Pros: Incredibly thin color-screened iPods with audio and photo performance virtually identical to full-sized fourth-generation iPods, but at 1/4 the weight. Bleeding edge engineering and industrial design with visual cues from best prior iPods, resulting in a museum piece-class digital music player. Now includes soft carrying case.
Cons: Lower storage capacity for the dollar than prior iPod minis, fewer color options and lower battery life as well. Because of relocated and changed headphone port, incompatible with virtually all top-mounting iPod and iPod mini accessories. Requires powered USB computer port (or optional wall charger) to recharge battery. Latest 1GB model’s screen is less impressively backlit than earlier 2GB and 4GB models.
[Editors’ Note: This review was first posted on September 11, 2005 for Apple Computer’s original 2GB and 4GB iPod nano models. On February 7, 2006, Apple released a new 1GB iPod nano, which is now covered in a special new section of this review (“What Is The 1GB iPod nano?”) and noted in several small edits to the original piece. Additionally, following publication of our initial review, Apple opted to include a simple protective case in each nano’s package, now discussed in a second new section (“The iPod nano’s Included Case”). No other changes have been made to this review.]
While it takes a lot to excite us these days, Apple Computer’s new iPod nano (1GB/$149, 2GB/$199, 4GB/$249) is as close to pure electricity as we have seen from the company in a year. Like the best iPods that have come before, iPod nano instantly inspires a “wow” reaction when you see it, a smile when you try it, and a combination of reverence and satisfaction when you’re using it. Mostly because of its small size and slick industrial design, nano feels like you’re holding the future in your hand.
But if you put aside its looks and judge it on specifications alone as a replacement for Apple’s earlier and exceedingly popular iPod mini (iLounge rating: B+), iPod nano is actually a step down in many ways from its predecessor. You get less storage capacity for the dollar than the mini, which sold for $199 in 4GB capacities and $249 in 6GB capacities. Fewer color choices are available – only two (white or black) to the mini’s original five and later four. And though it remains solidly built, nano feels infinitely more fragile on the outside than the anodized aluminum, scratch-resistant mini. Like Apple’s other polished acrylic and metal designs, it was born to show fingerprints and scratches – the black version especially.
We consider all of these factors and more in our complete review below. Rather than create separate “new user” and “power user” reviews, we’ve added comments in our Conclusions section for both types of users to explain the above ratings.
The iPod nano is a portable digital music player with a rechargeable battery. Today, the nano is the second smallest and least expensive member of the iPod family, sandwiched between screenless iPod shuffles and video-ready full-sized iPods. Like all iPods, the nano’s primary purpose is to store and play back digital music that has either been copied from compact discs onto your PC or Macintosh computer, or downloaded from an online store (such as Apple’s iTunes Music Store) on the Internet. The nano can also store data and transfer it between computers, assuming that the computers are set up with software that recognizes an iPod that’s connected.
Apple’s two-Gigabyte (2GB) nano holds roughly 500 songs, while the four-Gigabyte (4GB) version stores roughly 1,000 songs if nothing else is on the device. You’ll practically be able to fit 40-50 CDs on a 2GB unit, or 80-100 CDs on a 4GB unit, each in near-CD audio quality.
Every nano currently includes Apple’s iTunes, an easy-to-use and continuously improved tool that converts CDs into iPod-ready digital song files, organizes those files, and enables users to buy additional digital songs for 99 cents each directly over the Internet. Virtually identical between its Macintosh and PC versions, iTunes transfers files to iPods in either MP3 or AAC formats, and even converts unprotected Windows Media Audio (WMA) songs into iPod-friendly formats.
On February 7, 2006, in apparent response to consumer demand for a less expensive iPod with a screen, Apple announced its most affordable iPod nano yet, featuring one-Gigabyte (1GB) of storage capacity. Following in the footsteps of the earlier 1GB iPod shuffle, the new iPod nano debuted at a price of $149, and holds approximately 240 songs. Like other iPod nanos shipped today, it is packaged with iTunes 6.0 and a protective case, which were not found in the original nanos’ boxes.
