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Apple iPod Nano review: Apple iPod Nano

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In terms of features, the Apple iPod Nano is the miniature version of the current iPod, also known as the iPod Photo. It plays the same digital audio formats, including MP3, AAC, DRM AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV, and Audible. It has the same PIM features with Contacts, Calendar, and Notes; for Windows users, Outlook syncing comes with the new iTunes 5.0. There are some games, the handy On-The-Go playlist function, and three new Nano-only features: a world clock that allows you to introduce multiple times from around the world; an advanced stopwatch and lap timer; and a four-digit combination virtual screen lock--which doesn't seem useful. The 1.5-inch screen cannot match the full-size iPod's 1.8-incher, but it displays album art and digital photos in thumbnail, full-screen, or slide-show modes. Rather than displaying the bigger iPod's five-by-five thumbnail grid, the iPod Nano offers a four-by-three thumbnail display. However, we'll be quick to note that the Camera Connector accessory designed for transferring photos to the iPod from a digital camera does not yet work with the Nano; the iPod Nano, as stated on Apple's Web site, is not truly "100 percent iPod."

The new world clock has a very widgetesque feel. The black faces of the clocks indicate that it is nighttime at the locale.

The iPod Nano isn't decked out with all features available on the market such as an FM radio, a voice recorder, or line-in recording. These features can or will be added in some way or another with the multitude of third-party accessories available. It's hard to compare the Nano to more traditional full-featured flash player such as Creative's MuVo Micro or Cowon's iAudio U2, both of which max out at 1GB and lack photo displays but incorporate line-in recording and an FM tuner into smaller--though not thinner--form factors. If you must have an FM tuner, don't get a Nano; if you're into digital music, audiobooks, and podcasts, the Nano is awesome choice made even more so by its compatibility with iTunes and its Music Store.

Once you connect a Nano to iTunes, it will show up immediately in the source list. Configure your relationship with iTunes in the Preferences panel under iPod. You can have iTunes automatically update songs and playlists or go manual--ditto for podcasts, contacts, and calendars. Photos can be synchronized from iPhoto in Mac or My Pictures in Windows; while these files are automatically formatted for the iPod, you can also store, though not view, full-size images directly within iTunes. In a nutshell, the iTunes side of the iPod experience truly makes the iPod better, though some of those who prefer to use another store don't have many options besides MP3 download sites and Real's Rhapsody Music Store. For more detailed information on the iPod's audio features, read our review of the 20GB iPod.

The Apple iPod Nano is one of the faster players we've used in terms of navigation speed. Generally, MP3 players, especially hard drive-based players, pause for buffering every few songs; it's the norm, even on iPods. Selecting or forwarding through songs or browsing the music library is mostly instantaneous. Photo thumbnails can take a second to load, but again, browsing through photos is quick and painless. Data transfers to the USB 2.0-enabled Nano are swift, at about 5.3MB per second. In general, the sync relationship with iTunes on both the Mac and Windows side has been flawless; our experience with Windows hasn't always been good, but so far, our Nano-iTunes pairing is seamless.

As far as sound is concerned, the Nano gets loud but not overly so when using the included decent-sounding earbuds. The overall sound quality is excellent, with imperceptible hiss, though we've heard a bit better in terms of brightness and bass from the likes of Cowon and Sony. Surprisingly, the iPod's multitude of equalizer settings can make a difference for the positive, whereas we've characterized the EQs as being weak in the past. Reportedly, the Nano uses the same sound chip as the Mini.

It would have been difficult to guess the battery life of the iPod Nano before it was stated by Steve Jobs. It's a flash-based player, so it consumes less power than a hard drive-based model, and we initially figured it was good for 18 hours; it has a color screen, so maybe lower that to 16. Apple rates the iPod Nano for 14 hours, on the lower side for flash-based players, though the iPod Shuffle lasted only 12 hours in CNET Labs' tests. We regularly see flash models with rechargeable cells last into the late teens or early 20s, whereas alkaline-powered players can last more than 40 hours. CNET Labs was able to get 15 hours, 21 minutes in our standard drain test, an unspectacular but solid number. A note about recharging: Out of the box, the Nano charges over USB, and it takes 1.5 hours to charge 80 percent of the battery's capacity or 3 hours for full charge, which is considerably faster than the iPod Shuffle or the standard iPod.

Apple's done it again. By virtue of a sweet design backed by forward-thinking tech (the first 4GB flash player; a photo-friendly color screen), Apple will keep its ball rolling swiftly into the holiday season. The Nano's capacity will turn off many experienced MP3 fans, but we have a feeling that newbies will flock to the next big thing and help maintain Apple's 74 percent U.S. market share for all digital audio players.

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