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Fake iPod Nano (4th generation) review: Fake iPod Nano (4th generation)

If it wasn't for the glitchy software and sub-standard battery life, the fake iPod Nano might have been almost as good as the real thing.

Brendon Chase
5 min read

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.


Fake iPod Nano (4th generation)

The Good

Cheap. Basic MP3 player functionality. Looks like the real thing.

The Bad

Possibly illegal to buy. Poor battery life. Horrible software. No warranty expressed or implied.

The Bottom Line

If it wasn’t for the glitchy software and sub-standard battery life, the fake iPod Nano might have been almost as good as the real thing.

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 our fake iPod versus the real thing photo 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.

While the fake iPod Nano will sync and charge with a Mac or PC, as well as iPod docks, it isn't compatible with Apple's iTunes software. Those who are frustrated with iTunes may actually find this to be a bonus, though, as adding new songs or video is as easy as dragging and dropping files on to an external USB drive. With Apple's reliance on iTunes software for copy protection and so forth, the shanzhai Nano has a simplicity that we admire.

A bonus feature not seen on an Apple-approved fourth-gen iPod Nano is the ability to record voice without an attachment, as there's a small microphone inside the device that actually works quite well.


If you can get past the frustration of using the device's software, our fake iPod Nano actually works alright as a basic MP3 player. That said, the headphones that ship with this fake Nano are the first set we've tried that actually make Apple's standard buds seem good. When you hook up some decent headphones or speakers, the fake iPod's audio quality improves to fair.

On the other hand, the quality of its video playback is simply horrible. The screen's resolution is noticeably inferior to the real thing, and videos were not only pixellated but jumpy and jerky too.

The battery life of our fake iPod Nano was a concern. After a full charge the battery would last for a couple of hours of playback, although it would randomly turn itself off from time to time during our testing. From our photo gallery it's quite obvious that our fake Nano has a low quality battery, and as it didn't have to pass any official quality tests it's clear why shanzhai batteries are known for unexpected combustion.


At the end of the day the fake iPod Nano just isn't the real thing. It may be AU$150 cheaper, but it is also AU$150 more annoying to use. If we weren't comparing the fake iPod Nano to the real thing, we'd be more inclined to give it a favourable review — primarily because of its high value for money rating.

In fact, it's almost a shame that the creators of this device chose to copy Apple's iPod Nano. Sure, it takes a fair amount of genuine talent to reverse-engineer and copy an iPod Nano's body, but they could have used their skills to build their own cheap MP3 player, which could then legitimately rival other competitors in the market.

Reviewer's note: purchasing these imitation products is a grey area, legally. We undertook this review to see how well the technology held up, but purchasers buying fake technology may find themselves in legal trouble — either in the country they bought it in or when trying to bring the product back into Australia. It also comes without any warranty or legal recourse in the case of injury or death from use.