Cosmetically, the new nano is almost identical to the 2GB and 4GB models. The most notable difference is shown above; though the resolution and screen sizes remain the same, our 1GB unit (left) has modestly less impressive backlighting than our earlier 2GB and 4GB models (4GB shown, right). In person, the 1GB nano’s screen is a hint less bright, and has a slightly pink tint, rather than the “blue-white LED backlight” listed as of the date of publication on Apple’s web site. It’s unclear whether Apple is now using a different screen supplier for all iPod nanos, or whether the lowest-priced nano has a lower-quality backlight or display than the others; in any case, while not a positive change, it’s small. Less surprisingly, Apple has also updated the nano’s rear capacity label to read 1GB, and the trademark/copyright date to read 2006 rather than 2005.
Though their storage capacities are the same, the differences between the 1GB iPod nano and the 1GB iPod shuffle are significant – a fact reflected by Apple’s simultaneous drop of the 1GB shuffle’s price to only $99. For the additional dollars, you get a color screen with menu, lyrics and photo navigation abilities, the iPod’s superior Click Wheel controller, compatibility with the vast majority of iPod Dock Connector accessories, and a more stylish body in your choice of white or black colors. You lose the shuffle’s simple USB-style connector, included lanyard necklace, less complicated interface, and – controversially – a SigmaTel audio processor that some users believe provides superior bass performance to the audio chip found in iPod nano. Additionally, though the shuffle shows scratches, they’re not nearly as visible as scratches are on either nano’s clear acrylic and glossy metal bodies – an issue that, despite the contrary feelings of millions of satisfied nano customers, has already led to lawsuits over nano’s durability. You’ll need to decide which design is better for your needs.
What are our opinions of the 1GB nano? Though the small drop in screen quality affected our opinions a little, we think that it’s a very positive addition to the iPod family – as appropriate today as the low-priced iPod shuffle introduction was a year ago. And as with its predecessor 2GB and 4GB nano models, we would recommend it over the iPod shuffle to “power users” (serious iPod lovers and those with greater demands). If the prices of the 1GB shuffle and nano were equal, we’d say the same to new iPod buyers as well. With a $50 price difference between the models, however, as well as the other issues noted above, there are still good reasons for some new users to choose both devices. We’d ourselves lean towards the nano, but not by enough to affect the rating of the 1GB nano relative to the higher-capacity models.
For more than a year now, Apple’s been streamlining iPod packages to cut costs, and the results have been iterative variations in class, and a diminishing number of pack-ins. iPod nano’s box is the second simplest yet designed by the company, next to the Wal-Mart-friendly see-through green package of the iPod shuffle. But it’s better – a thin devolution of the current, quite nice full-sized iPod boxes.
Matte black with silver foil for their Apple and iPod nano logos, the boxes of white and black nanos differ only in the color of the iPods portrayed on their front and back sides. Depicted only from their front (box front) and left sides (box rear), the iPods appear to be fully illustrated renditions rather than actual photographs, and are subtly extruded from the box’s surface – the latter a nice, if barely noticeable touch. Santana’s song “Just Feel Better” from the album “All That I Am” is featured on each screen.
The tops of 2GB nano boxes include the silver foil identifier, “2GB 500 songs PC + Mac,” while the 4GB boxes read “4GB 1000 songs PC + Mac.” (The newer 1GB model reads, “1GB 240 songs PC + Mac.”) Their bottoms both note their otherwise identical contents, packed in hermetically sealed white plastic pouches: white iPod earphones, a USB 2.0-to-iPod nano cable, and a CD with iTunes for Mac and Windows. They do not note the presence of what the included Quick Start manual calls the “iPod Dock Adapter,” which Apple representatives have called the “Universal Dock Adapter,” a small and initially useless plastic plate that all future iPods will apparently include. Rather than needing to produce their own plastic docking plates to fit different iPods, accessory manufacturers will be able to use these Dock Adapters instead.
What’s missing from the box is now fairly predictable by low-end iPod standards: there’s no wall charger (sold separately for $29, iLounge rating: B+), no FireWire-to-iPod cable (no longer supported for anything except power recharging), and no belt clip. Each was found in the boxes of early iPod minis, and the former two faded off this past February. Consequently, you’ll have to recharge your nano using a powered USB-port equipped computer, or buy the wall charger, which comes with full-sized iPods.
