Apple IPod Nano
At a Glance
Apple iPod nano 4GB MP3 Player - Black
This elegant model has high audio quality and native photo support. But it's pricey and limits you to the iTunes Music Store.
The first thing you notice about the flash-based iPod Nano, of course, is its tiny size. The slim 4GB Nano costs $249 (as of 4/13/06), and a 2GB model sells for $199. And its bright, crisp color display makes navigating your tunes a snap. But what's really impressive is its sound quality.
In PC World's new audio-quality tests, the Nano outscored every other flash-based audio player other than the Creative Zen Nano Plus; both players earned a mark of Superior. The Nano reproduced a broad range of frequencies more accurately than any other flash player and turned in the lowest (best) signal-to-noise ratio, so you're less likely to notice hum or hiss during quiet songs or in between tracks. In our test measuring how loud each player could get before adding 1 percent distortion--a commonly accepted threshold--the Nano produced clear sound at a louder volume than any other player.
The Nano weighs 1.5 ounces and is about 0.25-inch thick--so small that you scarcely feel it when you have the player in your shirt pocket. Surprisingly, its size was no impediment to functionality: I navigated the Nano's menus, displayed on its nearly postage-stamp-size display, without difficulty. The unit's screen resolution is sufficiently high that it can fit as many as 27 characters across, in extremely readable type.
But as good as the display is, you shouldn't get too excited about the Nano's ability to display photos: The shots I viewed looked dark, and even high-quality photos don't look so great when they are shrunk down to 1.5 inches across.
Whereas most flash-based players top out at 1GB, the Nano falls into the midcapacity range once exclusively the domain of players that carried internal hard drives. Because it uses flash memory, the Nano should be more rugged than its hard-drive counterparts (like the iPod), and thus more attractive to joggers, bicyclists, and others unwilling to risk ruining a hard-drive player during their exertions.
Apple has refashioned its signature scroll wheel into Nano-size proportions. This initially concerned me, since I have big, clumsy thumbs, but I had no trouble navigating the Nano. In my tests, the sound was very good, too, even through the included earbuds.
Like other iPods, the Nano uses a rechargeable battery that you can't replace. It ships without an AC adapter, so you have to charge it through the included cable and your USB port. That process takes about 3 hours; a single charge should last you 14 hours, according to Apple.
Most of my complaints about the Nano could apply to any iPod. Because it doesn't have a standard USB port, you're out of luck if you lose the proprietary cable or just don't happen to have it with you when you want to transfer some tunes. It doesn't play music from subscription services like Rhapsody or Napster. And you have to go through iTunes to move music on and off the Nano--your computer won't access the music library as just another drive. One Nano-specific grumble: The headphone jack is at the bottom of the player. This arrangement prevents users from standing the player on a table while listening to it.
But if you're an iTunes devotee already--or if you want a featherweight, fashionable MP3 player--you'll find plenty to love about the iPod Nano.
Edward N. Albro