Apple iPod Nano fifth generation review: Apple iPod Nano fifth generation

These complaints aside, there's nothing about the Nano's newfound video recording capabilities that ruin the product. We wouldn't go out of our way to use the Nano's video camera over the one on our mobile phone, camcorder, or point-and-shoot camera; however, we're glad to have the option to shoot video with a Nano. The only instance where the Nano's camera might prove problematic is any situation where privacy concerns are at stake. With an increasing number of schools and health clubs banning camera phones because of privacy concerns, the Nano's video camera might be unwelcome in some circumstances. For better or worse, the Nano offers no outward indication (neither light, nor sound) when it enters video recording mode--making it a particularly small and stealth device for those interested in recording video unnoticed.

We never thought we'd live to see the day Apple would grace the iPod with an FM radio. Usually, we'd be pretty snarky about the late addition, but to Apple's credit, the Nano's radio includes some advanced features you won't find anywhere else.

FM radio
It seems hard to believe, but the fifth-generation Nano marks the first time Apple has included a built-in FM radio on an iPod. We have no idea why it took Apple eight years to bring radio to the iPod, but to Apple's credit, its FM radio is one of the best we've used on a portable device.

Common radio features such as station presets, selectable world radio bands, and manual or automatic station scanning control, are all handled in Apple's typical and intuitive style. Going beyond the competition, Apple's FM tuner includes support for radio station RDS data (often identifying artist and song title information, along with station call letters), including the capability to tag songs for later purchase, and even lets you pause and resume radio playback. We've seen song tagging and RDS support before, in Microsoft's Zune media player (looks like the Zune is actually teaching the iPod a few tricks), but the capability to pause, rewind, and resume audio playback are features that are unique to the iPod Nano. The Nano's time-shifting capabilities come courtesy of its built-in memory cache that can hold up to 15 minutes of recorded radio temporarily until you decide to resume playback.

We had limited luck using the Nano to tag songs from the radio; mostly because of a lack of area stations broadcasting the full RDS data required to identify songs, we had the same tagging problem when using the Zune. Song tagging aside, the Nano's FM reception was great overall, and its radio pausing feature came in handy more often then we imagined (especially during restroom breaks, phone calls, and other distractions). Like the radios on most MP3 players, the Nano uses the wiring of your headphones as its antenna--so be aware that changes in headphones, or using different headphones, may affect reception quality.

Voice memos
Recording voice memos is technically not a new feature for the iPod Nano, but previous generations of the Nano required an investment in compatible headsets or recording accessories to use the feature. Now that the Nano includes a built-in microphone, recordings can be made without additional accessories. However, if you're serious about using the Nano as a voice recorder, spending a little money on a better microphone isn't a bad idea. In our tests, we found the Nano's microphone placement causes a considerable amount of noise caused by handling the device to be captured. If you're careful to keep your fingers away from the internal microphone--no easy task with the mic behind the Click Wheel)--the 128Kbps AAC recordings made by the Nano get the job done and conveniently import directly into iTunes labeled with the recording's time and date.

Need some extra motivation at the gym? The Nano includes a built-in pedometer to help you track your steps and how many calories you burn.

Under the Nano's Extras menu, you'll find a list of features almost as long as the main menu's list. Traditional extras such as an alarm, stopwatch, calendar, games, contacts, clock, notes, and voice memos, have all made the jump to the Nano in its fifth-generation. A new item labeled Fitness now graces the Extras menu, grouping together a new pedometer feature with any other fitness-related items introduced by third-party add-ons, such as Nike+iPod kit.

The Nano's small, lightweight size already makes it a big hit with the fitness crowd, but the introduction of an integrated pedometer can only help its reputation. The pedometer records your steps, estimates how many calories you've burned, and lets you transfer the data to the Nike+ Web site whenever the Nano is connected to a computer. Nike+ Web accounts are free to create, but don't act surprised when they try to sell you on the Nike+iPod hardware kit.

Although not found in the Extras menu, the fifth-generation iPod Nano includes another new bonus feature called VoiceOver. Introduced as a necessary feature for Apple's button-less third-generation iPod Shuffle, VoiceOver gives your iPod the capability to announce artist, song, and playlist information in a multilingual synthetic voice. The feature comes in handy when you have the Nano in your pocket or bag and want to identify the currently playing song without taking your eyes off whatever you're doing. To use the VoiceOver feature, you'll need to install an optional voice kit software package for iTunes (the download is free) and purchase a pair of headphones that include a compatible iPod remote.

In spite of the dizzying assortment of features Apple has brought to the fifth-generation iPod Nano, its battery life estimates and audio quality haven't budged. Apple rates the battery of the fifth-generation iPod Nano at a respectable 24 hours of audio playback and 5 hours of video playback (up from 4 hours). Apple's numbers seem to err on the side of modesty, however, since our own CNET Labs test results found an average battery drain time of 33.6 hours for audio and 5.3 hours for video.

Sound quality is not one of the Nano's (or any iPod's) strong suits. Apple has gone another year without introducing any sound-enhancement settings to the iPod line beyond its traditional slew of EQ presets. To be fair, while the iPod Nano doesn't offer the sonic richness and advanced EQ settings of a Sony X-Series or Cowon S9 player, its audio sounds balanced and should please most listeners. To make a dramatic improvement to any iPod's sound performance, we highly recommend upgrading from the stock Apple earbuds.

Video playback on the fifth-generation iPod Nano is better than ever, although holding your iPod sideways still takes some mental adjustment. The wide-screen-friendly, crisp, 204ppi display makes watching a full-length movie on your iPod Nano a legitimate (but still somewhat silly) possibility. Compared with the flat screens of the iPod Touch and iPod Classic, the fourth-generation's rounded glass screen makes it difficult to eliminate glare, but images still look remarkably bright and clear on it. Like most portable video players, the iPod has specific file requirements for video playback, so you may have to spend some time converting video on your computer before transferring it. Fortunately, the iPod Nano's video formats are widely known by purveyors of Internet video, which often arrives preformatted for the iPod.

The iTunes factor
If you're considering buying an iPod for the first time, we feel it's worthwhile to remind you that Apple's iTunes software is a required installation for your computer. The software is free and available for both Mac OS X and Windows computers, and we encourage potential iPod owners to get familiar with the software ahead of time to ensure that it works well for you and your computer. To learn more about iTunes, we recommend checking out CNET's latest review and any user feedback associated with it.

Worth the upgrade?
It's hard not to be swayed by all of the Nano's new features--especially its video camera. If you have an older iPod and you've been waiting for an excuse to upgrade, you can rest assured that the fifth-generation Nano is the best Nano yet.

That said, with the highly rated 8GB iPod Touch sitting pretty at just $199, you'll need to decide whether the Nano's slim design, FM radio, pedometer, and video camera are more meaningful to you than the touch screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and App capabilities of the iPod Touch. From our perspective, it's hard to go wrong either way, but the bright colors, sturdy construction, and lightweight design of the Nano make it an easy choice for children and athletic types.

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