video playback functionality, so in one sense, anything the nano can do here is an improvement over what came before. Like the iPod classic, the new nano can store 640x480 videos in MPEG-4 or H.264 format, displaying them at 320x240 resolution on its own screen, and at full resolution (up to 480p or 576p, actually) on a separately attached display. Unless you already have Apple’s Universal Dock for the iPod, you’ll need to buy all-new video accessories to take advantage of video-out on the iPod nano, as the device’s TV Out feature is locked. The implications of this limitation are discussed further here
The good news is that Apple hasn’t skimped at all on its on-iPod output: the nano plays back the same video files as the iPod classic, and just as well. There’s an ever-so-slight tradeoff in crispness, akin to the difference we mentioned in the iPod classic review between the enhanced iPod 5G screen and that of the classic; the nano is closer to the enhanced iPod 5G, and thus a hint softer. Again, most users will never notice the difference, and will be blown away by the fact that the nano plays videos as well as it does.
Apple has preserved the same video settings and layout on the new iPod nano as it features on the iPod classic, rather than using the more refined displays of the iPod touch and iPhone. Consequently, you need to pre-select whether a video will take up the entire screen or display in letterboxed widescreen mode. Rather than fading in as white overlays on top of the video, status bars—title, battery life and play/pause status on top, volume, time/chapter scrubbing, and screen brightness on bottom—slide in and out on bars that appear from off-screen.
There is also a new option, Captions, in the Video Settings menu. Closed captioning will be available in certain videos sold through the iTunes Store, so you’ll be able to have this text appear as an overlay to the video if the Captions option is selected. Widescreen has also been renamed Fullscreen in this menu, emphasizing what the iPod nano has rather than what it lacks. Turn on Fullscreen mode to crop the sides of a widescreen video and fill the iPod nano’s entire 4:3 display with what’s left.