The iPod nano 4G combines the best features of its predecessors, plus a few from the iPod touch. It’s Apple’s thinnest iPod yet, despite packing an accelerometer and more memory. This player’s form and usability are extremely attractive, and it is finally beginning to distinguish itself, feature-wise, in an increasingly competitive field.
Resembling the second-gen model, the 4G nano’s casing is aluminum all the way around, but this version is available in 9 attractive colors, regardless of capacity. The 2-inch screen is oriented in portrait instead of landscape mode like the third generation, and the player is tall rather than square (3.6 x 1.5 x 0.2 inches). The curved glass matches the new contoured body, which felt incredibly thin in our hand.
The click wheel was tough to use on the squat 3G nano; the 4G model’s wheel is positioned higher for better ergonomics. Browsing menus and files is still a snap, and the split-screen main page has been replaced with a more sensible moving banner at the bottom of the screen. We love the addition of adjustable font size and spoken menus.
The nano automatically displays videos in landscape mode, and thanks to the embedded accelerometer, turning the player to either side flips video accordingly. <i>Shaun of the Dead</i> looked sharp and bright with perfectly synced audio, but the 2-inch screen is too small for 16:9 content unless you select Fit Screen in Video Settings. Format support includes H.264 and MPEG-4 (M4V, MP4, and MOV) plus protected content from iTunes. You can output video via the dock connector (but not the headphone jack) with an optional cable from Apple.
Photos (JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, PSD, and PNG) look excellent, with good color and sharpness. However, you still can’t pan or zoom. The player conveniently reorients photos when you turn it.
Everything we listened to, from Snoop Dogg to Miles Davis, sounded very good on the nano. The stock earbuds aren’t bad for casual listening, but we recommend upgrading to headphones like Shure’s SE110 to get the most out of the player. Supported audio formats are MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, Audible, AIFF, and WAV. There’s still no custom equalizer, however, and the presets haven’t changed.
Apple’s new Genius feature generates playlists based on the current song’s info and style in iTunes 8 or on the nano. On our tests, Genius often found that not enough similar songs were available on the nano for it to compile a 25-song list. Apple says that because the feature is tied to iTunes Store purchases, it will get smarter over time, which will eventually enable Genius to point to songs that aren’t in iTunes’ 8.5-million-song catalog.
The accelerometer has several functions in music mode. Turn the player sideways, and the screen reorients into Cover Flow so you can flip through album covers. Shaking the player puts it into Shuffle All mode, and you can skip by shaking again—convenient for workouts. The feature isn’t available when the screen is dark or the hold switch is on. It’s also used for games such as Spore Origins (available from iTunes) and Maze (preloaded), which require you to tilt the nano to move around environments. The accelerometer seems less sensitive than on the iPod touch, but gameplay was good overall.
If you plug in a wired headset with an inline mic like Apple’s Stereo Headset ($29), a Voice Memos option pops up in the main screen. We made decent-quality voice recordings, perfect for students and writers.
We’re disappointed that the 4G nano’s rated battery life is still stuck at 24 hours for audio and 4 hours for video, though that’s adequate for most users. We’ll be updating this review with our test results shortly.
While the $149 iPod nano 4G doesn’t incorporate wireless features like the similarly priced, flash-based Zune, it has a more compelling design. We like the accelerometer and the Genius feature; iTunes is an easier service to use in regard to pricing, and the iTunes Store has a more extensive catalog of both music and video. Although Microsoft is closing the gap, the iPod nano is our top pick among flash-based portable media players.