In terms of the software interface, the iPod nano has mostly the same look and feel. A customisable main menu with Music, Photos, Extras, Settings, Shuffle Songs and Now Playing fields are standard. New menu additions include a stopwatch and screen lock. Though the iPod GUI is famous for being user-friendly, it has garnered complaints, including dependency on the Now Playing screen for volume and other player controls, no quick access to equaliser settings, or the minor hassle of just turning off the unit. Still, with a group of handy interface items such as audiobooks and podcasts, a colour screen and a superb Click Wheel, the iPod nano continues the iPod tradition of ease of use.
Along with standard earbuds, a new iPod nano ships with a dock connector-to-USB 2.0 cable, an iPod dock adaptor (not to be confused with an actual dock) and a software CD. Accessories for the iPod, including those designed for the nano, abound (see our Crave piece on them here). One thing we noticed immediately after taking our iPod nano out of the box was that the black version is outfitted with the famous white earbud headphones.
In terms of features, the Apple iPod nano is the miniature version of the current iPod, also known as the iPod Photo. It plays the same digital audio formats, including MP3, AAC, DRM AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV and Audible. It has the same organiser features with Contacts, Calendar and Notes; for Windows users, Outlook syncing comes with the new iTunes 5.0. There are four games, the handy On-The-Go playlist function and three new nano-only features: a world clock that allows you to introduce multiple times from around the world; an advanced stopwatch and lap timer; and a four-digit combination virtual screen lock -- which brilliantly looks like a safe (you use the Click Wheel to spin the dial) but doesn't seem terribly useful.
The 38mm screen cannot match the full-size iPod's 46mm one, but it displays album art and digital photos in thumbnail, full-screen or slide-show modes. However, we'll be quick to note that the Camera Connector accessory designed for transferring photos to the iPod from a digital camera does not yet work with the nano -- the iPod nano, as stated on Apple's Web site, is not truly "100 per cent iPod".
The iPod nano isn't decked out with all the features available on the market such as an FM radio, a voice recorder or line-in recording. These features can or will be added in some way or another with the multitude of third-party accessories available. It's hard to compare the nano to more traditional full-featured flash players such as Creative's MuVo Micro or Cowon's iAudio U2, both of which max out at 1GB and lack photo displays but incorporate line-in recording and an FM tuner into smaller -- though not thinner -- form factors. If you must have an FM tuner, don't get a nano; if you're into digital music, audiobooks and podcasts, the nano is a fantastic choice made even more so by its compatibility with iTunes and its Music Store.
Once you connect a nano to iTunes, it will show up immediately in the source list. Configure your relationship with iTunes in the Preferences panel under iPod. You can have iTunes automatically update songs and playlists or go manual -- ditto for podcasts, contacts and calendars. Photos can be synchronised from iPhoto in Mac or My Pictures in Windows. While these files are automatically formatted for the iPod, you can also store, though not view, full-size images directly within iTunes. In a nutshell, the iTunes side of the iPod experience truly makes the iPod better, though some of those who prefer to use another store don't have many options besides MP3 download sites and Real's Rhapsody Music Store. For more detailed information on the iPod's audio features, read our review of the 20GB iPod.
The Apple iPod nano is one of the faster players we've used in terms of navigation speed. Generally, MP3 players, especially hard drive-based players, pause for buffering every few songs -- it's the norm, even on iPods. Selecting or forwarding through songs or browsing the music library is mostly instantaneous. Photo thumbnails can take a second to load, but again, browsing through photos is quick and painless. Data transfers to the USB 2.0-enabled nano are swift, at about 5.3MB per second. In general, the sync relationship with iTunes on both the Mac and Windows side has been flawless. Our experience with Windows hasn't always been good, but so far, our nano-iTunes pairing is seamless.
As far as sound is concerned, the nano gets loud but not overly so when using the included decent-sounding earbuds. The overall sound quality is excellent, with imperceptible hiss, though we've heard slightly better in terms of brightness and bass from the likes of Cowon and Sony. Surprisingly, the iPod's multitude of equaliser settings can make a difference for the better, whereas we've characterised the EQs as being weak in the past. Reportedly, the nano uses the same sound chip as the Mini.
It would have been difficult to guess the battery life of the iPod nano before it was stated by Steve Jobs. It's a flash-based player, so it consumes less power than a hard drive-based model, and we initially figured it was good for 18 hours; it has a colour screen, so maybe lower that to 16. Apple rates the iPod nano for 14 hours, on the lower side for flash-based players, though the iPod Shuffle lasted only 12 hours in our tests. We regularly see flash models with rechargeable cells last into the late teens or early 20s, whereas alkaline-powered players can last more than 40 hours. We haven't been able to fully test the battery length ourselves yet.
Edited by Jasmine France
Additional editing by Nick Hide