Apple’s pedigree in the MP3 market is unsurpassed. Its iPods have sold in the millions over the years and whether or not you agree with its approach to selling music and synchronisation, there’s simply no arguing over the quality of its hardware. Even by its lofty standards, however, the latest iPod nano makes a bold statement.
Gone is the click wheel of old and gone is the tall, thin profile, to be replaced with an all-touchscreen interface. It’s less than half the size of the previous nano, measuring an eminently misplaceable 40.9 x 8.8 x 37.5mm (WDH) and weighing a barely noticeable 21.1g. In fact, the design – with its aluminium casing and large clip – is closer to the 2008 Shuffle than its predecessor. Clip it to your lapel, belt or inside pocket and you won’t know it’s there.
Our first reaction, though, was one of wonder mixed with scepticism. Surely that tiny 1.54in would be too small to work as a touch interface? How on earth can you possibly navigate hundreds of tracks on a screen barely bigger than a postage stamp? It turns out, however, that our fears were unfounded.
The touchscreen technology is, as with the iPhone 4 and iPod touch, capacitive, so the merest brush of a finger is all that’s needed to activate the onscreen buttons and options. But it’s the way the nano’s designers have managed to squeeze an iOS-style interface into such tight confines that really takes the breath away.
The first thing that confronts you after powering on the device are four square buttons, arranged in time-honoured iOS style. They’re just the right size for finger or thumb tapping, and you just swipe your finger to the left or the right to get to more options. Once you’re into track, song, album or artist views, even long lists are dispatched with effortless smoothness. An alphabetical index running down the right-hand side of listings is just as easy to operate, allowing thousands of items to be navigated in a matter of seconds.
It isn’t all touch, however, and that’s a good thing. Physical volume controls sit on the top edge, so you’re never left fishing around in menus when browsing listings, and next to these is a power button, which turns the screen on and off. After a couple of minutes, operating the nano became second nature. In fact, we found it quicker to navigate through our music collection on this tiny touchscreen than with the old-style click wheel.
Combine that with very good sound quality – we had no complaints whether listening through a pair of over-the-ear V-Moda CrossFade LPs or some in-ear canal Ultimate Ears 700s – and a selection of swanky extras, including a pedometer, Nike+ iPod support and an FM radio you can pause, and you have a compact MP3 player of rare polish and pedigree.
It’s a remarkable achievement, but it isn’t without its problems, and our first arose when trying to clip the player to clothing. If you forget to turn the screen off, it’s very easy to skip forward a track or jump to another song entirely by touching the edge of the screen. Neither are we convinced that multitouch is a great idea on this tiny screen. It’s limited in its scope – all you can do with it is change the screen orientation – and with barely enough room for two fingers side by side on the display, it’s more than a little fiddly.
The omission of a proper lock switch is problematic: it’s too easy to click the screen on/off button by accident. It’s also disappointing that video playback has been removed entirely from the features list, especially as the price is £129 for the 8GB player and £159 for the 16GB version. Finally, although there’s an accelerometer, it can’t be used to rotate the screen automatically.
It would be remiss of us to gloss over the new nano’s faults, and we can’t honestly say it’s worth upgrading from the previous models at these prices. For all that, however, we have a big soft spot for the new nano. It’s a gorgeous thing to have and behold, and for anyone who loves their technology bling it will prove absolutely irresistible.