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Editorial: why the new iPod nano is the best music player

updated 01:35 pm EDT, Sat September 11, 2010

Early take on Apple's sixth-generation iPod nano

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled his company's new iPod Nano, some Apple lovers cringed. The device that was once so useful, they complained, has become a glorified iPod shuffle. But they might not necessarily have had reason to fear; in fact, the truth might just be the opposite.

I can understand why they feel that way. After all, the device is about the same size as the new iPod shuffle, and it loses both the camera and video support in favor of a new touchscreen. Critics say that the touch screen is too small to be useful. And the lack of video makes the device a hobbled alternative to its predecessor if you used all of those features.

But those critics are short-sighted.

Let's first take a look at the old iPod nano. Yes, it was already small and compact, but video was practically useless on the device. And anyone that has attempted to watch a favorite television show or movie on more recent nanos knows how awful the experience really was. The video looked great for the size, but trying to watch video on such a small display -- even on the last generation -- was unbearable. If you can't truly offer the large screen, it's better to focus more on music. SanDisk learned that with the Sansa Clip+; surely Apple can, too.

Moreover, the device's lack of a touchscreen made some, including me, wonder why Apple believed it offered such value. The device was meant to be portable, but also forward thinking. It achieved the first goal, but the second faded out of view with each passing update. By last year, it was a slim iPod classic -- nothing more, nothing less. The camera and FM radio were added to sustain interest, not to break through expectations.

The latest iPod nano is something far more unique. And it effectively capitalizes on those customers that want genuine mobility.

After all, the device is extremely small; it's so small that it can be worn like a watch or on a shirt edge without a case. And with a touchscreen, it's the single device in the iPod line this year that made users take a second look. Many of the the complaints over the input are ridiculous. Yes, it's a small display, but that doesn't mean that the touchscreen won't work well. It just means that you'll need to use a single index finger to choose items. Is that all that different from what you're doing now? You're not picking out tracks sight unseen on the older iPod nano, either, but you do have to keep it in a pocket or an armband.

Moreover, let's not forget that Apple currently offers a fine solution for those that want all the bells and whistles. It's called the iPod touch, and it delivers the video quality and the screen real estate that you really want for playing and recording video. It's of course more expensive, but it's also much less of a compromise than shoehorning these features into a device with a click wheel. In an era when smartphones reign supreme, a pure MP3 player needs to offer a design that clearly does what your phone can't.

It's the iPod nano that provides the best value proposition if you want a music device first. It's affordable and truly portable. It jolts the system with a design you haven't seen before. It more effectively targets its audience better than any other iPod. It doesn't try to be all things to all people -- that's what the iPod touch is for -- and sticks to its core feature like nothing else. For that reason, it may actually be the best device in its category; it might not be a jack of all trades, but it's a master where it counts.

By Don Reisinger




by MacNN Staff

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Comments

  1. facebook_Fhillipe

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Sep 2010

    +8

    Focus

    I like of the new iPod Nano, because Apple remained the focus in a unique aspect: Music!

  1. facebook_Jason

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Sep 2010

    +4

    facebook_jason

    As a specialized product, it should have had a Nike+ receiver built in. That's my one gripe.

  1. Monde

    Joined: Dec 1969

    -1

    No onboard with this

    Give me the previous iteration any day. It could do all this could and run video, take video and output it to boot. Now if you want those features, you'll have to step up to a significantly more expensive iPod. I call this a mistake--apple makes em you know--consider their backpedaling on the design of the shuffle.

  1. Loren

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +7

    FM is huge...

    That's a very sensible addition to a portable device which everyone seems to overlook. But I guess there aren't as many NPR junkies as I thought here...

  1. SockRolid

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +2

    A few minor nitpicks

    "it's better to focus more on music"

    Agree. Previous nano's camera and video were bonuses, not must-have features. But to really improve music across the iPod and iPhone lines, Apple needs to provide better earbuds. Improved sound isolation, like that on the $79 Apple In-Ear Headphones, would be awesome.

    "You're not picking out tracks sight unseen on the older iPod nano, either"

    I personally like the touchscreen idea on the new nano. But many people prefer a physical click wheel that you can control without looking at it, as on the new shuffle. I tend to listen to podcasts on walks so I rarely need to change tracks. But for people who listen to music, particularly in shuffle mode, skipping tracks without looking is a nice feature. And not by using the controls on the headphone cord. Apparently that is very unpopular.

