iPod Nano 8GB Personal Music Player
The third generation of the Nano series
The new third
generation Nano iPod is necessarily wider than its
predecessors, so as to accommodate its larger screen (2"
diagonal rather than the 1.5" of earlier model units).
To compensate, at least in part, it is much shorter, so
ends up being only very slightly larger (and heavier)
overall than the units it replaces.
Part of a series on the Apple iPod -
see links on the right for more parts of this series.
An amazing example of
miniaturization and perhaps as small as a portable music player
can ever get (size limits being set now by the screen and
control sizes, rather than by the internal electronics) the iPod
Nano is beautifully designed and manufactured to a high quality,
making it an object of beauty and engineering art.
Software limitations, both due
to in part gratuitous imposition of copy
protection on the music you load onto the unit, and Apple's
over-control of the unit, interfere with
the Nano's usability. But most people who enjoy
popular and casual music will seldom notice these issues and
will find the unit an excellent way of carrying vast amounts of
music with them, wherever they go.
Although the larger and much
higher resolution screen (than its predecessors) is being touted
as video-capable, the screen is truly too small to enjoy
watching video, other than as a short term novelty, and the
unit's storage capacity is also insufficient to hold a sensible
amount of video.
While not recommended for
video, Apple's leadership in the personal music player arena is
confirmed, yet again, by the release of this new design iPod
What You Get With Your iPod
Everything about the Apple
iPod Nano is elegant, starting off with its packaging. A
phrase much used some years ago by many manufacturers, but
rarely adopted with any meaningful success, is 'the out of the
box experience' - a phrase that refers to the new owner's first
impressions upon receiving and opening the item. The
theory is that this experience should be strongly positive and
reinforce in the buyer's mind the wisdom of their purchasing
decision, setting the scene for an ongoing positive experience
as an owner and user.
Few companies seem to have
done much more than pay lipservice to the concept, and it seems to have somewhat gone out of fashion
(being replaced by cost austerity and 'green' type packaging and
Apple is very good at designing not just their products but also
of the box experiences for new owners.
In the case of their latest
8GB Nano iPod, the Nano is packaged inside a clear plastic box,
nicely framed in a cradle mount at the top of it, reminiscent of
how a piece of expensive jewelry would be displayed.
How to open the box?
There's a little discreet sticker showing you where and how to
peel away the scotch tape that seals the box shut; after doing
that, the box hinges open to reveal the Nano, which you can then
remove from its cradle.
Underneath the cradle you open
up two light cardboard flaps to find a set of headphones, a
connecting cable, a cradle adapter, a short quick start guide,
an 'Important Product Information' sheet full of disclaimers,
and a couple of Apple logo decals.
The quick start guide is a
fanfold piece with very little information in it, and the
information it does have is overly simplified. Perhaps the
most useful piece of information in the guide is where to go to
find a more detailed manual on Apple's website - this is the
The 72 page manual that one can download
from there is written in the same annoying style as the
manual - instead of referring to 'the iPod Nano' it omits the
definite article, and talks instead in phrases such as 'The
controls on iPod Nano are easy to find and use'. Anyone
who speaks English as their first language will find this
affected and annoying.
The Nano comes with a one
year non-transferable warranty, including a single support
incident within 90 days. This can be extended to two years
of warranty and unlimited support by buying Apple's Applecare
protection plan, which costs $39.
The Applecare protection also covers battery
replacement in the event the battery life reduces down to 50% of
its initial capacity. If you use your Nano a lot, this
might be an issue, although with a claimed 24 hr battery life
(for music playback) you'd have to be playing it almost
non-stop, 24/7, to have your battery worn out to the point that
it needs replacing within two years.
The real value in this
warranty extension is probably the two years of phone support.
And because the Applecare plan can be purchased at any time
during the first year of ownership, your strategy is probably to
wait until you need to place another support call before signing
up for the coverage.
The unit does not come with
a power charger, just a USB cable that assumes you'll always be
close to a computer USB port to charge from.
