Campus Life

Tech Review: iPod Nano

This iPod Has Got Features!

WHAT IT IS: The latest generation “iPod Nano” represents Apple Inc.’s contributions to the hot world of portable music and video players, currently a market dominated by Apple Inc.

WHAT IT DOES: Plays music and videos. Records movies. Plays radio.

WHAT IT COSTS: 16GB: $179; 8GB: $149

After years of saying no, no, no, Apple has finally said yes in a satisfying way.

The “fifth-generation” iPod Nano, like its predecessors, is tiny, light, and easy to use as a music or video player. It’s also packed dense with features that previous iPods have ignored. Apple, traditionally a “do one thing and do it right” kind of company, has added a dash of the “do more things and do them right, too” design philosophy they tried with the iPhone.

For years, iPods didn’t play radio. That just wasn’t what they did. Now they’ve added FM radio that uses your headphones as an antenna, offers a pretty good UI for browsing stations, and can temporarily record a station for up to 15 minutes, TiVo-style, with “Live Pause”. If you like a song, you might be able to flag it and buy it later using iTunes — a feature I didn’t try out.

Likewise: why bother strapping a pedometer to your hip for your daily mall walk? The Nano will now count your steps, using the built-in accelerometer introduced as an eccentricity in last year’s model.

Last year’s Nano used the accelerometer as a fun eccentricity — “shake that iPod!” to shuffle your music — and it’s nice to see the device put to more productive use. This year’s model has a similar novelty feature — teeny, tiny, kinda crappy external speakers. That’s right: the latest iPod is a tiny boom box. (Sadly, you can’t use it to blast the radio on the subway, because you need to have headphones plugged in to listen to radio.)

OK, those are important but pedestrian changes. What’s up with this video camera? It shoots 640x480 video at 30 frames per second out of a little lens on the Nano’s back. In steady lighting, with the camera held still, video looks good. Otherwise, your movies come out OK, but not great ­— good enough for Youtube. The built-in microphone records excellent omnidirectional audio, with conversations clearly audible.

Apple claims 24 hours of audio playback; I wasn’t able to play music for long enough to test this claim. They claim five hours of video playback; I found I could watch about three and a half hours’ worth of video on transcontinental plane trips before my battery ran out.

The last time I reviewed an iPod Nano, basically my only “minus” was that there was no radio. I have no complaints this time.

If you want a tiny, portable Apple music player that plays radio and takes movies, the $179 16GB iPod Nano is a fine choice. If you like the Apple look but don’t want the bells and whistles, check out Apple’s refurbished iPods instead — last generation’s 16GB Nano will run you $129.