capsule review

Fifth-generation iPod nano

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Note that stations supporting iTunes Tagging aren’t found everywhere—we found just a couple in San Francisco and I couldn’t find a single one near my home. It’s a technology in its infant state, but one likely to catch on now that a device as popular as the nano supports it.

The 5G nano allows you to choose from among five radio regions—America, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Japan—making it a reliable international companion. Since the nano doesn't have a built-in antenna, you must have something plugged into the nano’s headphone port for the radio to work—a set of headphones or audio cable will do. A dock won’t, however. Place the nano in a dock or leave the headphone port empty, try to use the radio, and you’ll see a message telling you to plug in headphones for the radio to work.

And how does the radio sound? It depends on the strength of the frequency you’re tuned into. I found the reception far better than the radio on an older SanDisk Sansa player I own but not as good as my car radio, the tuner in my home stereo, or the radio I listen to in the kitchen. But then I live in a valley where radio reception can be dodgy. In a more densely populated area you’ll likely get better results.

I did find the radio’s interface a little frustrating at times. The bottom of the screen displays three sets of controls—station tuning, buffer, and volume. There would be times I’d want to adjust the volume and I tried to do that when the station tuning display was present. Scroll the clickwheel and you choose a different station rather than adjust the volume. What I should have done is press the Center button to display the buffer bar and then scrolled around the clickwheel to change volume. Such is the limitation of a broad control like the clickwheel.

Pedometer

The 5G nano’s pedometer isn’t a replacement for the Nike+ hardware—a kit that uses your stride length to calculate and compare workout data. The nano’s pedometer works with the accelerometer to measure the steps you take—a bump will count as a step as far as the nano is concerned.

To use it, choose Fitness from the Extras screen, select Settings from the Fitness screen, select a daily step goal, weight, and screen orientation; choose Pedometer; and start moving. The Pedometer will keep track of the number of steps you take, estimate the number of calories burned, and track the time it’s been engaged. To stop a session, press the Center button and return to the Settings screen. You can then choose History and see how many steps you’ve taken and how many calories you've burned on a given calendar day.

When you sync the nano, its pedometer data will be copied to your computer and, optionally, synced to the Nike+ Active site. (Free registration with Nike+ required.) I wasn’t able to log any workouts but I plan to as this looks like a fun way to keep track of an activity I consider otherwise dreary.

Operation

The 5G iPod nano differs very little from its predecessor in the way it plays media. Like that earlier nano, it includes a Cover Flow view for scrolling through the device’s music collection when holding it in a horizontal orientation. This iPod also supports creating Genius playlists just as did the 4G iPod nano.

You can also give this nano a vigorous shake to shuffle through the music housed in the iPod. As with the previous nano, you can’t limit shuffling to an artist, album, or playlist. Once you shake, you’re in Shuffle Songs mode even if you’ve configured the Shuffle setting to shuffle by album. In short, anything you could do with the 4G iPod nano also works with the latest one.

Macworld’s buying advice

The 4G iPod nano was an incremental update to the 3G nano that preceded it—new form, new colors, better storage, Genius playlist support, Spoken Menus, and an accelerometer. A fine, but hardly earthshaking, update. The 5G iPod nano is different. A video camera, built-in microphone, and buffered FM radio make this iPod nano a far more functional, flexible, and entertaining iPod than its predecessor. It won’t replace your full-sized camcorder (or even last year’s pocket camcorder). It’s not Tivo for radio nor a field recorder. It’s a compelling upgrade to an already solid and affordable media player. If the iPod you own is starting to look a little limited, this is the iPod to ask for this holiday season.

[Senior editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, fifth edition (Peachpit Press 2009).]

Updated to correct pricing of 16GB model and clarify the behavior of the radio buffer.

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