Since the iPod Nano's inception, the only thing it ever really lacked was video — something that didn't mesh with the iTunes Store's commitment to TV shows and film downloads.
Sporting a bright, two-inch widescreen that shows video in the highest pixel-per-inch density of any iPod, the Nano is an entirely new beast.
The flash player, available in 4GB and 8GB capacities, is wider than previous models, which might seem to go against the whole concept of the product.
Held next to a second generation Nano, however, the widened dimensions don't seem to matter. In fact, a beautiful screen and just-as-thin body make the device seem like a large evolutionary step.
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The new user interface also combines the nicer touches of the iPhone's user interface (such as Cover Flow) with new elements (a split screen which shows album covers for highlighted songs and a new Now Playing screen).
Throw in a few games with quality graphics, and you've got yourself a real winner.
In its price range, nothing beats the Nano.
The dimensions of the new video iPod Nano vary drastically from its predecessors. The unit measures 2.8 by 2.1 by 0.3 inches, with rounded edges and a brushed metallic matte finish that is quite sleek.
While I'm not put off by the wider shape, it might strike some people as a step in the wrong direction, particularly because you can no longer purchase the long and narrow, video-less version.
If you liked the look of the old Nano, too bad, my friend — it's gone.
The player appears fat in photos, but the tiny device needs to be held to be fully appreciated.
The 4GB version comes only in silver; the 8GB is offered in black, silver, teal, red, and lime.
My test unit was an 8GB black nano, the only one to sport a black scroll wheel (the others are white).
Its 2-inch LCD takes up the upper half of the front face, and the familiar, unchanged scroll wheel inhabits the lower half, though the wheel is now markedly smaller.
The Nano's rear panel is shiny and metallic (not brushed like the iPhone) and the bottom of the player houses the cable connection jack, headphone jack, and hold switch.
The Nano comes with a cradle adaptor, crappy earbuds that you should immediately upgrade, a quickstart guide, and the proprietary-to-USB iPod cable, all bundled together neatly in a tiny transparent plastic case.
Every member of the new iPod line needs the iTunes 7.4 update in order to load music, videos, and podcasts.
Even though the updates are geared towards the iPhone and the new iPod touch, the Nano is no exception to this rule. (Indeed, I had to wait for Apple to update its site with the 7.4 download before writing this review).
Loading the Nano is as simple as it's ever been. Just sync with iTunes 7.4 or manually load the player. You'll notice new icons for the familiar Do Not Disconnect screen and various others messages that appear when the Nano is connected to your PC or Mac.
File support for the Nano offers no surprises. For audio, it plays AAC (16 to 320 kbps) — including, obviously, DRM and DRM-free tracks from iTunes; MP3 (all bitrates, including VBR); Audible files; AIFF; and WAV.
If you have WMA files in your music collection, loading them into iTunes automatically converts them to AAC, so while there's no compatibility, there is at least a workaround.
Video support is the typical Apple array: H.264 and MPEG-4. My test suite included both store-bought and, uh, not-store-bought MP4 files — all loaded and played without a hitch.
Most of the actual options within the menu system have not changed, but graphics and some menu navigation have.
The new main menu has a split screen, dividing the space equally between the familiar iPod menu lists on the left and a moving image of an album cover on the right.
When not playing a tune, the main menu will show a variety of album covers that are loaded on to the player, zoomed in on specific spots and slowly floating by. It's a nice look.
The main new addition to the music menu is Cover Flow, the cool graphic effect that lets users scroll through music libraries by thumbing through a horizontal array of album covers.
Anyone who has played with an iPhone or iPod touch will have to get used to the fact that, unlike those devices, the Nano has no touchscreen and therefore scrolling is done with the wheel, which is decidedly less sexy.
I don't like the Nano's white screen background either. I also noticed that the flow of the covers doesn't, well, flow like it does on the other devices, occasionally tripping up.
Cover Flow maybe be graceful on the Phone and in iTunes, but on the nano, it's a bit of a letdown, especially without the touchscreen.
Often, gray album covers with question marks on them appear if you scroll through the menu too quickly — waiting a moment will refresh the covers with the actual album art.
There is, however, still a little fun to be had scrolling through your album covers, selecting one, and watching it flip over to reveal the available tracks — it's just not a seamless experience like it is on the iPhone.
