When the new 4G iPod Nano was revealed, it didn’t made a positive impression on me. It wasn’t anything new at all. Still, I had to give it the benefit of the doubt and take it on a road test (I even got the “4GB collector’s edition” *heh*).
Apple reverted back to the old form factor and Steve Jobs claims it’s now even thinner. Technically, it is — at 6.2mm as opposed to the 3rd gen which is 6.5mm. The curved edges makes it seem much thinner though. It’s now made of anodized aluminum and plastic unlike the previous version which was steel and aluminum — that means it’s lighter (~37 grams vs. 49 grams.)
Apple claims some improvements which I’ll tackle below:
- Built-in Accelerometer. Just like the iPhone 3G, the 4G iPod Nano has an accelerometer that allows for cool new games that will use some “titling & shaking”.
- Shake to Shuffle. With the built-in accelerometer, you can shake the iPod Nano to switch to the next music in your playlist. You need to shake it sideways (left & right) at least 3 times for it to work. It’s a nice cool feature.
- Revised Interface. Because the new form factor is vertically oriented, Apple had to change the UI a bit. Image previews are now displayed at the bottom of the screen instead of the right side when scrolling across the menu. Not so much of an improvement really.
- Voice Recorder. When plugged with a microphone, the 4G iPod Nano can record audio/voice. Works just fine with the iPhone heaphones that has a built-in mic. With the older iPods, you had to buy a separate plug-in device from 3rd party providers like Belkin.
But there were some things that one needs to know before upgrading to the new iPod Nano or buying a new one for the first time.
- Battery Life. Apple always make their new iPods with better battery life so I was expecting the song playback will be better than 24 hours. It wasn’t. In fact battery life was degraded with video playback — from 5 hours down to 4 hours on the new iPod Nano. I guess Apple thinks not many people watch videos on their Nano so it won’t disappoint customers. Either that, or the reduced weight shed off some battery capacity too.
- Video Quality. The 4G iPod Nano has a screen display of 2″ in diagonal with a resolution of 320×140 pixels (at 204 pixels per inch) which is completely the same as the 3rd generation. However, since the new screen is curved, it has also affected the video quality. The uneven density of the glass somewhat reduced the contrast of the display. Comparing video playback between the 3G and the 4G turns out the former is slightly better. The 3rd generation iPod Nano has a more crisp quality and better contrast than the 4th gen Nano.
- Firewire. Apple completely dropped Firewire (IEEE 1394) support for the iPod Nano. The older versions can at least use it for charging. Steve Jobs says everybody is on USB today so it doesn’t make any sense to still support their own standard.
Over-all, I would say the 4th gen iPod Nano is not worth an upgrade. There aren’t enough compelling features for this new Nano. I was expecting some WiFi capability and FM radio support just like the older but competing Microsoft Zune. As for audio quality (asked in the comments below), there’s nothing new or impressive with this one. It lack the umph esp. in the bass — it’s practically the same as the 2nd and 3rd generation iPod Nano. Obviously, Apple did not improve on the audio chips since then.
For first time owners, the bigger capacity 16GB of the Nano might be of interest though. The new colors (9 in all) might also attract people looking for their favorite shade of pastel. Good thing is, the new generation of Nano will ultimately push the prices of the older Nanos down so it could be a good time to buy one.