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Apple iPod nano Raises the Bar

Small player/big sound, groundbreaking design looks even better than it sounds By Charlie White

Apple iPod nano reviewSuppose youre in charge of a corporation that dominates its market, your best-selling product commanding a tremendous lead over all competitors. You might be tempted to stay the course, milking that product until sales began to fade. Thats not what Apples Steve Jobs did. He scrapped the iPod mini, Apples best-selling music player, in favor of the new iPod nano ($200 for 2GB model and $250 for 4GB), a 1.5-ounce jewel that looks as good as it sounds. After thoroughly testing the new nano, all I can say is, the king is dead; long live the king.

With the iPod nano, Apple leads the music player market into a new era where moving parts such as tiny hard disks are gone and solid-state memory rules the roost. The bar has been raised to where a sharp color screen and precise ergonomics make it easy to jump from one song to another. Of course, its been easy to do that with any iPod except the Shuffle, but now the miniaturization of the Shuffle has been combined with the enhanced usability of the original iPods to create a device which will be the benchmark against which all music players are measured.

When we received our iPod nano 4GB review unit here the Midwest Test Facility, it arrived in a small FedEx box that seemed too small. At first I was doubtful that the box was big enough to actually contain one of the new music players. But then after opening the package I was not disappointed. It was time for that famed Apple out-of-box-experience, were not only is there an innovative product within, but the packaging matches that level of innovation as well. The nano is presented as if it were a piece of jewelry, inside a book-like box (see graphic below) that showcases its beauty and design. Taking the wrapper off the tiny player reminded me of unwrapping a piece of candy, where the wrapper made a pleasant crinkling sound. As I unveiled our test unit, clad in a shiny black on one side and a chrome mirror finish on the other, it became apparent that I was soon in for a treat.

The iPod nano is nestled inside a display case-type box that opens like a book.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the new iPod nano is its diminutive size. Lets think in terms of chewing gum, a favorite Apple comparison. Its 3.5 inches tall, about as tall as a stick of gum, and 1.6 inches wide?about as wide as two sticks of gum side-by-side, and to get an idea of how thin it is, (now abandoning the gum chewing metaphor) get four credit cards and stack them on top of each other?thats just how thin it is, at just over a quarter of an inch. At .27 inches, its razor-thin, and thats thinner than a Razr (the Motorola phone, .54 inches).

The iPod nano (middle and right) is available in black or white and is slightly taller than an iPod Shuffle (left), and wider, too, but it's much thinner.

But the iPod nanos size is not the only thing thats going to make you want to take out one of those credit cards and order one. Top-of-the-list is its sheer usability. Making its appearance for the first time on a music player this small is Apples unique click wheel design. If youre not familiar with this groundbreaking innovation in interface design, you navigate up and down menu items by moving your finger around the electrostatically sensitive click wheel, and you hear a tiny little clicking noise as you do this. If you dont like that little sound, you can turn it off, but I happen to think its quite charming. When you land on the menu item youd like to select, you simply push the middle of the click wheel and youre immediately taken to that menu item. When you select a song, it quickly begins playing and then you can move your finger around the click wheel to adjust the volume higher or lower. Push Menu at the top of the click wheel and you go back to the previous menu. Its fast and intuitive, and the click wheel electronics are designed in such a way that the sensitivity is just ideal?its not hypersensitive but it always responds perfectly to the touch. 

For those of us who have grown accustomed to the screen-less iPod Shuffle, the nanos tiny color screen is remarkably good. At 176x132 pixels, its .168mm dot pitch looks sharp and clear. Its easily legible in all lighting conditions, too?when I took it outside into the midday autumn sunlight, it was just as visible as it was in our darkened test laboratories. Its 1.5 inch diagonal size is the perfect trade-off between readability and portability, with its text size big enough for legibility and small enough so that lots of information can be included on one screen.

The software inside the nano is as usable as it is attractive. You can sort your music according to artists, albums, songs, podcast, genres, or composers. Or, you can simply select a playlist that youve created in iTunes. There are extras included that are also appealing, including a stopwatch that can count in hundredths of seconds and record lap times. Then, after you finished with your timing, you can save your timing session which is named with the date and time. You can then go back to that session later and see a comprehensive screen telling you the date and time that you used the stopwatch, the total time, the shortest lap, the longest lap, and the average lap time. Then it lists the time of each lap. Its a remarkably complete application, especially for an incidental, oh-by-the-way feature. Remarkable.

Another delight in the Extras area is one of the games called Music Quiz. Selecting from tunes that you have on your iPod, this name-that-tune game plays part of a song for you, and gives you a multiple-choice list of possibilities. As it shows you a countdown thermometer at the top of the screen, you attempt to name that tune as quickly as possible. It keeps score as you continue playing. It was easy to ace the game when the nano was only loaded with a few songs, but as it got more loaded, near its 4 GB limit, it became increasingly challenging.  

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Related Keywords:best-selling product, Apple, Steve Jobs, iPod mini, music player, iPod Nano, 2GB, 4GB, testing, iTunes

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