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iPod Nano2 reviewed

First INQpressions
Wed Sep 20 2006, 21:24
WHEN I BOUGHT A NEW IPOD NANO last weekend, I was initially prepared to sacrifice it, and do a full breakdown of the product to see what made it up.

However, I'm very glad to see that Ars Technica have beaten me, as mine can now remain intact. Instead, I'll stick to giving you my first impressions of the latest update to the iconic gadget.

Included in the quite stupidly miniscule package are: an iPod Nano (2nd gen) 8GB in any colour as long as it's black, one set of white “mug me” earbuds, one USB cable, a manual, and a dock adapter. You have to download iTunes, but let's be honest - not many owners are going to find this a hassle. I'm glad not to have another CD cluttering my life up.

This was the first Apple product I had purchased, and the out of box experience was impressive. For starters, the box appears to be made of clear Perspex, which is the first I've seen.

alt='mullbox' On peeling back the sticky film and opening the front, you can lift out the iPod on a small plastic carrier, which you bend to release the gadget. Very nice. Behind that is a flap, and after opening this, the cable and other accessories can be removed.

The earbuds are white. Pretty good sound quality, but unlikely to win any meaningful awards. Grey rubber around them, instead of the optional black foamy bits, so they stick in your ears better. Rubber, flexible ends now, and they feel pretty good.

The casing is matt black, anodised aluminium, all round (no reflective steel back any more). Seems much more scratch resilient than the old nanos, although this may be largely down to the non-reflective finish which won't show things up as badly. The screen, though, does seem pretty hard in comparison, and the Ars agrees with me on this. There are also some really nice finishing features: the left and right edges are now rounded, and have a radius only fractionally larger than the earbud and USB plugs, so they look dead good when they're connected.

Overall it feels very rigid, and incredibly high quality compared to other ipods and lesser MP3 players I've owned. alt='mullcable' One minor down point: the click wheel felt a little “loose” on the right hand side, so when you put any pressure on it with your thumb, it creaked and clicked a little. No big thing, but still a little irritating. Your mileage may vary.

But above all it is, in real life, absolutely gorgeous, absolutely tiny, and lighter than a gnat's testicles. Well done Jonathan - another triumph.

My previous iPod was a 3rd generation 15GB device, and I'm pleased to report that frankly nothing has really changed, as it was pretty damned perfect. The optional search feature seems very well-implemented, but I have to admit that I don't think that a nano can't really hold enough music to make this worthwhile. Still it's not intrusive, and may well come in useful.

The screen is very nice - noticeably brighter than 1st generation nanos, and excellent colour reproduction, viewing angles and image stability. It's pretty readable in the sunlight too. I had previously been informed of the inevitability of a future OLED based iPod, but this clearly isn't it, or my sources were wrong.

As to the performance - well audio quality seems to be a marked improvement over my old model - quite possibly down to the pretty rubbish headphone amplifier used by older models, and improved as of the introduction of the shuffle and high capacity minis.

Gapless playback is insanely perfect. iTunes now connects to the music store and downloads information about the timings for albums, and manages to sort the gapless playback out where Win amp and MS-WMP have still left tiny, but annoying, gaps. The menus are lightning fast, and you always operate at your own speed, rather than waiting for the device. The 8GB of storage is updated quickly, and seems to hold more than enough music, especially since it's so rare that anybody releases anything worth listening to.

And as for the battery life, let's just put it this way, I haven't yet run out, despite using it most of the day, as whenever I get home and connect it to my home PC to sync up, it recharges, so effectively, based on my normal usage patterns, it's infinite! Ars measured the stated 24 hour figure to be realistic, and I would have no problems finding this believable.

However, based on my previous experience, I wouldn't expect this to last, and the new nano looks a whole lot harder to open and replace the battery than the full sized models, which could be annoying in 12 months time. The features were a disappointment, to be honest.

I was quite expecting it to be able to play back video, as I'm sure that the screen and processor can handle it, and 8GB is more than enough to stuff some TV episodes or even movies on there. I'm sure they've done their experiments with ergonomics, and found that most people don't want to view things on such a small screen… But I hate being limited when I know hardware is capable of more. I want to find out why not for myself! And games… from what I'd seen of the launch last week, I'd been presuming that the new iTunes store based games would run, so my train journey would have the fantastic distraction of music + Tetris. What could be better? But no - those are limited to the larger-screened cousin too. I hope they fix this in the future.

The lack of radio I couldn't care less about. I've got an iPod so I don't have to listen to Chris Moyles any longer. But it plays music perfectly and, at the end of the day, that's what I bought it for, so I'm not that upset.

I hate iTunes - I always have. I detest being forced to do things their way. I hate being unable to just drag files onto my music player in Explorer and being able to play them back. I hate the way it tries to pre-empt what I'm going to do, and gets it wrong. Every time. And I hate the way how there are no ways to do the things I want. But then I hate all the alternatives, and version 7.0 is better than its predecessors.

To me, there has always been a perfect way of organising your music - ripping it to separate directories on your hard disk. When you want to play an album, go to it and click the M3U playlist file. All music library programmes seem to fail to come anywhere near the usability of the standard file system, which makes me hate them. Hard. But that's just a personal preference. I've not seen any of the iTunes 7 bugs or crashes, and it's worked fine in terms of doing things the way it intends to.

I'm not even going to get into yet another huge rant on DRM - Charlie has acceptable functionality on this front. But needless to say, you won't find me spending a single penny on music on the iTunes store. I know that I probably prove the recent research group's studies right, I am more than happy to buy CDs and rip them onto my hard disk, and I'm sure many of our readers would rather follow this model.

I just wish that media companies would get a clue and make things easier for us to buy DRM-free digital music with the same unrestricted functionality and good (maybe better) quality as CDs. I'd then buy more music. And they'd make more money. And the world wouldn't end, just like it didn't when VCRs came along.

And So
It's $249 in the States, and £169 in the UK. While our price includes VAT (17.5% Gordon Brown whiskey fund donation), that makes it fractionally more expensive over here, but slightly less so than the usual rip off. It's also £20 less than the 30GB big iPod, which is bizarrely priced the same in the US as its 8GB nano brother. Weird, huh?

The nano 8GBs nearest competitor is the Sandisk Sansa e270, which is £195 on Froogle, and has an inferior battery life, is bigger, and less sexy, so it's pretty good value.

So overall, I'm very happy with it. There are some things about iPods that annoy me, but they are so pleasant to use and so well-built that I'd gladly pay well over the price of a Taiwanese Windows Media player, even though most of my music library is stored in WMA format! It's a fantastic technical achievement to make something so small with such excellent functionality, and a testament to Apple's British-led design team that they can still create something with such a warm fuzzy factor, despite the iPod's ubiquity.

I really think that Microsoft is going to have a very hard time competing through a Zune range, based on what I know so far, even if it includes Zune mobile phones, as is likely to be the case. iPod remains the benchmark for all PMPs. ?



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