Once I upgraded my earbuds to my trusty Shure SE210 earphones, the player sounded great. As always, there are equalization presets, but no customizable EQ settings. Since I usually choose to leave my EQ flat to begin with, this never presents a problem for me.
Of course I can understand that some folks will be annoyed by that lack of a real EQ. I mean how hard can it be to let people choose how much bass they want, like Samsung, Sony, and several other manufacturers do?
Those looking for more control in this realm may want to consider Sony's new video Walkman. Though the screen and interface can't compare to the Nano's, it's perfect for people that want to control 5 bands of EQ, as well as some low-end boost.
There's also a great new black-on-gray screensaver that pops up on the Nano's screen once music has been playing for awhile — a simple time, battery, and function (play or pause) display that is easily visible, though it uses very little power.
Video looks amazing on the Nano. You can choose to watch in full screen or widescreen, though most will prefer the latter.
Apple claims the LCD is 65 percent brighter than the previous Nano, and after adjusting the new Brightness setting from the default 50 percent to 100 percent, you can see what Apple is talking about.
Comparing the two devices, the screens definitely look different, with the larger new Nano display able to convey complex colors more gracefully.
The screen maintains the same 320 by 240 pixel resolution as the video iPods (now called classics), but since it is 0.5 inches smaller, everything appears sharper.
Watching an episode of "The Office" was pure joy, and the gaming graphics also shine.
I must mention one annoyance here. Why, oh why, did NBC and iTunes part ways? What good is my Nano if I can't watch "The Office" on it anymore? Boo hiss.
The home screen for the Photo menu is also wonderful — we have a split screen here again, but instead of floating album covers, floating photos from your library are displayed.
The thumbnail menu is easy to scroll though as usual, and setting up slideshows is pretty much the same, as well. Putting your photos on shuffle and listening to good music never gets old.
A Podcast menu has been added to the main menu, and if the show has graphics, they will display in the right side of the split-screen.
The Extras menu is now enhanced with new simple graphics, not unlike icons for OS X. The graphics rest on the right side of the split screen, where most imagery on the player rests.
Probably the greatest advance in the Extras section is the inclusion of better games. Plain old Solitaire has been ditched in favor of a souped-up version (Klondike), and Vortex and iQuiz are also in the mix. (A Sudoku game from EA is on the way).
The games flaunt the player's large screen and high pixel count, and more are available from iTunes once you upgrade to 7.4.
The battery life for the Nano is rated at 24 hours for audio and five hours for video playback. While our audio rundown test yielded a battery life of 24 hours and six minutes, the video test yielded just three hours and 23 minutes.
Earlier this summer, iRiver stepped up the game for portable flash video players with the sexy and user-friendly Clix Gen 2. Meanwhile, Samsung recently released a quality non-video flash player, the YP-U3, at a far lower price point than the non-video Nano.
In other words, with such excellent new products on the market, Apple was practically forced to make a flash player with either video capabilities or a much lower price tag.
Naysayers didn't know how Apple would pull off a widescreen on their signature tiny and thin device, but they have been silenced.
Sure, Cover Flow seems a little superfluous and jumpy on the screen, but make no mistake: this is the best-designed flash video player on the market in this price range.
BOTTOM LINE: Apple's new video iPod Nano is wider than the old version, yet the player remains very thin and sleek, with an excellent widescreen display, a beautiful interface, and (finally) video.
PROS: Widescreen video. New excellent user interface. Great new graphics. Extremely thin. Good (rated) battery life.
CONS: Cover Flow loses some of its appeal without a touchscreen. Crappy earbuds.
COMPANY: Apple Inc.
Price: $200.00 List
Player Type: Flash MP3 Player
Recording, Voice: No
Recording, Line In: No
Video Recording: No
Music Playback Formats: AAC, AIFF, MP3, WAV
Photo formats: JPEG
Video Formats: MPEG4
Screen Resolution: 320 x 240 pixels
Screen Size: 2 inches
Storage Capacity: 8 GB
Dimensions: 2.75 x 2.06 x 0.26 inches
Weight: 1.74 oz
EDITOR RATING: Four and a half out of five stars
Copyright © 2007 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.