There also aren’t any protective accessories in the box. Each nano comes wrapped in two sheets of clear plastic – one for its entire body, another solely for its front face. The reason for this is immediately obvious, as fingerprints begin to appear on all of nano’s surfaces within seconds of the plastic’s removal.
Even so, the only thing we found ourselves wishing Apple had included was a plain neck lanyard. Our editors split on the wearability of the iPod shuffle, but the superior nano design begs to be worn – especially because we don’t want to just toss it into our pants pockets. We are highly skeptical about wearing the company’s upcoming hybrid of lanyard and earbuds, but in the absence of other options, will inevitably give it a try.
Shortly after the initial release of iPod nano, which was marketed as small enough to fit in the tiny change pocket of a pair of jeans, users began to discover what was noted above and below in our review: even by iPod standards, the nano attracts scratches and fingerprints like no one’s business, and begs to be protected at all times. Though Apple has publicly denied that nano scratches more easily than its immediate predecessors (the full-sized fourth-generation iPod), it has quietly responded to users’ concerns.
Each iPod nano today includes a soft gray and white protective case that has the word “iPod” lightly embossed at its top. Though smaller in size, the design mimics that of the case Apple included with the fifth-generation iPod, introduced after the nano in October, 2005, and covers all of the iPod save its top. It appears to be made from the same neoprene-like material used in Apple’s iPod nano Armbands.
Like other pouch-style cases we’ve reviewed for the nano, this pack-in is less than ideal, but acceptable for some purposes. You can’t see the nano’s screen or controls while it’s inside the case, and if the screen is positioned at the case’s top, you can’t access the nano’s bottom-mounted headphone port. There’s no hole in the case’s bottom right corner for headphones, either. But you can use the nano’s Click Wheel controls through the case’s material, and it is fully adequate to protect most of your nano from scratches. Consider this a good starter case for your nano, but not the last one you’ll own.
Virtually everyone believed that Apple would release an iPod mini follow up that looked almost identical, only thinner and with a color screen. They were wrong.
With iPod nano, Apple has combined four different iPods into two body designs, taking the front acrylic face and polished metal back from 2001 iPods, the Click Wheel and color screen from 2004’s color iPods, the tiny size and longer shape of January 2005’s iPod shuffle, and a second black body color from 2004’s U2 iPod. The result is unquestionably both beautiful and stunning. As Apple has said, iPod nano seems “impossibly small” because you cannot quite imagine a complete iPod – let alone one with a color screen – fitting into an enclosure that thin, and it is almost incomparably cool for that reason alone.
Regardless of storage capacity, each iPod nano is identical in physical dimensions: 3.5” x 1.6” x 0.27”. To put this in perspective, a nano is thinner than an iPod shuffle (0.33”) and tinier in footprint than a business card – smaller in all dimensions than the iPod mini it replaces. It’s also lighter. At 1.5 ounces, it’s under half the mini’s weight (3.6 ounces), which makes it almost as effortless to wear as the iPod shuffle (0.78 ounce), and a lot lighter than – 1/4 the weight of – a 20GB iPod (5.9 ounces).
Shrinking entails compromises. The 1.5” screen is 0.5” smaller than the iPod’s and a hair tinier than the iPod mini’s. But it looks better than the iPod mini’s old black-and-white screen, with higher resolution (176×132 pixels versus 138×110) for added detail, and color to display photographs and album art. On the 2GB and 4GB models we tested in 2005, the “white-blue backlight” Apple’s web site described was mostly white, and though not quite as pure as the full-sized iPod’s, it looked brighter when you held them up next to each other. As noted and photographed in our separate discussion of the 1GB nano we tested in 2006, that version includes a slightly different screen that’s slightly pink-tinted and less bright than the 2GB and 4GB models’ screens. It’s unclear whether this affects later production model 2GB and 4GB nanos as well.
