The new fifth generation iPod nano was introduced on 09-09-09; I got my hands on one the very next day and have been using and abusing it ever since. Let me just start this review by telling you that I think it's the best iPod nano Apple has ever made and arguably the best $149 (8GB) or $179 (16GB) media player on the planet today.
At its heart, the new iPod nano is a terrific little music and video player but there are plenty of little music and video players in that price range. Some of them are even decent. But none of them even come close to matching the new iPod nano's feature set because in addition to being a great little media player, the new iPod nano also has:
• A video camera
• A larger-than-ever-before color display (240 x 376)
• A built-in microphone and speaker
• An FM radio with Live Pause and iTunes Tagging
• A pedometer
• A gorgeous polished aluminum finish in your choice of 9 brilliant colors
Some competing players may have one or more of these features, but I can't think of a single one that has them all. And I can't think of a single one that implements any of them as elegantly or in such a small, beautiful package.
Let's start with the video camera, which captures VGA video (640 x 480) at 30 frames per second in portrait or landscape mode (but, surprisingly, does not take still photos). The built-in microphone picks up nearby sound quite nicely. But while the built-in speaker makes it possible to share video with those around you, the sound it produces is thin, tinny, and not very loud. Still, it's quite a bit better than having no speaker at all. And the fifteen real-time video effects -- such as Film Grain, Motion Blur, Thermal (below left), Sepia, a cool animated Cyborg overlay (below right), Bulge, Mirror, and more -- are actually a lot of fun.
The bad news is that the lens placement on the back of the nano (see below) is a bit awkward and it's easy to accidentally block it with your fingers. The good news is that you can hold the iPod nano with any edge pointing up and its accelerometer insures that video is recorded right-side up in both landscape and portrait modes, which is pretty cool.
I have to admit that the video quality isn't as good as any of the inexpensive Flip Video camcorders I've played with. And unlike the Flip cameras, the iPod nano has no zoom and isn't as capable in low-light situations. But the Flip camcorders start at $149 and while they're admittedly better video cameras, that's all they are. The iPod nano is a fraction the size of even the smallest Filp video camcorder and has half a dozen useful features in addition to shooting video. Which means I'm a lot more likely to have the iPod nano with me when a video moment occurs. And that has been my experience so far. I grab a Flip camcorder if I'm going somewhere and know I want to shoot video; I grab the iPod nano for any of half a dozen reasons, so it's in my pocket a lot more often than any other camcorder (except, of course, my iPhone). Finally, the quality of the iPod nano video has been perfectly acceptable for most of the footage I've shot.
Another nice touch is that while the 4th generation iPod nano supported voice recording when an optional microphone was attached, the new built-in microphone means that the 5th generation nano supports voice recording right out of the box.
Another nifty new feature is the FM radio with Live Pause and iTunes tagging. Live Pause lets you pause whatever you're listening to on the radio for up to 15 minutes. It also lets you rewind whatever you're listening to up to 15 minutes and then fast forward back to "live" radio. The iTunes Tagging feature is kind of neat, letting you "tag" songs when you hear them on the radio. Then, when you sync, iTunes creates a list of the songs you tagged so you can easily preview or purchase them. It's great for those times when you hear a song you like but don't know its title or who sings it. Unfortunately, it only works with radio stations that support iTunes Tagging and there aren't many of them yet, at least not in Austin, TX.
VoiceOver, which Apple says is designed for "eyes-free listening" was introduced in last year's iPod shuffle. Just press and hold the nano's Click Wheel or the middle button of optional headphones with remote and VoiceOver tells you the name of the song and the artist.
Optional headphones with remote that I've confirmed work with the new nano include the mediocre $29 Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic, the somewhat better-sounding $54.99 Scosche IDR350md, and the even better sounding $99.99 Klipsch Image S4i In-Ear Headset with Mic and 3-Button Remote.
Brief Digression: Speaking of earphones and headsets, I'm planning a headset shootout that will include these products and several others. I hope to finish it by Thanksgiving if not sooner.
And last but not least, the new nano includes a built-in pedometer that keeps track of the steps you take and calories you burn.
For what it's worth, the size and shape of the new iPod nano is the same as the model that preceded it, but the 5th generation iPod nano's screen is slightly longer -- 240 pixels by 376 pixels (vs. the 4th generation's 320 pixels). And although the 5th generation colors are pretty much the same as the 4th generation, the new polished aluminum finish makes them much prettier to my eye, with rich, deeply saturated colors that look a lot like high-quality metallic auto paint. I have to say the pictures really don't do them justice -- go check them out in person if you possibly can.
The Bottom Line
The 5th generation iPod nano is easily the best and most feature-packed iteration yet. I'm disappointed that it can't shoot still photos but my only real complaint is the same one I have had for every iPod I've ever reviewed -- the included earphones are still uncomfortable and mediocre. This otherwise excellent little device deserves better.