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Up until a month ago, I was happily dependent on an aged, third-generation 30GB iPod for all my music needs. My collection is just over 20GB and growing, so that 30-gig player was a good fit.

Then my iPod died. Kicked the bucket, joined the choir invisible, you know the routine.

Lucky for me, we had a couple of iPod nanos floating around the office, so I borrowed one of the 4GB models for a long-term evaluation. My verdict so far: Sure, it’s got scratches all over it. But I prefer it to my old 30GB player.

Of course, I’ve played around with the smaller iPods before, but I’ve never relied solely on them. Now that I’ve been living with the nano, I find I like it because it forces me to be more selective about the music I put on it.

At last count, I’ve got more than 70 iTunes playlists. Lately, my favorites have been those I’ve set up to that mimic my favorite radio stations (putting my American roots music in “KPIG,” alternative in “WBCN,” eclectic stuff in “KCRW,” etc…)

But I couldn’t fit more than two of those lists on the nano. So I created a bunch of smaller playlists for the nano based on those larger ones. Nothing particularly clever, just something like:

• ‘Playlist’ is ‘KFOG’;
• Limit to 200MB selected by ‘least recently played.’

That last line is what makes me like the nano. Because it’s always loading up stuff I haven’t heard in a while, I’ve been cycling through my whole collection, instead of shuffling through those huge playlists (and running into the infamous “is it really random?” problem ). On some of those lists, I’m hearing songs I haven’t heard in years; some of them I forgot I had.

Of course, I also load up a few playlists (Recent Purchases, Current Obsessions) that aren’t based on ‘least recently played.’ But I keep gravitating back to those radio playlists, because they keep surprising me.

Yes, I could use the same ‘least recently played’ lists on a full-sized iPod—but I don’t think I would. When you’ve got lots of disk space, you tend to use it.

(Speaking of which, I do have one suggestion/request, Apple: In the iPod Options preferences pane, could you somehow indicate the running GB total as I select playlists? I get tired of seeing that “not enough free space” message after I’ve started to sync.)

When I bring this eval nano in from the field, I’ll be headed online to buy a new iPod. But I think I’m going to skip past the full-sized models (video or no video), and opt instead for one of the new, smaller players (or maybe a retro-cool iPod mini ). Like the man said, sometimes small is beautiful.

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