Nano’s matching Click Wheel is Apple’s smallest yet, but works completely without incident. Unlike the iPod mini, its glossy center button matches the body color of the nano; regardless of body color, its lettering is always in legible white.
iPod nano’s back is identical to that of a full-sized iPod, only smaller. The mirror-polished metal plates the unit’s entire rear and two thirds of each of its sides, reflecting back whatever it sees with Apple, iPod, and electronic certification logos, as well as a small badge identifying the storage capacity, “2GB” or “4GB.” Each nano is customized with a serial number etched into the metal at the rear bottom, and additional text engraving can be done through Apple’s web site.
The new but familiar design has two major benefits and two major consequences. Whether in white or black, nano is a conversation starter, just like its predecessors. As promised, nano is also small enough to fit into any pocket you may have – there’s no place you won’t be able to take it once you have it. But unlike the iPod mini, nano not only looks like it will attract fingerprints and scratches – it does. Both colors beg to be polished, and our black iPod nano had a thin front scratch within two days. And we are just waiting for the first story of an accidental “nano in back pocket” crushing. Even if it was less attractive than the nano is, the iPod mini’s hard metal body was more resilient.
How did Apple pull this miniaturization feat off? It dropped the mini’s hard drive, the most power-hungry component in any iPod. Instead, nano now uses tiny, non-removable flash memory chips, the only major part of the new device that’s less likely to be damaged than before. Prior to Apple’s entry into the memory market, these chips were too expensive to consider using in devices at nano’s price levels, which in the abstract makes nano a bargain – for Apple. Consumers, on the other hand, pay $50 more for 4GB of storage than the $199 4GB iPod minis they were buying last month, or get only 2GB of storage for the old 4GB price.
Other than the flash chips, the other internal components are more like an iPod than an iPod shuffle, which used a simple SigmaTel processor. iPod nano contains a low-power PortalPlayer 5021 CPU, labeled 5021C-TDF, and a Wolfson Micro WM8975G audio chip, both parts derived from today’s full-sized iPods. These parts provide a big iPod experience in a small package; now the only arguable advantage of a cheap iPod shuffle is its integrated USB plug, which eliminates the need to carry cables for charging and synching.
Another, more subtle miniaturization surprise is that Apple has reduced the size of the plastic around the iPod headphone plug end of the nano’s otherwise classic white earbuds. The company has made similarly small tweaks to the earbuds in the past, adding a small neck cord manager earlier this year with the release of the iPod shuffle, but this change suggests that the company was concerned about something else.
That might be the fact that the nano’s headphone port and Dock Connector port are so close together. Apple’s Dock Connector first appeared on the third-generation iPod, and a huge variety of electronic accessories – particularly car accessories – now depend upon that connector. So the company has kept it the same size – the only external part on the entire iPod to remain identical from the iPod mini.
Its extended headphone port, however, has shrunk to a single hole “standard” headphone port, a change that has physically enabled Apple to fit the headphone port immediately next to the Dock Connector on the iPod’s bottom. The only thing on the unit’s top is a miniature metal Hold switch on its top left side.
Of all of the changes, the headphone port’s the only one we don’t like. Location aside, dumping the extended headphone port renders the iPod nano physically and electrically unable to use most of the popular portable FM transmitters we’ve tested, say nothing of great add-ons such as Griffin’s recently released iFM radio tuner. New iPod owners won’t mind this as much as older ones with accessories that no longer work, and those who aspire to expand nano’s capabilities. Intentionally or inadvertantly, Apple has segmented the iPod market into three categories: complete iPod accessory compatibility (iPod), half iPod accessory compatibility (iPod nano), and no iPod accessory compatibility (iPod shuffle). This expands the number of iPod accessories that will be produced, but creates new confusion for manufacturers and consumers alike.
iPod nano uses a scaled down version of the color iPod (iPod photo) interface released in October, 2004, but with small visual tweaks that are easy to miss. A gray bar at the top of each screen identifies where you are in the iPod’s menus, while a battery indicator on its right provides a mostly accurate count down to complete discharge. Newly blue-colored Play and Pause icons in the upper left corner let you know whether the nano’s paused or playing.
