Review: iPod nano

Last updated 05:00 18/09/2009
ipod nano
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A row of the new Apple iPod nanos.
zune HD ipod nano review
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The Apple iPod Nano, top, and the Microsoft Zune HD

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Back in 2004, when I got my first MP3 player, I never cared that it lacked a camera, web browser and crystal-clear video playback - features that are now common on digital media devices.

Apple's latest iPod Nano offers these kinds of perks and plenty more.

Apple has sold more than 100 million iPod Nanos since launching the first one in 2005, and the latest version should cement its title as king of the prom.

At first glance, the new Nano seems very much like the previous version. It has retained its skinny legginess and curved sides, along with its crisp screen and slightly annoying shake-to-shuffle music feature. Astute gadget hounds may notice it has a slightly enlarged screen - it's now 2.2 inches on the diagonal, up from 2 inches.

There are some major additions, though, that make this tiny tune toter really worth its price tag (NZ$259 for 8 gigabytes of storage space; NZ$318 for 16 gigabytes).

The first is located near the bottom of the Nano's back: A little video camera lens with a pinhole-sized microphone. The location is prone to fingers-over-lens issues, but because the Nano has a built-in accelerometer you can solve this problem by turning the device upside down and it will still know to film right side up.

Apple says it simply wasn't possible to place the camera anywhere else without making the Nano pudgier, so I'm willing to forgive this inconvenience.

The quality of Nano videos probably won't get you into Cannes, but the camera is so easy to use that I found myself looking for cool things to record while wandering around listening to music. I also loved its special effects filters, which let you film in old-fashioned film mode or "kaleidoscope" mode.

To my chagrin, there is no option to take still photos, and no zoom - two features you'll find on many run-of-the-mill cell phones. Maybe next time, Apple?

The built-in microphone did impress me. It had some difficulties capturing sound from multiple sources at the same time, but noises generally sounded clear in videos. The microphone will also record voice notes - something I've been awaiting for several years.

Another neat feature: Now the Nano has a built-in speaker. You won't notice it at first, since there's no speaker grill. But if you happen to play back a just-recorded video or a song without plugging in headphones, you'll notice that, indeed, the Nano is emitting sound. The speaker does not get that loud, and it doesn't sound incredible, but it's nice to have the option to listen out loud.

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Sadly, the speaker doesn't work with the Nano's FM radio - another new feature - since the radio counts on your headphones to act as an antenna. The inclusion of a digital radio is long overdue, and it comes with a neat "live pause" feature that will store up to 15 minutes of the broadcast. This came in handy when I was listening to NPR and wanted to stop and make a phone call. I could just come back and catch up on the news a few minutes later.

Simply put, the new Nano gets nearly everything right. It even includes a built-in pedometer for logging exercise goals. There are plenty of tweaks Apple could - and probably will - make in the future, but it's still the best and smallest multimedia player you can buy for under $300.

 

- AP

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