Walk into just about any tech or tourist market across much of China and South-East Asia, as well as some dodgy Australian retailers, and you'll see many imitation MP3 players. With Apple's iPod ruling the roost, it's no surprise to find that the reverse engineers have spent most of their time cracking Steve Jobs' genetic code. It's also no surprise that while some of the clones look amazingly close to the real thing, others are exceedingly poor.
For the purposes of this review we searched for the best fake iPod — the top gun of shanzhai MP3 players. After trawling through China's tech markets, we found what we thought was the best imitation of a fourth-generation 16GB iPod Nano. After some bargaining in poorly pronounced Chinese we purchased the iPod for roughly AU$30 — a particularly good price judging from the vendor's sour face when he grudgingly parted with the product.
At first look, the candy bar design of this fake iPod Nano was extremely hard to distinguish from the real thing. It also came in a very similar clear plastic package, with an included pair of headphones, a USB cable and printed English instructions. The packaging's size is almost an exact match with a real Nano's, while the colours seemed identical and the size of the fake Nano itself was spot on.
The most obvious differences were the text on the scroll wheel and the fake's slightly smaller screen. For the casual user — and even some seasoned gadget lovers — distinguishing between the real and the fake would be extremely difficult by sight alone.
However, once out of the packaging, the fake iPod Nano had a distinctly light feel to it — most probably due to the less durable materials used in its construction, as well as the cheaper electronics and battery stuffed inside. While the brushed aluminium exterior not only bore a striking resemblance to the real thing and was remarkably resilient to scratching, we did find that the Apple logo and associated text smudged quickly with use.
Check out ourphoto gallery and see how long it takes you to pick one from the other.
So far, not so bad. Its on-paper specs are not too bad either, as it features multiple playback options, including shuffle, repeat and playlists. It borrows Apple's shake to shuffle functionality, which, like on a real iPod Nano, is mostly pointless and annoying. The device also supports MP3, WMA and FLAC music files. It doesn't, however, support Apple's proprietary AAC file format, which means songs bought from Apple's iTunes music store won't play out of the box.
The fake iPod Nano also supports video playback, with the option to rotate the footage for either landscape or portrait mode. Although our shanzhai Nano supported AVI files and certain MPEG videos, it couldn't handle DivX, XviD, flash video or H.264 files.
Where the fake iPod Nano really earns its fail whale is with its software. Browsing files on the device is, frankly, cumbersome and frustrating. Although the scroll wheel works, it just doesn't have the same ease of use as an original iPod's. Despite our best efforts, we couldn't get the Cover Flow-like feature to work.