As with the full-sized iPod, a variety of black text on white background menus dominate the nano’s interface. You begin by selecting from Music, Photos, Extras, or Settings, each leading to a second menu of choices. If you want to bypass the menus and just start listening to music, you click on the fifth option, Shuffle Songs, and your entire stored collection will play back in random order. Each of the menus looks virtually identical to the ones on the full-sized iPod, save for an omission in nano’s photo abilities – it can’t optionally display photos on a TV – and three additions to Extras, noted below.
And of course, nano plays back tracks just like a full-sized iPod. You select audio from the Music menu, which lets you choose from Songs, Artists, Albums, Playlists, Podcasts, Genres, Composers, or Audiobooks. Once you’ve selected a song, a screen called Now Playing appears.
Pressing the center button on the Click Wheel while listening to a song moves you through five screens: volume adjustment, the “scrubber” to move anywhere you want in the current track, a large picture of the current song’s album art, song lyrics, and a 0- to 5-star rating screen. Lyrics are a new addition to iTunes 5, and browsing them is a new feature of iPod nano: the text is small (eight lines at a time), but entirely readable. Touching the Click Wheel and moving back and forth changes volume, your place in the track, your place in the lyrics, or rating; pressing the nano’s forward or backward buttons on the album art screen moves you through multiple pieces of art (and their associated “chapters”) in podcasts.
Photo playback is largely identical to the full-sized iPod’s, only smaller. Instead of 25 thumbnails per page, you now get 12 that are easy to identify. Landscape-orientation (wide) photos still display in full-screen mode, while portrait-orientation (tall) photos appear with significant black bars on their sides. Because of the screen’s bright backlight, details in pictures are fairly easy to see – the illumination is actually brighter than on full-sized iPods. Just as with the larger iPod, nano displays bezeled play and pause icons on screen during a slide show, and has five different transition effects between slides.
The single best thing about nano’s interface is its speed. Unlike the hard drive-based iPods, which can pause to load songs and occasionally between menus, iPod nano is fast all around. Skipping to any track or photo on the device is almost instantaneous. iTunes USB file transfers to the device are a little quicker than with a full-sized iPod – we transferred 548MB of music to a nano in only 72 seconds (7.6 megs per second) versus 82 seconds for an iPod (6.7 Megs per second) – but a sharper improvement over the iPod mini’s 110 seconds (5 Megs per second). Unfortunately, photo transfers from computer to nano aren’t anywhere near as fast, but that’s a problem mostly attributable to iTunes and Apple’s requirement that all photographs be pre-compressed prior to transfer, a painfully slow process.
Though it would have been easy just to leave nano as a stripped-down version of the full-sized iPod, Apple opted to include three new features, at least two of which will likely migrate upwards to full-sized iPods eventually. All of the new features are nice, but none is earthshattering. First up is the new and improved Clock, which has “world clock” functionality and an analog display capability.
The first thing you’ll notice is a clock pre-set to Cupertino, California time. You can bring up a menu by clicking on it that lets you choose an alarm clock playlist or beeping sound, your preferred city, whether daylight saving time is on or off, and whether you’d like your iPod to turn off on a sleep timer. You can also add more than one clock to the display by choosing “New Clock” from the main Clock screen, then selecting a city from many around the world. Once that’s done, you’ll have two (or more) clocks at once running on the iPod, and can scroll through them with ease. Clocks go black during night time in a specific city, gray during daylight hours.
Then there’s Stopwatch. With a iTunes brushed metal-inspired interface, Stopwatch gives you the ability to keep time for your runs, and easily access a lap timer as well. It stores your times for future reference, providing a breakdown of date, time, total time, shortest lap, longest lap, and average lap, with each lap time underneath.
The font is bold and easy to read. Stopwatch is a great addition to the iPod for runners, though it remains to be seen whether Apple will include it in larger iPods as well.
Also built around a metallic interface, Screen Lock lets you prevent your iPod’s contents from being accessed by anyone but you – or the person who guesses the 4-digit code. You use the Click Wheel to enter the code, make sure you haven’t forgotten it, and then lock your iPod. Failed attempts are shown with a set of red flashes around the digits; multiple failed attempts don’t do anything.
