The nano returns to similar dimensions as the first and second generation models, with the third-gen fatty looking and feeling more like a mistake. In fact, sitting alongside the original nano, you aren’t struck by how different the fourth-gen is, but how similar. Dimensions are very close, with the new model measuring 90.7 x 38.7 x 6.2mm, however the new model is considerably slimmer. The nano takes on a new curved design, tapering towards the sides: we can’t help thinking it looks like an after dinner mint, albeit lovingly formed from one piece of metal.
However, slimming down doesn’t mean that features have been thinned out too. Oh no, you’ll find the full complement of iPod goodness lurking within. Let’s start with the 320 x 240 screen, which is incredibly crisp and bright and at 204ppi puts other MP3 players into the shade. Apple have done the right thing with screens in their iPods by making them a pleasure to look at. Yes, it is still tiny and watching video clips is still an eye-aching experience, but at least it can be done.
The screen is central to a lot of things the nano is all about and where progress has been made. You’ll want to make sure that your album art is up-to-date in iTunes to take advantage of support on your iPod: having a grey question mark on the screen sort of spoils the effect. Album art forms the backdrop to your playing track as well as scrolling across the bottom of the menus and being deployed in that Apple favourite – Cover Flow.
Tilt the nano to the left, or right, and you’ll switch from the standard familiar menu or playback screen into a Cover Flow landscape. It is a slick, fast transition thanks to the accelerometer on-board, and a great way to add a new dimension your iPod. Owners of older iPods may have experienced the boredom of wheeling through a long list of albums which the Cover Flow option now addresses: chances are you’ll recognise the album art before the title of the album anyway.
That accelerometer is deployed in other ways too. Shake to Shuffle has received a lot of attention and whilst it might sound like a gimmick, it is fairly useful. The difference is that you can be listening to an album and decide you want something else – a quick shake enables shuffle mode, saving the need to select anything in menus. The action has also been set at the right vigour, so you won’t be shuffling tracks whilst running for the bus or out for a jog: equally, it doesn’t work whilst the Hold slider is engaged.
If you don’t want to shake, then scrolling through the currently playing screen by pressing the central enter button will give you the option to switch shuffle modes, from off, to songs, to albums. You’ll also find Apple’s new Genius lurking here and in the main menu. If you haven’t heard, Genius is an intelligent playlist creator that will pull together a list of tracks from a song of your selecting (so long as iTunes recognises it). This is great, because if you are listening to a rock album and fancy rocking out for a while longer, it will pull together appropriate songs, like a personal DJ in your pocket. The latest version of iTunes also has this feature and it is well worth exploring.
Otherwise, control of the nano remains as before. The menus are basic and relatively intuitive, simple black text on white background with a blue highlight. The transition between menus is also nice and slick. One issue with iPods of the past is that navigating the menus was a bit of a chore in our minds, scrolling and clicking to get where you wanted. The additional control options of Cover Flow and Shake to Shuffle make the menus less necessary and we spent much less time navigating them than in previous versions.
The button options are the same with the now iconic click wheel and a top slider to engage Hold. The bottom of the nano still has the connections, the 3.5mm headphone jack and the dock connector, which is the same as before, so all your existing peripherals will still work. In the box you also get an insert for docks to accept the new curved body of the nano as well as the USB cable you’ll need for connecting to your computer.
The sound quality is excellent as we’ve come to expect from iPods (supporting the same sound and video formats as previously), but you’ll still find the miserable headphones in the box, so well worth investing in something of better quality right from the off. Battery life is given as 24 hours for music playback, but a lacking 4 hours from video, thanks to that larger screen. We found these to be typical with a new iPod nano, but expect them to tail off with age.
The iPod has always been about design. The simple understated lines of the nano give it an elegance lacking from many competitors. Apple have focused on making the iPod desirable and it has worked, after all, it has achieved iconic status in the face of many copycats at much lower prices. The iPod nano has for many years been the pocketable ‘Pod to beat and whilst Apple keep innovating that puts the pressure on rivals.
However, this player comes in at over £100 for an 8GB model, whilst you can pick up a Sansa Fuze for substantially less as well as some Creative Zen models. You might even go as far as to question why the nano lacks other features, such as a radio, wider format support or even an external microSD card slot, all of which can be had for less money. Your needs will guide your decision and if these features are what you crave, you’ll find them elsewhere.
With the fourth-gen nano Apple has made certain it is still 100% iPod – it is unmistakable in its design and appearance and once again, we can’t help feeling that it will be a must-have gadget under the Christmas tree.
Thank you to John Lewis for the loan of this product.