    Overall I really like the new iPod lineup. Won't be getting any because I have an iPhone 4. And as for the Classic? Well, since it hasn't changed this year, it's "even *more* classic"!

  1. facebook_Francis

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Sep 2010

    +9

    The previous generation isn't as good as this one?

    I beg to differ, quite honestly. I'm the proud owner of a previous-gen Nano, and I like it a lot more than this new version. In today's day and age, we all expect our digital devices to do more than their original intention. Our cell phones now have the ability to multitask, play music, surf the web, and (if the current trends continue) will eventually be able to replace our desktop PCs. Our computers initially were nothing but word processors and specialized machines to manage microsystems. Now, they've infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives with programs enabling use in every profession available. Our video game systems have to play movies. Our eBook readers have to surf the Web. Naturally, you'd expect iPods to follow this trend.

    Take a look at Apple's current and past lineup of iPods. The iPod Classic plays music, videos and photos. That's it. The Shuffle is dedicated to music and audiobooks, but now it has voice synthesizer software built in and support for playlists. The Touch... oh dear god, with a Wi-Fi connection and a set of headphones or earbuds, they can replicate literally almost every aspect of an iPhone, which more or less can do everything. The Nano used to be able to play music, videos, photos, and radio. Now, it can't play/record video. What happened to those people who wanted a basic MP3 and video player at a decent price from Apple? If you wanted a dedicated music device with decent storage space, you could have bought a Nano and used all of its internal memory for music. Or if you just wanted a basic video device without all of the bells and whistles, you could have bought the Nano. Or, if you're like me, who wants a device that can play music and video without Wi-Fi or tons of apps or whatever, the Nano was perfect. Now, people like me who use it for both are alienated and are forced to buy the more expensive product. Also, in response to your claim that the screen is atrocious for video watching, it is not. It may not be as good as the Touch, but the view angles are fantastic save for at ridiculous extremes.

    *sigh* Well, there ends my rant.

  1. bjojade

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +5

    You can still get the old one.

    If you like the features of the old NANO, they are still available from plenty of sources.

  1. iDaver

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +8

    long live the click-wheel

    It comes down to what you think is the better controller for listening to music. The click-wheel was the best controller ever invented, IMO. For Apple to abandon it is foolish. I find the touch interface much harder to use.

    I agree playing video was less than perfect on a small screen but at least it and the camera were there in a pinch. Now they're gone, for no good reason. Was the nano really not small enough before?

    Thankfully Apple reconsidered the design of the shuffle. That will be my iPod of choice from now on.

  1. Beetlebug

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +9

    No! No! Nano!

    The new Nano sucks.

    Loss of video camera? No loss

    Loss of video replay. No big deal.

    But the new UI is just ghastly. It is fine if you want to launch a playlist and don't have to change it. The volume up / down buttons are good. But at least standing in the Apple Store and trying to figure the UI out, I couldn't find a "lock."

    "Lock?" When I put my Nano in my pocket, I often set the lock to keep the controls from getting jostled. Other times, I leave the Nano unlocked, so I can easily change the volume, by feel, or, really more important, put it in on pause to answer the phone or speak to someone I encounter "in real life."

    I have (to play downloaded WMA AudioBooks from my public library) a Sansa Clip. Quite a competent player, smaller than the 5G Nano but with a less useful interface than the Apple Click Wheel. What both the Clip and the Nano 5G both allow is operation, by "muscle memory," of a gadget buried deep in your pocket, or while you're lying awake listening to BBC while your spouse snores blissfully away on the adjacent pillow.

    The new Nano looks nice. Feels nice. Sounds great. But you have to lift it to eye sight line to control it. No! No! Nano!

    Fortunately my 5G Nano is doing just fine. If I were in the market today, I'd be looking for one of those new or refurb. If you NEED a NANO, buy the old model. If you need a watch or a tie tac, consider the new one.

  1. chirpy22

    Joined: Dec 1969

    +7

    video

    "The video looked great for the size, but trying to watch video on such a small display -- even on the last generation -- was unbearable."

    It's not the ability to WATCH video on the nano that made it so good. It's the ability to RECORD video and then watch it on your computer. You don't have to carry around a bulky flip video recorder or some other huge thing.

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