Let’s say you do forget your code – what then? Just dock the nano with your computer, and it’s unlocked. Smart thought. All iPods need Screen Lock. Except, obviously, the shuffle.
Amazingly, virtually all of the full-sized iPod’s applications have made their way onto the iPod nano’s smaller screen. Calendar, Contacts, and Notes are all represented – viewable, with a little less free space on each screen. On a related note, Apple has finally added instant iTunes synchronization for PC users of Calendar and Contacts into version 5.0 of the software, so Microsoft Outlook users no longer need to use other software (or manually sync) for these iPod features.
And, of course, the iPod nano has color versions of the (ahem, increasingly boring) four games found on all of the recent full-sized iPods, namely Solitaire, Music Quiz, Brick and Parachute. They look essentially just like their full-sized iPod versions, though Brick has fewer bricks on the screen, and the layout on Music Quiz is a little different.
Which applications are missing? Voice Memos/Record is now gone. An Apple representative told iLounge that, as a differentiating feature, iPod nano will not support microphone attachments, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that none of the ones previously designed are even physically capable of connecting to the nano because of its different headphone port. You also cannot use Photo Import on nano: the iPod Camera Connector won’t work, another deliberate differentiator on Apple’s part that makes more sense given the nano’s smaller storage capacity.
While we were disappointed to see the iPod nano take a step down in battery life from the iPod mini, which promised 18 hours of run time and actually delivered 26 in our tests, it’s still not bad by historic iPod standards. Apple’s early iPods promised 8 to 10 hours of music run time and delivered less; iPod nano promises 14 hours of music run time, and actually delivers more. Our first nano ran for 15 hours and 4 minutes using our standard testing variables, while our second unit (which has been charged and discharged more times) ran for an almost identical 14 hours, 54 minutes. Fifteen hours of run time equals Apple’s claims for the full-sized iPod, and fall short of its actual performance by only two hours.
Separately, our second unit ran the ultra-demanding “musical photo slideshow test,” a combination of continuous random photo and music playback with the screen on. Color iPods can run that test for around 5 hours; the iPod nano went for 4 hours and 24 minutes, which isn’t bad. In both regards, the nano is a small step down from the full-sized iPod, rather than the second-generation iPod mini’s surprisingly big steps up. On the other hand, it took only 2 hours and 40 minutes to fully recharge nano’s battery, faster than both the iPod and iPod shuffle, as well as Apple’s claim of “about 3 hours.”
Given the iPod’s recent history, we’d rate the nano above-average in battery performance, but not great by comparison with earlier color iPods, the second-generation iPod mini, or competing digital music players. However, there’s enough battery life to sustain you through virtually any daily use, and the battery charges very quickly. We think these two characteristics are likely to satisfy all but the most demanding users.
If you liked the sound of your old iPod, there’s generally good news on the audio quality front: iPod nano’s audio is every bit as good as a full-sized iPod, and for one reason, a little better. Apple appears to have entirely eliminated the last remaining traces of the audio defect that plagued fourth-generation black-and-white and color iPods, a noise which overlapped the beginnings of tracks during hard drive access. We’re not sure whether this is simply because of nano’s lack of a hard drive or other engineering changes that will also improve future full-sized iPods, but we’re happy to hear it nonetheless.
The only gripes that have been raised about iPod audio in the past persist in nano, as well. Custom equalization is still impossible thanks to a complete lack of user-adjustable graphic equalizers on the nano, and audiophiles will not hear any improvement in performance when the nano’s bass is pushed up above normal levels with its booster.
The success of the initial iPod mini despite its price premium makes us loath to rehash this issue, but especially in the face of the iPod nano’s increase in price per Gigabyte from the iPod mini, we cannot ignore it. Though they are unquestionably a better value than either model of iPod shuffle, neither iPod nano represents as good a price per Gigabyte as the iPod mini it replaces, nor as good of a value as either full-sized iPod.
