The third outing for Apple’s Nano brand sees the tiny portable player put on some physical mass – it’s no longer the slender supermodel of the portable player world – but that added mass also equates to video playback, great audio quality and truly exceptional battery life.
The new Nano comes in five colours, as long as you’re buying the 8GB variant. Those on a limited budget will have to make do with the 4GB version, a silver-only beast. Hopping up to the 8GB model gives you a choice of silver, black, blue, green and a special red version for the socially conscious (part of the funds go to fight AIDs in Africa). The display screen is wide and clear, but the new dimensions of the Nano – which seems somewhat chunky from its front profile – mean that the scroll wheel both looks and feels a little small for the size of the unit, especially if you’re used to other iPod models.
The big new additions to this model of Nano are the inclusion of Cover Flow – which lets you scroll through your songs based on their album covers – and the ability to play back video in compatible formats, as well as view photos. There’s also three bundled games (iPod Quiz, Klondike and Vortex) to while away a lonely moment or two.
Apple rates the Nano as being capable of "up to" 24 hours of music playback. Usually, that’s code for "if you’re really lucky you might get 20". We tested the Nano with a shuffled selection of music playing back at full volume, and let it run itself dry. We started testing at 7:30am one morning, confident that we probably wouldn’t see it still running late that night. The Nano surprised (and delighted) us, easily making it through to 7:30am the next morning – and then some. It clocked in at an astonishing 36 hours of continuous playback in our tests with a full battery. Naturally, if you’re a video fan, or do lots of twiddling with settings you’re unlikely to get those kinds of figures.
Video playback was smooth on the Nano’s screen. We’re not sure we’d watch, say The Lord Of The Rings on a screen this size, but for bite-sized videos it’s perfectly acceptable. Annoyingly, Apple doesn’t provide any utilities for video conversion in the box. This means you’ll need to buy additional software to actually put video files or DVDs onto the Nano for playback. Nor do they provide iTunes, which you’ll need to download just to get music onto the Nano. If you’re updating from an older iPod, you’ll need to update your copy of iTunes to support the third generation Nano as well.
On the picky front, the headphone socket for the Nano is bottom mounted, which seems counter-intuitive and just looks weird. Speaking of headphones, the models supplied with the Nano are really pretty awful, but then even with a new generation of iPods, some things never change.
The previous Nano generations were nice players, but it was hard to make the case for buying them when the hard disk-based iPods (now sold as the iPod Classic) were a similar price for much more storage. Adding video and the very enticing carrot of vastly improved battery life changes that equation substantially, and moves the Nano from being a ‘nice player’ to the status of a nearly essential gadget.