iPod nano 2G

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?’

Something borrowed
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 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB (priced at £99, £129, and £169 respectively) these iPods bear the same kind of scratch-resistant aluminium shell, rounded edges, and, in the 4GB version, colourful exterior, as the iPod mini. The lowest priced nano comes in silver, the 4GB model can be had in that same hue or in a bright blue, green, or pink, 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 0.26in versus the original’s 0.27in. It also 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.

Something new
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 centre button to be transported to the Search screen. Here you use the scroll wheel to select letters on the screen. This could be a useful tool for those with large, disorganised iPod music libraries, but we found the process to be a little tedious. With a good collection of organised playlists, you could find what you’re looking for more quickly the old-fashioned way.

More helpful is a new feature that causes a translucent-grey 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 large music libraries.

The new nano, like all iPods announced on 12 September, comes with Apple’s new earbuds. Unlike previous Apple earbuds, these ship without foam covers. Issues of hygiene aside, many people miss the foam covers because they help keep the earbuds in place. However, the quality of these new earbuds is noticeably better than the older models. Sound is both clearer and louder and the styling is – by all accounts – sturdier than before.

Another change in the new nano that is relatively minor – but one we like – is that the centre 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 its predecessor. We 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 per cent longer to complete the sync on a 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 per cent brighter than the old nano. Neither claim is exaggerated – in fact, we found them to be understatements.

To test battery life, we fully charged each nano, selected the first track in a playlist of AAC files encoded at bit rates of less than 180Kbps 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 easily pump out Apple’s claimed 24 hours of music on a single charge.

As for the screen brightness, we admit that we don’t have the tools necessary to determine if the 2G nano’s screen is actually 40 per cent 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 an old 5G iPod – the full-sized iPod model prior to the one announced on 12 September.

OUR VERDICT

The second-generation iPod nano is both a welcome step back to the more colourful (and scratch-resistant) days of the iPod mini and a moderate step forward in functionality. This middle-child iPod now feels and looks great with its rugged aluminium finish and bright display.

Apple has done nice things with power management to allow the nano to play for 24-plus hours on a single charge. And the ability to quickly search your portable music collection is a nice enhancement – though 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.

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