Now in its third generation, Apple's iPod nano gets a substantial redesign to accommodate games and video playback. Despite its changes -- and Apple made many -- the iPod nano is still one of the smallest, thinnest and most exquisitely designed MP3 players on the market.
It's also one of the most affordable, with a 4GB (silver) model offered for £99, and an 8GB (silver, black, red, green or blue) model for £129. While the updated iPod classic and the new iPod touch are equally intriguing, the revamped nano delivers the most bang for the buck.
The redesign of the iPod nano has drawn plenty of criticism. Its detractors call it chubby, squat and awkward-looking. We certainly had our reservations, but in the hand, the latest nano makes the second-generation nano look like a skyscraper.
The nano measures a petite 51 by 70 by 6mm -- a significant shift from its once long and skinny shape, though it is essentially the same thickness. Matte, anodised aluminium graces the faceplate, as with the previous generation of nanos and now the iPod classic as well.
The back and sides of the nano, however, mimic the video iPod's (now the iPod classic) rounded, glossy, smudge-prone chrome enclosure. On the bottom edge of the nano, you'll find the iPod's proprietary USB port, along with the headphone jack and the hold switch, which prevents you from accidentally triggering the player's buttons.
The nano keeps Apple's ubiquitous Click Wheel design, although its new Click Wheel is smaller in diameter -- it's only 25mm -- than the previous nano's 32mm. The much skinnier touch strip may frustrate users accustomed to the 38mm wheel of the video iPod and the iPod classic.
The nano's most dramatic design change is, of course, its larger, brighter screen. The 51mm (2-inch) colour screen packs a dense, crisp 320x240-pixel video resolution that looks richer and brighter than that of any iPod to date.
It's not often that we deem a screen smaller than 64mm worthy of video playback, but with a tightly packed 204 pixels per inch, the nano looks incredibly sharp. Unlike the iPhone or the iPod touch, however, the nano's screen is covered with a scratch-prone plastic that will quickly show wear.
The nano's second most impressive design improvement is its dramatically overhauled menu system. One of the most striking changes is a split-screen main menu that displays the menu on the right half of the screen and a picture related to the selection on the left.
For example, highlight the Music selection on the main menu, and the right half of the screen displays a random, drifting closeup of cover artwork from your music library. This same effect accompanies menu items such as movies, podcasts and photos. Some might write this split-screen effect off as pure novelty but the end result is quite beautiful.
The Cover Flow system, for browsing your music collection with an emphasis on album artwork, finally makes its nano debut, although Cover Flow does lose some appeal when not on a touchscreen device such as the iPhone.
We also found a noticeable amount of lag when using Cover Flow. Users with large music collections to sort through will prefer browsing with the list mode or the search function. That said, Cover Flow makes for a scenic and engaging, if slow, way to browse your music.