Just when you thought Apple's standard iPod was saturating the public consciousness, Steve Jobs and company pull another beauty from the company's satchel of wonder. The Apple iPod nano sets new standards for gadget design and stretches the boundaries of technology. It's the world's first 4GB flash player, yet it's also one of the thinnest.
It boasts a bright colour screen that takes advantage of the bigger iPod's photo capabilities. Throw in some ancillary improvements, and you have not only the latest MP3 player phenomenon but also a glance into the future. The flash-based nano (the name is curiously similar to that of Creative's Zen Nano Plus) comes in classic white or black and two capacities: 2GB and 4GB at £139 and £179, respectively. It also replaces the current popular iPod Mini line.
By virtue of a lovely design backed by forward-thinking tech (the first 4GB flash player; a photo-friendly colour screen), Apple will keep its ball rolling swiftly up to Christmas. The nano's capacity will turn off many experienced MP3 fans, but we have a feeling that newbies will flock to the next big thing and help maintain Apple's 85 per cent UK market share for all digital audio players.
The Apple iPod nano is a design wonder at 40 by 90 by 7mm and 42g. The last two numbers are key -- the thing is incredibly thin and light. It looks much smaller in person than in photos, and it truly fits anywhere, comfortably and sometimes invisibly. We've been told that the iPod nano is 62 per cent smaller than the product it's replacing, the iPod Mini. The nano, in terms of MP3 design standards, changes everything. Now, the Creative Zen Micro looks fat, the iRiver H10 looks monstrous and the Mini looks outdated. Of course, the others are microdrive-based players -- the nano is a flash-based player, the first to hit 4GB. A few companies released 2GB models earlier this year but priced them at much more than £140. The 4GB player holds about 1,000 songs or 25,000 photos, while the 2GB version holds about 500 tunes.
We have to admit that the nano is rather pricey, so we recommend spending the extra £40 to double your capacity. Consumers, after all, have witnessed a rise in price per gigabyte as compared to the 6GB iPod Mini and the Zen Micro. But again, flash is the key word -- it doesn't skip a beat and is much less susceptible to damage, and without it, the iPod nano could never be so thin. A skinnier device would be impractical in terms of both usability and fragility. Not only does the iPod nano's existence as the most luxurious flash-based MP3 player in the world lower flash-based MP3 player prices, but also it signals the slow demise of the relatively new microdrive market. We'll see 6GB and 10GB flash-based models someday, though maybe not soon enough for those who simply cannot consider a player with less than 10GB to store their existing or growing music collections.
The iPod nano's overall design mimics its stouter brother, with the same reflective stainless steel backside, as well as a smaller 38mm (1.5-inch) colour screen and 32mm Click Wheel, compared to the iPod's 51mm and 44mm respectively. A solitary hold switch is located on top, while a standard dock connector port and a headphone jack are located underneath. The dock connector opens up an enormous world of accessories, though some may not be ideal. For instance, the iPod nano works with Altec Lansing's iM7 boombox, albeit awkwardly.
The headphone jack has an unusual but necessary placement near the lower-right corner, as one wouldn't physically fit on the top. Though it may seem to get in the way, the headphone cable can have a stabilising effect when you hold the device. It's more natural to slide the iPod nano into a jeans pocket as well, and of course, the placement makes sense when considering the optional lanyard that transforms the iPod nano into a wearable device. However, because the jack lacks a four-pin smart connector, the iPod nano can't be used with certain accessories, including wired remote controls.
Unlike the iPod mini, the iPod nano has a thin layer of glossy acrylic on its face, much like the original iPod and the company's line of iBooks. It's therefore very susceptible to scratches and, for the black version, fingerprints. Scratches have a charming effect for some devices, but they take away from the nano's lustre. The iPod nano has no moving internal parts, so it's an ideal fitness companion, especially with an Armband (£19 from Apple). It's definitely not as rugged as the LCD-less iPod Shuffle, but thanks to the sturdy steel backside, it can hold its own in terms of durability. However, the device could be bent in half under certain, unlikely circumstances.
It's certainly easier to operate a full-size iPod, but we have no major complaints about the iPod nano's interface. Holding it is no problem, though some people will be bothered by the reduced range of motion in operating the smaller Click Wheel. The 16-bit, 172x132-pixel colour display is little, but it's bright and colourful and can be used without the backlight in good illumination. It's not an ideal photo viewer, but being able to listen to music while browsing photos is a treat. Because the display is framed by such an attractively thin device, it seems to look better -- whether it's the bevel effect or the appreciation of the overall iPod nano design, we're not sure, but it's one of the most beautiful devices we've ever seen.