I'm seeing double!
Don't let its appearance fool you. There's a lot that's new about the Nano fifth generation despite its similarities to the previous incarnations, not the least being the addition of a video camera at the back of the device. The screen has also had a boost to 2.2 inches (up from 2 inches) and though it looks a little odd on first inspection it certainly grows on you — no pun intended. It's still ridiculously thin and light, hardly tipping the scales at 36.4g.
Available in a kaleidoscopic array of nine colours, the capacities are still 8GB (AU$199) and 16GB (AU$249, a price drop of AU$30 from the previous Nano at launch). The glossy surface also adds another layer of interest to the exterior configuration, and is pleasingly scratch-resistant. After a few days of having it rustle up next to a collection of keys and other domestic accoutrements that wreaked havoc on something like the silver back platter of the iPod Classic, the Nano came away mostly unscathed. The minute hold switch is still at the top left and all other connections (headphones and iPod dock) are at the base, though the configuration has been swapped from the 4th generation, with headphone and dock changing sides.
An upgrade to iTunes 9 is required to use this version of the Nano, but it enables a few new features like Genius Mixes, which makes its debut here. Essentially, the Nano creates custom mixes based on a loose appropriation of the genres present on your pod thanks to the alchemy of the Genius logic — such as Alternative & Punk, Hip-Hop/Rap or Electronic to name a few. These are fully automated so there's no extra work on your part to activate them, but do note that the iPod does need to be synced with iTunes to use this feature.
Just like the previous generation, Nano number five displays its home menus with a list of the standard options at the top (music, movies, podcasts and so on) with a rotating strip of album art or, more intriguingly, stills from videos you have captured on the device. The accelerometer also orients the cover flow display and photo display on the screen. Audio file formats that the Nano can play back include MP3, AAC, AIFF, WAV and Apple Lossless.
Side by side by side ... Cover Flow in action. (Credit: CBSi)
Exercisers are also catered for with the addition of a pedometer to track steps taken and the ability to sync with a Nike+iPod account. Under the appropriately named heading Fitness, a daily step goal and your weight can also be set, with the calendar displaying progress in terms of calories expended and the number of steps taken. Shake to shuffle is another one of those "love it or hate it" features and suffers the same fate as the scroll wheel — it's either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. It's also a bit temperamental in terms of what motion it deems acceptably "shaky": we found that a simple up and down motion worked better than the side-to-side action.
Apple rates the Nano's video playback at five hours rather than the four that the previous player managed. Audio is rated for 24 hours which is also impressive, though we found that after a full day of playing music on shuffle, and using features intermittently like the video camera and pedometer, the battery was nearly exhausted.
Video and the radio star
One of the most noted absences on all versions of the iPod has been an FM tuner, and it seems that years on Apple has finally taken notice and acquiesced. Not content to do things by halves, the Nano's radio is one of the most innovative on a portable music player, most notably as it's capable of pausing, rewinding and tracking live radio. Once the Nano has successfully tuned into a station, via the scroll wheel on a pleasingly retro tuner interface, it begins buffering the broadcast so you can pause, rewind and resume up to 15 minutes of audio from the point at which you began listening. Rewinding and fast-forwarding through the buffered audio works in one minute increments, stamped with the original broadcast's time.