First Look: Apple iPod nano

Of all the devices that Apple refreshed at its September music event, it is the iPod nano that has had the most extreme makeover. Gone are the controls and the elongated screen, and in comes a square touchscreen design in its place. We got our hands on the new iPod nano at the launch event, and this is what we thought.

The iPod nano exhibits all the hallmarks of Apple's attention to detail. It is not only lovingly crafted from aluminium, but it looks and feels like a premium device. We're used to this sort of design and build quality from Apple, so this doesn't come as a surprise.

But we also loved the last iteration of the nano. The slender curving front and back nestled between the fingers, with a bright vibrant screen and those controls which made it easy to skip around the menus and find what you were looking for.

Gone now are those controls and that screen, to be replaced by a 1.54-inch, 240 x 240 pixel resolution display. Given the size of the display, the resolution makes things look nice and crisp, which is important, because this is going to be the interface that gives you all the text as well as all the images.

In terms of controls you now have volume controls on the top and single sleep button. Navigation of the touchscreen is simply a case of swiping your finger, with a back swipe letting you return to the last place you were. Although navigation is easy enough when standing playing with the device at a product expo, it changes the nature of the nano to a degree.

You won't just be able to tap the button to skip to a new track, or pause the music, although if you have a set of headphones that incorporate an Apple remote then this isn't such an issue. Apple has always put the nano forward as an ideal partner for sports and one of the great things was pressing the controls through a cover on an armband so it was weatherproof.

Something tells us that the new nano won't be quite as adept a sports partner as the old model. What you can do, though, is clip it on to your clothes. This is fine, but we suspect that for many they won't want to be seen wearing what looks like a badge showing their album art. At the same time, this being Apple, we wouldn't be surprised if this became something of cult fashion.

You can rotate the screen however, so it doesn't matter which way up it is clipped, and this is a practical consideration. The question is how much time you spend looking at something once it is clipped in place and whether control is as easy on the move once clipped in place.

Swiping through the various pages you basically have the same offering as previous nanos, but an obvious omission is the video camera that made an appearance last year. This wasn't mentioned at all by Apple, so we can only assume that as an experiment it didn't really work. Either that, or Apple wants you to move to the iPod touch for your video needs.

Sticking to music you are well catered for though, with playlists and Genius slotting into place and further navigation by song, artist, genre, etc, on offer. There is a radio too, which will be welcomed by commuters and those who like a little variety outside of their own music collection. You can also pause live radio for up to 15 minutes although we didn't get to test this out.

Getting back to the sports focus there is support for Nike+ and we also found a pedometer hiding in the menu, so you can set yourself a step goal across the day. You get to browse photos with slideshow functions, although obviously it is always going to be really small.

Overall dimensions of the new nano measure 40.9 x 37.5 x 8.78mm and it weighs just 21g. It will come in 8 or 16GB capacities and in a choice of colours.

Verdict

Now the dust has settled from the announcement of what seemed like an extraordinary device, we can't help feeling there is something of a gap in Apple's MP3 player range. The shuffle is certainly more practical with the buttons added back on, but now we have a button-less nano and the nano had been sort of, well, ordinary.

From the way we've used the iPod nano as an MP3 player for running, we don't think it is going to be as practical to skip tracks with a fleeting press whilst on the go. But that's only one aspect of the nano's target audience and we're sure there will be plenty who like the new touch controls. We'll be giving the new iPod nano a thorough going over.