Full reviewJust about a year after Steve Jobs first wowed the tech press (and much of the general public) with the ultra-thin sleekness of the first iPod nano, Apple has unleashed nano number two into the world. Aside from a drastically different, iPod Mini-like casing and much-improved battery life, the new nano isn't much altered from its predecessor. Apple has done away with the 1GB version in favour of a £169 8GB model, and adjusted the pricing on the 2GB and 4GB capacities down to £99 and £129, respectively. With prices like these, SanDisk -- maker of the video-playing, 8GB Sansa e280 ($250 (£132) in US, UK price not yet available) -- had better watch its back.
The second-generation 2G nano shuns simple white and steps out in a metallic colour parade, with shiny silver available in the 2GB and 4GB flavours; bright pink, green and blue offered in 4GB; and sombre black taking the 8GB version. The body casing itself is rather like a minified Mini shell -- it's seamless anodised aluminium, which means the 2G nano is not only less scratch-prone than its predecessor, but also more durable in general.
As with the old nano, the 2G features the much praised iPod Click Wheel, which serves as the player's only controls (other than the hold switch on the top). Above the Click Wheel is the rather small (35mm) colour display, which is 40 per cent brighter than that of its predecessor, and the bottom edge of the player houses the headphone jack and proprietary dock connector. A larger screen would have been a welcome improvement, but the benefit is the uniformity of screen size and overall dimensions (the 2G is just a hair thinner and taller than the previous nano -- 90mm by 40mm by 6.5mm) -- all the made-for-nano accessories should work well with the new model.
As with other iPods, the 2G nano is easy to navigate, though the Click Wheel may take a little getting used to for first-time users, especially those used to other MP3 player controls. The Main Menu includes selections for Music, Photos, Extras, Settings and Shuffle Songs -- this last option is particularly handy. Music is conveniently sorted by Playlists, Artists, Albums and so on. If you can't remember who a particular song or album falls under, you can use the new Search function (found in the Music submenu).
The 2G nano is light on extras, though its small, excellently designed packaging includes all that you might need for basic use: a dock adaptor, a USB cable for syncing/charging, a pair of white earbuds and a quick-start guide. You'll have to download iTunes from the Web, since Apple doesn't include a disc in the box -- a forgivable omission, considering that it cuts down on use of materials for packaging.
If you want to listen to FM radio on the nano, you'll need to pick up Apple's £35 Radio Remote (or similar accessory). Similarly, recording features require a separate accessory, such as Belkin's TuneTalk. It'd be a nice surprise if Apple would include such features in an iPod, but at least it's nice that you have the option to add them. Features the nano does have built in are photo viewing (with a neat 3x3 thumbnail preview grid) and album art support. Video playback is conspicuously absent, as many nano competitors offer it (the Creative Zen V Plus, iRiver Clix and SanDisk Sansa e200 series, to name a few). But we're not sure we'd want to watch video on the tiny screen anyway. The 2G nano is finally capable of gapless playback, but that must be designated in iTunes 7.
The latest version of iTunes is a nice improvement over version 6. As far as the 2G nano is concerned, iTunes continues to make iPod's usability excellent. As long as the software is installed, all you need to do is connect the nano to your computer, and you're ready to roll. You can then choose whether you want automatic or manual syncing, the latter of which is necessary if you intend to sync with more than one library. Naturally, the nano is compatible with protected AAC files purchased from the iTunes Music Store -- it also plays MP3, AAC lossless, AIFF, WAV, and Audible files.
We're pleased to note that Apple had a stab at the original nano's rather paltry 12-hour battery life, doubling that rating to a respectable 24 hours (check back for lab test results). As far as sound quality is concerned, we couldn't notice a difference between the old nano and the 2G -- it still sounds excellent across nearly all genres of music. Bass response could be tighter, and we didn't think the included earbuds sounded that great, but they're certainly passable (the design seems more ergonomically sound than earlier ones). We had some mixed results with gapless playback -- albums transferred from a Windows machine still had hiccups, while those from a Mac were seamless -- but this is likely to be an iTunes issue, rather than a nano one. Navigation was super-speedy, thanks to a fast processor, and photos loaded quickly.
The 2G nano doesn't really bring anything new to the table in the fast-advancing world of MP3 players, but the improvements over the original are certainly welcome. This player is sure to be a top choice among a wide range of users, and it's a stellar option for first-timers. Just make sure you're aware that the same £169 you would pay for an 8GB nano will get you a larger but video-capable 30GB iPod.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin