iPod nano Review

nanoreview.jpgYeah, you're not reading this so you can hear me give the iPod another pat on the back. You know that the new model has Cover Flow, video capabilities and a bigger screen, making it the most functional nano ever made. I want to talk about the design. And man, were we wrong when we called it a Fatty and made fun of its looks. It fits in the palm perfectly, although it seems to me that this layout comes at a cost. You'll be shocked at how small full 16:9 video is on this thing.

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Its 3:4 width by length ratio make it easily the most pocketable nano ever. It's not so tall that it is easily snapped in half (like the plastic generation-one nano). This means you can actually sit down with this thing in your pocket and not have it stab you in the crotch. Design wise, it's the only iPod with an ever so slightly contoured face on top of a rounded back, and an all metal case. Contrasting the curvature, you've got this edged bezel sharp enough to scrap gunk off of fingernails, for example. It's a fine contrast, making it pleasant to hold.

Without the generation two's plastic end caps, all the ports are on the bottom. I like this, as the headphone jack becomes the only appendage the iPod has for gripping, like a white, single-wire mobile phone strap. I almost never carry review units around with me. I'm using this one exclusively while on the road to buffer my iPhone's battery while I watch videos. I don't give a shit if it falls, because its tough. And cheap, so I don't care if it gets messed up, or someone pulls it out of my hand, punches me in the face and runs away with it. Not that much, anyhow.

But I'm wondering how effective this design is beyond the ease-of-toting factor. I'm talking about its capability as a video player. The screen is 4:3, but placed inside of the 3:4 case in opposite orientation to make room for the scroll wheel. The wheel is flanked on both sides by open space, but this is just how a circle fits inside of a rectangle, so you end up with a wheel that is about the same size as the last generation. (I got used to it, and unlike a touchscreen, I can switch tracks while it's in my pocket.) This layout has a lot of wasted space, and that's without getting into the way 16:9 video appears on the nano. nano169.jpg The problem is that when you place wide video on the nano, you get a letterboxed video the size of a 16:9 postage stamp. Think about it: The palm-cozy nano is 3:4. It has a 4:3 screen inside. Then, when squeezing a 16:9 video inside, you can either run it full screen, lopping off the sides of the video, or get black bars which take up even more space. Here's a photo.

When it comes to widescreen video, basically, the future of the format, the iPhone and the Zune make much more efficient use of the real estate given. I don't know, it seems crazy to criticise Apple's design when I can't even get Gizmodo's logo or RSS squared away, but it's something I noticed while watching movies, so I had to bring it up. In context, video is still better on this nano than the last (where it was non-existent).

Despite the overall layout, the 2-inch screen has a 320 by 240 pixel count, with 60% more brightness than the last generation's iPod. At this pixel density, images pop a lot more than on an iPhone, especially considering the nano has a bit more output, contrast and colour than the iPhone. The LCD is recessed from the metal face by fractions of a fraction of an inch, to protect it from scraping on surfaces. (Although a grain of sand could probably traverse that gap.) There's even a metal plate behind the screen to reinforce it, according to ifixit. I noticed the nano's screen to be a bit more colour-saturated than the iPhone's. It looks nice.

At first, I was undecided about the case colours, but after comparing them to last generation's Caribbean palate, I prefer the old ones. Maybe Apple decided to make these a little less energetic, more adult-like, and more benign. A mass market move if I've ever seen one. But to me, these new colours look like they belong on carpets inside of a log cabin. They make me want to go fishing. Eat flapjacks. Haul burlap sacks full of potatoes, in a plaid shirt made of really itchy wool, in the forest, as I cultivate a beard. I like the slate grey and red, but the rest, I will pass on. To each his own, of course.

The new menu system, along with Cover Flow, is fresh to the nano, too. Basically, menus, structured much like the traditional iPod menus, go on the left. On the right, on the other half of the split screen, album art floats by. It half works. nanomenu.jpg It's a lot more dynamic than the traditional menu system, but the album art never has enough real estate to come into full focus. Waiting for the album art to scroll across the face of this 1:2 ratio window pane takes too much time to be useful. But I do appreciate the added splash of personality and colour on every page. Oh, right, Cover Flow: It's still a darling. ipodcover.jpg People have complained about the UI lagging a bit, but this is not a problem in my eyes. It was more than quick enough.

Audio quality? No idea, but if you want to talk about bottlenecks, the iPod nano uses the cheap earbuds you love to go out and replace.

Battery life: I don't have scientific tests lined up, but between the bright screen and video playback, I find it to be less than generous. Don't quote me, I'll do a few more days of testing.

Gripes and design curiosities aside, this is the nano, and the best one yet. It'll make a great sidekick to an iPhone, a great present for those people who you don't love enough to buy an iPod touch for or an iPod you can watch video on but mistreat like you'd roughhouse an inexpensive shuffle. I'm using mine to protect the iPhone from battery drain and muggers.

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