capsule review

Apple iPod Nano

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At a Glance
  • Apple iPod nano, third-generation (3G) 8GB

The first thing you'll notice about the third-generation Apple iPod Nano ($199 for the 8GB version as of 9/7/2007) is its 2-inch display. How can you not? The display occupies more than half of the device--fitting considering that one of the big selling points of the Nano is it can now play video in addition to music. The second thing you'll notice is its new shape: The Nano's long, thin stick design has been replaced by a wider, stouter design that accommodates both the generous screen and Apple's signature scroll wheel. And it delivers all this in the same impressively thin profile--about a quarter-of-an-inch thick--as the previous Nano.

The new Nano impressed me more in person than it did on paper. (Check out its new interface on video.)The brushed aluminum design--available in silver (4GB and 8GB), black, (Product) Red, metallic pastel blue, and metallic pastel green--actually works quite well in practice. Whereas before I always found the Nano unnaturally long for my taste, now I find the Nano fits well in the contour of my small hand. This makes operating the player with one hand convenient and comfortable. The player remains super-lightweight at 1.7 ounces, though it's slightly heavier than the second-generation model.

The Nano's 2-inch screen represents a half-inch gain--and that half-inch makes all the difference. Now, watching video for an extended period of time is tolerable, even though the screen still strikes me as more preferable for quick-hit videos than for full-length movies. The LED-backlit display is bright and beautiful: Photos and videos looked crisp and brilliant in my hands-on experience--no surprise given the screen's 320-by-240 resolution, at 204 pixels per inch. As with its bigger cousin, the iPod Classic, the Nano can handle still images reformatted by iTunes (you can still choose to store full-size images on the device) and 30-fps H.264-encoded video clips (see Apple's Tech Specs for more details).

Apple says the screen is 65 percent brighter than on the last Nano, and that brightness pays off, for the most part. I found it easy to watch video and view the device in a bright environment. It's so bright, though, that you might want to dial the screen down a bit if you're using it in a dark room or an airplane with the lights off.

Revamped Interface

The larger screen not only facilitates viewing video and still images, but it also accommodates the Apple's refreshed iPod interface. This new interface, found on both the Nano and the Classic (the latter is now the moniker for the full-size, video-capable iPod), is less of wholesale change than it is a facelift. The interface update consists of two primary components: The introduction of Cover Flow for visually navigating through your album collection; and the repurposing of the white space on the right-hand side of the screen to introduce visual content previews.

Let's explore that last change first. As you move through the Nano's main menu, the options look pretty fairly familiar: Music, Videos, Photos, Podcasts, Extras, Settings, Shuffle songs. But instead of a plain white screen at right, the right half of the screen gives you a preview of your menu selection--an appealing substitution for what was once just unnecessary, bright white space. Of course, this makes album art all the more important--at least once, I had to shudder as a distasteful album cover floated by--who knew? I choose music based on my eclectic musical tastes, not on the album cover art. Nonetheless, I applaud Apple for the extra visual sense that the floating previews add to what otherwise remain straightforward, intuitive text-heavy menus.

Well, straightforward with one notable exception: Cover Flow. First introduced as a means of navigating your album collection in iTunes, Cover Flow's introduction has long been anticipated in the iPod--especially after seeing it introduced in Apple's iPhone earlier this year. And it doesn't disappoint: Cover Flow, the top navigation option under the Music menu, offers a completely different visual navigation experience.

Cover Flow Navigation

Cover Flow is best when you're trolling for albums: Slide your finger around the scroll wheel, and you'll visually flip through albums, organized alphabetically by artist. If you're looking for an individual song, it will be filed under its top-level album name--which could make it hard to find.

One gripe: In the Cover Flow view, once you select a song within an album, you can't go back to the list of songs in that album. If you use the menu button to back up from the song that's currently playing, it takes you to the top-level cover art view in Cover Flow, not to the intermediary album track list view that you initially selected your track from. Also, you'd better hope that iTunes found cover art for the vast majority of your music, otherwise you'll be left with unsightly filler images in Cover Flow.

The regular menus have had some slight browsing enhancements as well. For example, if you're browsing by title, the track title is bolded, with the artist name beneath it (five tracks fit on the screen at once). In Album view, it's the album that's bolded, with the artist name beneath; plus, you get a tiny thumbnail of the album at left to enhance browsability (four albums fit on screen at once). If your Nano is packed with music, you can scroll fast using the scroll wheel, and a letter cue will pop up on screen as you scroll, to help you know when to stop.

iPod Accessories

The Nano's included Apple earbud headphones are better than what its competitors typically bundle; and audio sounded pleasing using the earbuds. In PC World Test Center evaluations, its sound quality was impressive. Our test equipment measured a very high signal-to-noise ratio, meaning that the player introduces little hum or hiss into the audio. The Nano's overall performance score ranked third among currently tested flash-based music players.

Not surprisingly, given Apple's consistent approach to all of its music players, the Nano continues to lack features that are common on competing flash media players, including a built-in microphone for voice recordings and an FM tuner. To make recordings, you'll need an optional accessory that provides a line-in jack. The optional $49 iPod Radio Remote adds FM capability.

Like its predecessor, the Nano's headphone jack is on the bottom of the unit, next to the standard iPod dock connector. This means the device is best placed in your pocket upside-down, to avoid putting strain on the headphone connector.

The Nano includes a USB cable to charge the player via your computer. Apple rates the Nano's battery life at 24 hours for audio (up from 14 for the previous generation), and 5 hours for video.

What the Nano lacks in a few features and flexibility, though, it makes up for with its stylish flair. With the Nano, Apple delivers a highly capable, eye-catching media player, including great audio quality and a bright, high-resolution display for watching video.

Melissa J. Perenson

This story, "Apple iPod Nano" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • Completely redesigned, the third-generation Nano adds video playback and redefines the portable media player.

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