With the introduction of several capabilities we never thought we'd see in an iPod nano, Apple's fifth-generation model is the most feature-packed since the device was launched in 2005.
The latest nano comes in two storage capacities -- 8GB for £115 and 16GB for £135 -- and nine resplendent colours. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the 8GB model is £6 more expensive than last year's model, while the 16GB version is £14 cheaper.
At 6mm thick, the fifth-generation nano is just as thin as ever. With this in mind, it's perhaps even more impressive that Apple has managed to squeeze a video camera into the chassis, along with a slightly larger LCD display. This 56mm (2.2-inch) display, running at 240x376-pixels, is the largest, highest-resolution screen any nano has ever had. Compared to the OLED screens used in costly new MP3 players from Cowon and Sony, its colours aren't as rich when playing video. But, for the price, it's still one of the best displays on the market.
Apple explicitly named the popular Flip Video camcorders as the inspiration for the nano's adoption of video recording. What's odd is the video camera's placement. The lens sits on the opposite side of the player to the click wheel -- exactly where your hand spends most of its time. In our first few hours with the player, this took some serious getting used to. In fact, we'd go so far as to say it's in the worst possible place.
The lens is almost certainly placed where it is because, internally, there was nowhere else that provided enough space to graft a camera in. We found it best to hold the nano horizontally when filming, with the click wheel on the left and LCD display on the right. Then we held the player on the right-hand side so the lens could film unobstructed on the far left. Annoyingly, you can't listen to music while recording video.
Aside from the screen, video camera and much glossier finish on the nano's chassis, little else has changed. It's just as light and ludicrously simple to operate as previous versions. Apple's click wheel makes browsing large music libraries easier than it is with offerings from rival companies.
Attractive, simple interface
Similarly, no rival MP3 player makes browsing music as visually appealing an experience. Inventive use of cover art throughout the music menus makes the simple interface more attractive than that of most other players, and the Cover Flow browsing feature -- activated automatically when you hold the nano horizontally -- is an intuitive and fun way to sift through a large collection of digital music. Apple even offers free, high-resolution album artwork through , making sure your music has the correct cover art attached to it.
Our readers have made it plain that FM radio has been a much-missed feature on all iPods. The fifth-generation nano is the first version to incorporate it inside the player itself. In addition to letting you listen to FM radio, you can also pause and rewind up to 15 minutes of it. The interface is as lush as you would expect from Apple. After hitting the pause button, the nano continues to listen to and record whatever frequency you're tuned into. Hit pause again and it continues from where you left off. You can also skip forwards and backwards through however much of the broadcast you've recorded. Unlike on some players, however, you can't save these recordings as an audio file.
The nano supports the MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless and WAV audio formats, as well as H.264 and MPEG-4 video. Movie downloads from the iTunes Store are also supported, as well as any subtitles contained within those files. Podcasts can be subscribed to and managed through iTunes, and they sync seamlessly with the nano. Press pause 8 minutes into a podcast on your computer, and it'll resume from that point on the device. The same applies to Audible audiobook downloads, which are also supported.
We'll come to video performance shortly, but first we'll address the video files themselves. The nano creates a single video file for each clip you record. On a Mac you can access these through iPhoto, or by putting the player in disk mode and browsing to them through the Finder. On a PC, you'll need to use the disk method as well. In Mac OS X Snow Leopard, QuickTime X has an integrated upload tool for YouTube, and you can exploit this to get your nano videos up on the site with a couple of clicks. Alternatively, you can always just upload the individual files via the Web site as usual.