Happily, there's a huge
range of after-market products, including chargers, for you to
choose from. All sorts of external amplifiers and speaker
sets, and even video monitors are available. None of the
other brands of MP3 players have any appreciable amount of after
market product available at all. This factor alone is a
strong reason to consider the iPod product range.
About the iPod Nano
The Nano is a delightfully
small unit, measuring approx 2.75" x 3.1" x 0.25", and weighing
a mere 1.7 ounces. It is solidly constructed with an all
metal case - mirror polished chrome on the back, and a matt
metallic aluminum color on the front (it is available in six
somewhat subdued colors).
On the bottom side there is
a Hold slide switch (to lock the controls), a socket for an
Apple iPod to computer/USB connecting cable, and a headset out socket.
On the front is a color
screen that measures 2" in diagonal (ie 1.6" x 1.2"), with a
resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. This works out at 200
pixels per inch which is a commendably high pixel density (but
it does not compensate for the screen's small size). Apple
says it is 65% brighter than the screen on the earlier (long
thin style) Nano units.
The screen has an aspect
ratio of 4:3, same as traditional television screens. If
you're watching a widescreen movie, the image size and pixel
count reduces still
further due to the letter boxing top and bottom.
Below the screen is Apple's
distinctive wheel type controller, with four push zones on the wheel
part, plus another push zone in the middle part, and also the
touch sensitive rim that you move your finger around to scroll
up and down through menus.
There are no other controls
on the unit.
Using the Apple iPod Nano
My review unit is an 8GB
model (the Nano is also available in a 4GB capacity),
but the 8GB is actually only 7.41GB of available data storage
space. In case you're not doing that sums, that means the
8GB claim is almost a 10% exaggeration; and while 600MB isn't
much if we're talking about many tens of GB, the reality is
you're probably going to fill an 8GB iPod before too long, and
you'll then wish your 8GB iPod truly held 8GB.
My Nano had software version
1.0.2 on it, and when I first connected it to my computer, I was immediately advised
(through the iTunes interface) of an available
upgrade, to 1.1, which was described as mainly containing bug
fixes. Upgrading to the 1.1 software was easy and quick.
When I first turned the Nano on,
up a configuration program, offering 22 different languages,
many in different scripts (like Russian or Mandarin). I
The Nano seems easy to
accidentally turn on. A brief push on any of the button
parts of the controls will turn it on - this can be an issue if
you accidentally turn the Nano on and it then accidentally
starts playing a long playlist and uses up battery life that you
were relying on being available subsequently (eg on a long plane
On the other hand, turning
it off is not fully intuitive. In a manner eerily
reminiscent of the infamous Windows concept 'You click on the
Start button to turn your computer off' you click and hold the
'Pause/Play' button on an iPod to turn it off.
And if your iPod should ever
freeze and need to be rebooted (this has happened to me with my
full size 80GB iPod), don't go looking for a reset button or
hole or anything as intuitive as that. Nope - to reset the
iPod you have to slide the Hold switch over to 'On' (so the red
part is visible) then back to 'Off' again, then after that,
press and hold both the Menu and Center buttons until the Apple
logo appears on the screen (at least six seconds). Is that
intuitive - or an engineer's nightmarish parody of how to make
something as complicated as possible?
Imagine if you're in the
middle of nowhere, and without your printed out iPod manual with
you, and your Nano freezes. How will you remember this
The control wheel on the
Nano is quite a lot smaller than on a regular iPod - it has a
2.4" circumference around the mid-point of the touch sensitive
rim, compared to a 3.5" circumference on a regular iPod.
This means that the 'clicks' around the rim are very much more
closely spaced, and it is harder to have fine control, trying to
move the wheel sensor only one click. It seems there are
about 20 or so clicks around the rim.
The good news is that the
screen resolution on the new third generation Nano is much
higher than on the earlier second generation units (up from
176x132 to 320x240 pixels - more than three times as much
picture information) and the screen size is also larger (2"
diagonal, up from 1.5" diagonal).
But the bad news is that the
screen is still way too ridiculously small to watch video on.