$138 per gigabyte
$99 per gigabyte
$149 per gigabyte
$99.50 per gigabyte
$49.75 per gigabyte
$62.25 per gigabyte
$41.50 per gigabyte
$9.97 per gigabyte
$6.65 per gigabyte
Some users will say that a pure dollar comparison misses the point. They will view iPod nano – fairly, we might add – as the equivalent of a museum piece, the sort of technology that is attractive enough to merit an artist’s premium over the value of its functional parts. These users will note that the look of iPod mini is now dated, and that nano’s fresher body, color screen, and several added features (photos and applications) make it even more attractive, despite its higher price.
Others – particularly those without a need for a color screen or nano’s slender body – will view Apple’s change as a regression to 2004 price levels, and one not justified by any important difference in nano’s performance. They may even point to each nano’s lower battery life, storage capacity, and less accessory-friendly headphone port as reasons to prefer the comparably priced mini.
Chiefly because of storage capacity, we are internally divided over which view is “right,” but are inclined to say that both are. Like the original iPod mini, each iPod nano is about $50 too expensive given what Apple’s selling for $299 today. And if Apple had sold the 4GB nano for $199, and a 6GB version at $249, we would not even be having this discussion – just as with the 20GB iPod’s evolution into color without a price change, and subsequent transformation into a 30GB model with video for the same $299 price, it would have been a great gimme.
But as history proved to be the case with the iPod mini, the discussion is basically irrelevant. Enough people are willing to pay the price to satisfy Apple – for now. And we are among those people. We are already buying them for ourselves and as gifts for our families. Assuming nano isn’t discontinued or otherwise supplanted, Apple will sell millions without blinking an eye. But as comparatively low initial sales of the 2GB versions are indicating, we think they’ll do even better when prices go down and capacities go up.
Four new Apple-designed accessories for the iPod nano have already been announced, with one (the iPod nano Armband) already shipping to customers. Several third-parties have also announced nano-compatible accessories, too. Here’s what’s coming.
nano Tubes are five-packs of silicone rubber cases, available in clear, blue, purple, green, and pink for $29. They protect the nano’s entire body save its screen and bottom ports, even covering the Click Wheel and Hold switch with thin, easy to use rubber. They’re not flashy, but for the price, they’ll work. And they’re a hell of a lot better than iPod Socks.
nano Dock is a $29 official Apple Dock that’s smaller than the one for the iPod mini or full-sized iPod. We have been told by an Apple representative that the new Dock contains a “variable line-out,” which would use line attenuation to let you dampen the iPod’s naturally high line-out volume level when you’re using the iPod’s volume control. This feature appeared, with success, in Kensington’s Stereo Dock for full-sized iPods. Prior to publication of this review, a separate representative of Apple appeared to back away from the variable line-out claim, and we are awaiting further confirmation on the issue.
nano Armband is a $29 perforated neoprene nano holster that can be strapped on your arm. Five colors (pink, green, red, blue and gray) are available, and as with earlier Apple armbands, we were not totally blown away by the design – this time, for different reasons. As before, they protect too little of the iPod, but now, they look like big bandaids. Every time Apple releases one of these, it’s the Speck full employment act all over again.
nano Lanyard Headphones is a $39 combination necklace and lanyard. We never, ever thought we’d see Apple create one of these accessories, and we never, ever thought we’d want to actually wear one in public. We’ll have to play with them more once they’ve been released, but other than the classy mirrored nano-attachment base, which features a Dock Connector-grabber and a headphone port plug, our initial reactions were not too positive. The $39 price point isn’t much to our liking either.
Third-parties are getting in on the act, too. To date, two companies (Tunewear and ezGear) have announced iPod nano rubber cases, and Tunewear has also announced stickers for the nano as part of its PopTunes line. Kensington has separately announced SX 2000 Speakers, the first product known to be compatible with the iPod/Universal Dock Adapter.
If you’re in a rush to accessorize, we’d caution you to wait – iPod nano-specific accessories are not yet available, and won’t be for some time. But here are some of the ones you can use while you’re awaiting new designs.
