Review: iPod nano (second generation)
Only in the fast-paced world of technology would the words “What’s old is new again” refer to a product that’s been dead for barely a year. And yet, how else would you describe the second-generation (2G) iPod nano ( ) but as the resurrection of the iPod mini —in the form of a “mini” mini?
Something borrowed, something new
Though the newest iPod nanos look positively Lilliputian when placed next to an iPod mini, they’re very much a restatement of the former. Available in capacities of 2, 4, and 8GB (priced at $149, $199, and $249, respectively) these iPods bear the same kind of scratch-resistant aluminum shell, rounded edges, and, in the 4GB version, colorful exterior, as the iPod mini. The lowest priced nano comes in silver; the 4GB model can be had in that same silver or a bright blue, green, or pink hue; and the 8GB nano is offered only in brushed-metal black. Like the iPod mini, the new nanos feel solid in your hand, more so than the original nano.
On the other hand, despite the external trappings, the 2G iPod nano has far more in common with its parent, the original iPod nano. It’s approximately the same height and width, though a bit thinner at a depth of 0.26 inches versus the original’s 0.27 inches. It, too, bears a headphone port on the bottom rather than the top. (Though on the new nano, there’s a wider space between the headphone port and dock connector, making it impossible to use first-generation nano accessories that plug into both the dock and headphone ports—some lanyards, portable speakers, and FM transmitters, for example.) As with the earlier nano, you can sync it only via USB, and it has all the features found on the previous nano including Volume Limit, Stopwatch, Screen Lock, and support for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit. It also sounds just as good as the previous nano.
Yet there are some differences as well. The 2G iPod nano includes a new search feature accessed via a Search command at the bottom of the Music screen (or, if you choose to enable the feature via the Main Menu command in the Settings screen, near the bottom of the main menu). Choose this command and press the Center button—né Select on older iPods—to be transported to the Search screen. Here you use the scroll wheel to select letters on the screen. Choose a letter, press Center, and the track list is whittled down to include just entries that begin with that letter. Continue dialing in letters to narrow your search; a numeric display shows how many tracks match. Scroll back to the Done command, press Center, and the track list changes to a Search Results screen where you choose your item—an artist name, album name, or track title.
Search is smarter than it appears. Although it prioritizes items that begin with the letters you input, as you continue to refine the search, it also adds items that bear the search term anywhere the track’s name, as well as artist and album names. For example, enter DC and ACDC will appear in the list; clas will find “Classics,” “The Clash,” and “Story of the Clash.”
This could be a useful tool for those with large, disorganized iPod music libraries, but I found the process to be a little tedious. With a good collection of organized playlists, I could find my music more quickly the old-fashioned way. More helpful is a new feature that causes a translucent-gray, alphanumeric overlay to appear on the screen when you’re scrolling through a list of artists, albums, or songs. Just start scrolling and, within a second or so, the overlay appears displaying the letter that corresponds to where you are in the list—J for Jack Johnson, James Brown, The Jayhawks, Joni Mitchell, and Joss Stone, for example. Though the initial delay to display the first character requires that you scroll back on occasion, it’s a very slick way to navigate through your music search.
The 2G iPod nano, unlike its predecessor, also allows you to record voice memos with a compatible accessory such as Belkin’s $70 TuneTalk and XtremeMac’s $60 MicroMemo. Just like its larger sibling, the fifth-generation iPod, you can record memos at low or high quality—mono WAV format at a sample rate of 22.05kHz and stereo WAV format at 44.1kHz, respectively.
The new nano, like all iPods announced on September 12, comes with Apple’s new earbuds. Unlike previous Apple earbuds, these ship without foam covers. Issues of hygiene aside, I miss the foam covers as, in my ears, they help keep the earbuds in place. Without such covers, these earbuds tend to slide around in my ears to the point where I can’t make them stick in the “sweet spot” that delivers the best sound. Thankfully, I have other earbuds that I prefer. Hopefully, you do too.
Another change in the new nano is relatively minor, but one I like. The Center button is slightly concave, rather than convex as it’s been on many previous iPods, or flat as it was on the original nano and on fifth-generation iPods. This tiny divot makes it easier to locate that button by touch, allowing you to orient yourself to the iPod’s controls without looking at the player.
A final difference worth noting: The 2G iPod nano takes longer to sync than does its predecessor. I synced the same 3.52GB playlist to a 4GB first-generation nano and a 4GB second-generation nano and it took the newer iPod just under 50 percent longer to complete the sync on my dual-2Ghz Power Mac G5—9 minutes, 53 seconds for the older nano versus 14 minutes, 22 seconds for the newer model.
Longer and brighter
The two most impressive enhancements to the nano are ones you may not notice at first—its battery life and screen brightness. Apple claims that the new iPod nano can play up to 24 hours of music on a single battery charge and that the display is 40 percent brighter than the old nano. Neither claim is exaggerated.
To test battery life, I fully charged each nano, selected the first track in a playlist of AAC files encoded at bit rates of less than 180kbs and with sizes of less than 8MB per track, and pressed Play; functions that stress the battery—specifically backlighting, EQ, and Sound Check—were turned off. Our black 8GB iPod nano played for 26 hours and 45 minutes, a blue 4GB nano died at just over 26 hours and 26 minutes, and the 2GB nano took the battery-miser prize by playing non-stop for an impressive 28 hours and 7 minutes. Given these results, it appears that under normal use a new nano should be able to pump out Apple’s claimed 24 hours of music on a single charge.
As for the screen brightness, I admit that I don’t have the tools necessary to determine if the 2G nano’s screen is actually 40 percent brighter. But there’s little doubt that the new nano’s display is distinctly brighter. Place an old and new nano side-by-side and pull up the same photo on each and the original nano’s display looks positively dingy in comparison to its newer buddy. It’s also brighter than the display on my “old” 5G iPod—the full-sized iPod model prior to the one announced on September 12.
The second-generation iPod nano is both a welcome step back to the more colorful (and scratch-resistant) days of the iPod mini and a moderate step forward in functionality. This middle-child iPod feels and looks great with its rugged aluminum finish and bright display. Apple’s done nice things with power management to allow the nano to play for 24-plus hours on a single charge. And the ability to record high-quality voice memos and more easily search your portable music collection are nice enhancements—though, like me, you may find the click-a-letter search feature more trouble than it’s worth. All in all, this is a worthy successor to the original nano and one that’s likely to be a smash hit this holiday season.
Updated 9/16/06 to include battery test results for 2GB nano.iPod nano (second generation)