Even its larger brother - the regular iPod, with a 2.5" screen,
is still much to small; it is only when you get the 3.5" screen
on an iPod Touch (or iPhone) or the 4.3" screen on an Archos
unit that you enter the realm of big enough for up-close
However, you can do
something else with videos stored on your Nano. If
recorded in sufficiently high quality (ie 640x480) they'll look
as good as any other video if played back through a regular
television or video/computer monitor. But you'll only be
able to store about 4 hours of video on your Nano at this
resolution, which is much too little for most practical
One of the great features of
the Nano is its wonderfully long battery life - due in part to
not having a hard disk inside it. Hard disks use a lot of
battery power to be started up and spun around; solid state
memory uses very little power, allowing for the twin benefits of
smaller batteries and longer battery life.
Even though the new 3G Nano
has a larger brighter screen (needing more battery power) it
offers the same battery life as its earlier 2G predecessor -
rated at about 24 hours of audio playback or 5 hours of video
Some test results have been
reported as suggesting that it is possible to get more than this
life from a single battery charge, other test results have
suggested that the battery life seldom meets the promised
specification. Which should you believe?
Actually, both types of
results are probably correct - the big variable is how you use
your iPod Nano. Keep the screen set as dim as possible,
and try to keep the screen off as much as possible. If you
do these two things, and if you keep the volume turned down a
bit, you're going to get the best possible battery life, and
with a new unit and unused battery, you'll probably get close to
Apple's claimed 24 hours of music playback. That's an
incredibly long time (although the 5 hrs of video playback isn't
nearly as useful, but you should never use the Nano for video
playback, so who cares about that).
No Help, Just Disclaimers
I went looking for a Help
file on the unit, but there was none to be found. But
Apple does include a file full of legal disclaimers - what a sad
and sorry commentary that is; a company neglects to provide
a user with help information but instead provides them with
legal jargon and nonsense disclaimers.
Software and interface
The software and interface is
subtly different to my 80GB iPod - for example, in the
'Settings' menu the click option now has three settings rather
than two - either no sounds, sounds through both headset and
mini speaker in the unit, or sounds through the headphones only,
or sounds through both speaker and headphones. Hardly a
What is a nice improvement
is that these different choices have a very slight amount of
descriptive narrative offered to the right - the screen splits
in two, with the right hand side now providing some information
about each choice. It is strange that Apple is using the
smaller screen to display more information than it chooses to
with the larger screen of the iPod classic.
Video options are more
flexible too. The iPod classic allows you only to choose
from whether the video signal is to be output to a television,
which format (widescreen or pan and scan) and which format (NTSC
The Nano adds options for
subtitles, alternative audio and captions to its video playback
It is puzzling that such
software based things as all these things haven't been added to
the iPod classic software as well as to the Nano software, and
somewhat disappointing, too. Clearly Apple's focus seems
to be more on encouraging people to upgrade, than it is in
adding new capabilities to existing players.
It is interesting to note
that with their iPod Touch, Apple sells new versions of the
software for $20 per version upgrade. This is arguably
fair, and at least allows purchasers the choice of upgrading or
not. But with their Classic iPods, it seems Apple simply
freezes their capabilities without allowing for ongoing
Shame on Apple.
Apple's new Cover Flow
Presentation of Music
One of the much hyped new
features in Apple's new iPods is what it calls 'Cover Flow'.
Think of a graphic depiction
of an old fashioned Rolodex, with the different cards flipping
into view and out of view again. Now imagine the Rolodex
is lying on its side rather than upright. And, instead of
Rolodex cards, think of CD covers. This is what Cover Flow
is and does - it is just another way of working through the list
of Albums from which you have music.
This new feature is
interesting because, although a new feature, it is actually an
anachronism - it ties each piece of music as needing to belong
to an Album (ie CD). With more and more people buying
music by the track rather than by the CD, the Cover Flow concept
no longer works as well as it might have done, back before MP3
Similarly, if you organize
your music by Play lists, Cover Flow again fails to apply.