Our top recommended in-car FM transmitters, such as Kensington’s Digital FM Transmitter and Auto Charger (iLounge rating: A-), and Newer Technology’s RoadTrip! 87.9FM (iLounge rating: B+), work perfectly with iPod nano. All of the top-rated car chargers we’ve reviewed over the past two years work as well.
All headphones we’ve reviewed except for Headbanger Audio’s iPod-specific Earsubs and Mophie’s iPod shuffle Song Sling work with iPod nano. While any speaker system with an aux/audio-in port or a male headphone plug is guaranteed to work, any Dock Connecting system will work as well, assuming you don’t mind the awkward off-center mounting of iPod nano inside.
Other compatible devices include the Belkin TuneCast II FM Transmitter, BlueTake i-Phono BT420EX Bluetooth Wireless Headphones, Logitech Wireless Headphones, C. Crane FM Transmitter, Macally BlueWave Bluetooth Stereo and Streaming Headset (with physical modification), Macally PodDuo, Macally PodWave, Monster iCarPlay Cassette Adapter, Monster iSplitter, Mythix iChant, Newer Technology RoadTrip! 87.9FM, Upbeat Audio Boosteroo Revolution, and XtremeMac iPod Headphone Splitter (if physically modified).
More than a handful of older iPod and iPod mini accessories are incompatible with the iPod nano. Here’s a partial list.
ABT iJet, Apple iPod Camera Connector, Belkin Digital Camera Link, Belkin Media Reader, Belkin TuneTalk, Belkin Universal Microphone Adapter, Belkin Voice Recorder, BTI The iPod TuneStir, dvForge JamPod, DLO iDirect, DLO VoiceNote, Engineered Audio RemoteRemote 2, Griffin AirClick/AirClick mini, Griffin iBeam, Griffin iFM, Griffin iTalk, Griffin iTrip (all versions), Macally BlueWave (unless modified), Nyko iTop Button Relocator, PodGear PocketParty (unless physically modified), Targus RemoteTunes, TEN Technology naviPod/naviPro EX, XtremeMac AirPlay, and XtremeMac iPod Headphone Splitter (unless physically modified).
With iPod mini and iPod shuffle, Apple showed the world that the right design at a low bottom line price can outsell a substantially more fully-featured design at a slightly higher price. Less conspicuously, it has demonstrated that there are ways to functionally differentiate multiple inherently similar products beyond their different price levels, giving each an advantage that may lead one person to own two or three of them at once.
As Apple has suggested, iPod nano is a major gamble – not just because each is lower in storage capacity and battery life than the iPod mini it replaces, but also because it loses the resilient, four- or five-colored aluminum shell designs that spurred so much talk in early 2004. Aside from size, the biggest positive physical differentiators between iPod and iPod mini have disappeared in nano, a factor that may turn some people away.
But size matters. So does beauty. And apart from one or two omissions, iPod nano manages to best its predecessor in overall looks and performance while losing half of its thickness and weight. We think that most people will be willing to buy iPod nanos, protect them, and carry them around everywhere – even places only the iPod shuffle was welcome before, because of its size. And despite that size, nano is even a near rival in functionality for its larger, more expensive iPod brother.
Mostly because of value, and partially because of accessory incompatibility, iPod nano’s a little off the full-sized iPod’s flat A rating for new users, but still highly recommended, and equally so for second iPod buyers looking for a workout companion. If you can afford it, it’s a significantly better option functionally than the iPod shuffle. Power users – people with needs for more capacity and better performance – will think nano to be a lot like what they thought of its predecessor, a good but not great performer that’s a clear second-place finisher to the full-sized iPod.
We love our nanos, and are betting that this will be a big success for Apple, quite potentially the basis for both higher and lower-capacity models. Hopefully, new colors will also be in the cards for 2006. Until then, we’ll be playing with our white and black ones, and just waiting to see the next tricks the company has up its sleeves.
Jeremy Horwitz was the Editor-in-Chief at iLounge. He has written over 5,000 articles and reviews for the website and is one of the most respected members of the Apple media. Horwitz has been following Apple since the release of the original iPod in 2001. He was one of the first reviewers to receive a pre-release unit of the device, and his review helped put iLounge on the map as a go-to source for Apple news.