Today we look back to November 2005 and iCreate issue 24. The iPod nano had just been released, and amid a flurry of customer complaints of scratching and screen damage, our review opened differently to how you might expect. Still, while we lamented the lack of FireWire, we still loved the nano.
We were going to kick off this review with a stream of superlatives about the nano: how breathtakingly small it is, how astonishing the colour screen is, how superb it’s technical features and audio quality are… But we won’t. The iPod nano is all of the above and more besides, but it’s been making headlines for different reasons – its tendency to get scratched and its possibly flawed screen design that easily cracks.
So rather than skirt around the issue we thought it better to be upfront and get it out of the way. Yes, the iPod nano does easily scratch. After just three days there were scuffs on the case of our test model and one small scar across the screen. It’s far more noticeable on the black unit than the white, but present on both models nonetheless. However, and this is the telling point, it wasn’t really an issue for us until a site appeared called www.flawedmusicplayer.com, which collected reports from people around the world regarding scratched nanos. Suddenly it seemed to be a very big deal, with even the BBC reporting on it.
Except it isn’t that big a deal really. We all dug out our old iPods from various years to check them out. Guess what? They’re all massively scratched. Of course they are, we’ve been chucking them around bags, pockets and desks for the last few years. Apple says that the material on the iPod nano is exactly the same as that of the iPod, and we can’t see any reason to disagree. As we said, it’s more noticeable on the black iPod nano, but on closer inspection the scratching is no worse than a regular full-scale iPod.
Snap, crackle and pop
The issue of the screen cracking is perhaps more pertinent. Apple says this is a ‘vendor issue’ affecting less than a tenth of one per cent of models, and it’s more likely to be ‘down to obese Americans wearing tight jeans and keeping them in their front pocket’. We doubt if this is a big problem – despite the slender looks, the iPod nano does appear to be bulletproof. There’s no spinning hard drive (usually the first thing to go), and aside from the lock there are no moving parts. You can drop it, knock it, even throw it around, and you won’t cause serious damage. Website Ars Technica did far worse things to an iPod nano (http://arstechnica.com reviews/hardware/nano.ars/3), including stamping on it, hurling it in the air and eventually driving over it in a car. Admittedly, the screen did eventually crack, but only after being dropped 40 feet onto solid concrete. And only after committing outrages against man and iPod that should warrant lengthy jail sentences, did they manage to break their test model.
So we’re satisfied with the build quality. We can understand wanting to keep the nano in pristine condition – after all it’s a beautiful piece of kit. But the quick answer is to buy a protective case and not throw it 40 feet into the air. If you’re a tad rotund, maybe buy bigger pants and keep it out of your pocket.
We gushingly eulogised over the nano’s visual appeal last month, so we won’t go on too much about it now. Safe to say new owners will gawp at it with mealy-mouthed grins. Owning an iPod nano is truly a wonderful thing. It’s not so much the size but the slimness that really impresses. At just 0.27mm thick, it’s thinner than the shuffle and just thicker than a pound coin.
What’s more interesting though is the nano’s technical capabilities, of which the most immediately noticeable is the 1.5” full colour screen, which enables you to display photos as well as music. Because its colour has such a high resolution, the screen is far more comfortable than the one on the iPod mini.
It’s a nice touch to have a few pictures in your pocket too, although the 1.5” screen doesn’t really do them justice. It’s just a shame the nano lacks an AV-out socket, so you can’t hook it up to a telly to really show off your photos. We guess Apple has to reserve something for the full-sized iPod. A more useful function for the colour screen is the ability to display album art, which shows up happily alongside the song title on the screen
As with all iPods, it’s superbly easy to get working. When you first hook up your nano, iTunes kicks in and creates a new playlist which it then fills randomly with the appropriate number of songs and fills in extra space with photos. The 2GB model holds 500 songs, while the 4GB model holds 1,000. The auto playlist system works better than the approach used by the shuffle, and at 1,000 songs you need something more organised. Whether or not 4GB of storage space is going to be enough though, is something only you can decide. We think leaving the house with 1,000 songs in the morning is more than enough to keep us bopping all day, but some people are happier with their whole collection intact. We’re disappointed though, by the USB-only connection, especially as plugging in a FireWire cable brings up an error message. If you have USB 2, then transferring 1,000 songs will take a couple of minutes, but if you have regular USB it’ll take you well over an hour to fill up a 4GB nano. We can see the sense in including a USB cable to cross-appeal to PC owners, but surely it wouldn’t have hurt to include FireWire compatibility for the Mac faithful.
There are plenty of nice touches to make up for the wait though, thanks largely to iTunes 5. One is song lyrics – typed into iTunes and automatically sent to the nano. It also has an address book and calendar support, and transfers personal info effortlessly. There are extra features such as multiple clocks for different time zones, but perhaps the most useful is the Stopwatch.
Last but not least, the sound quality is every bit as good as the full-sized iPod. It’s not as loud as the shuffle, but with features like Sound Checking and a 20 preset equaliser, it’s the better device.
The nano is by far the best iPod on the market, making it the best MP3 player in the world – unless Apple has announced the 80GB Video iPod (which may have happened, see our Pod Talk section for more information). But at this price you won’t find better. It knocks the shuffle for six, and we dare anyone to suggest that any non-iPod is better. This is a beautiful piece of kit, and if you want it to stay that way, buy a £20 set of protective nano Tubes to go with it.
Price: £139 (2GB); £179 (4GB)
What’s good: The full colour screen and diminutive size are both awesome. The solid state memory is more reliable than the old hard drive as well.
What’s bad: Very little! The storage size might not be enough for some people and the scratches do show up heavily on the black model.