There's another problem with
Cover Flow. If you're transferring your own CDs and other
music to the iPod, you have to rely on being able to
automatically have the iPod find the relevant cover art through
iTunes. Sometimes iTunes can find the cover art - for
common mainstream CDs that are still being actively sold - but
if you have some less common CDs, or if you're recording music
from other sources, you may find that there are no pictures for
the album cover. This means that the Cover Flow display
becomes a visually unappealing series of blank images (with the
name of the track or album below).
And even if you do get lucky
and have a picture, it is very small - about 5/8" x 5/8" (125 x
125 pixels). This doesn't really show much meaningful
detail; it is all about flashy 'eye candy'.
Is 8GB (or even 4GB) Enough
How much capacity do you
need on an iPod (or any other MP3 player) to store your music?
Well, this question contains
an important assumption. It assumes you'll be using your
iPod to only store music. If you're going to store video,
then almost right from the get-go, neither 4GB nor 8GB will be
nearly enough capacity for you to keep even a very minimal
library of video together with some music too. A typical 2
hour movie will use up about 1.5GB (depending on the quality
settings for the video compression), so an 8GB iPod can hold
only about five movies on it.
Music takes up very much
less space. An hour of music uses up about 75MB of
storage, so you can get about 100 hours of music onto an 8GB
iPod (again depending on the quality/compression settings for
It is probably stating the
obvious to observe that a full size iPod with 80GB or 160GB of
storage can hold ten or twenty times as much material, and the
160GB unit can hold an impressive amount of video as well as
lots of music, too.
But these larger units are,
well, larger. There's something enormously appealing about
the small size of a Nano; indeed it is so small that, if 8GB
isn't enough storage, there's the temptation to say to oneself
'I'll buy two and split my music between them' rather than
choosing to upgrade to a higher capacity hard drive based iPod.
Although the idea of buying
two 8GB iPod Nanos would not make much financial sense ($398 for
two 8GB Nanos, compared to $249 for an
80GB iPod Classic) you
would then have 48 hrs of battery life, between the two units (compared
to 30 hrs with the 80GB iPod). But, for most of us, the
24hr life of a single unit is more than sufficient to cover our
music listening needs between recharges.
The other alternative, of
course, is an iPod Touch with 16GB and 32GB units for $399 and
8GB is barely enough
capacity for most people, and 4GB is probably too little.
So, if you have no desire to
store or play video, an 8GB Nano, costing $100, is a great
choice. The $50 saved by choosing a 4GB Nano at $149 is
not a wise decision.
But if 8GB is not enough,
then the 16GB Touch at $399 or an 80GB iPod Classic for $249 are
And if you want to store and
play video, then you probably need the 32 GB Touch ($499) or the
80/160GB Classic for $249/$349. The Classic holds much
more data, the Touch has a much bigger and higher resolution
Other Helpful Information
There's a lot of overlap
between the information that could potentially be included in
this review and the information already available in the iPod
80GB review, and so we've generally left much of the extra
information out of this review. But go read up the extra
material on the 80GB iPod review for a broader appreciation of
the Apple iPod in general, and perhaps consider some of the
other relevant articles linked at the top right
of this article.
The completely redesigned
Apple iPod Nano has resulted in a product with major
improvements over the earlier second and first generation units.
Unfortunately, these improvements are largely in a useless
irrelevant area - video. The unit remains completely
impractical for either storing or playing back video.
When it comes to simply
storing and playing back music, the new iPods are much the same
as the ones they replace. But that is not a criticism;
indeed it is perhaps a compliment at the lasting value of the
A unique benefit of choosing
an Apple branded MP3 player is that you get access to a huge
range of after-market accessories and add-ons - something that
none of Apple's competitors offer.
If you don't already have an
MP3 player, and if you don't have 'special' needs (such as being
a classical music lover) then the Nano is probably an excellent
choice for you, giving you a very attractive piece of
'electronic jewelry' at a reasonable price. But if you do
want the ability to file and retrieve your music in a manner of
your choosing, then a less structured type player like an
Archos would be a better choice.
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21 Mar 2008, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.