Apple iPod nano (3rd generation): Pocket-Size Yet Plenty Powerful

Since its inception, the only thing Apple’s small player ever really lacked was the ability to screen video—a trick that didn’t mesh with the iTunes Store’s commitment to TV shows and film downloads. Sporting a bright, 2-inch widescreen that shows video in the highest pixel-per-inch count of any iPod ever, the nano is an entirely new beast.

The flash player, which comes in 4GB and 8GB capacities, is wider than previous models. But when you hold it alongside a second-generation nano, its widened dimensions don’t seem to matter: A beautiful screen and a just-as-thin body make the device seem like a huge evolutionary step for the line. The new user interface combines the nicer touches of the iPhone’s slick UI—like Cover Flow—with novel elements (a split screen that shows album covers for highlighted songs and a new Now Playing screen).

File support offers no surprises. For audio, the nano plays AAC (16 to 320 Kbps)—including, obviously, DRM and DRM-free tracks from iTunes, MP3 (all bit rates, including VBR), Audible files, AIFF, and WAV. If you have WMA fi les, loading them into iTunes automatically converts them to AAC, so while there’s no compatibility, there is at least a workaround. Video support is the typical Apple array: H.264 and MPEG-4.

The new main menu has a split screen, dividing the space equally between the familiar iPod menu lists on the left and a moving image of an album cover, photo, or video on the right. When no tune is playing, the main menu shows a variety of album covers slowly fl oating by, with specifi c spots zoomed in on. It’s a nice look.

I found video performance to be exceptional. The player has the same resolution as the old iPod video (now called the classic) but applied to a screen that’s a half-inch smaller. The result is an even sharper picture. When the new Brightness setting is adjusted to the highest level, the new nano's screen is much brighter than the previous model’s, as well. (Apple claims it’s a 65 percent difference.)

The nano is not without its flaws. The video output function is listed on the menu but cannot be switched on. Its inclusion implies that this function will be available with Tunes upgrades down the road, but for the time being, there’s no way to watch nano-loaded video on your TV or video iPod dock.

Also, Cover Flow, while beautiful and useful, trips up occasionally during fast scrolling. Album covers appear to have jagged edges, and sometimes the artwork takes a moment to appear. The feature is not nearly as sexy as it is on the iPhone.

Even with these minor flaws, nothing beats the nano in its price range. Throw in the few bundled games with quality graphics and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Apple iPod nano (3rd generation):
4GB, $149 list; 8GB, $199

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Comments on "Apple iPod nano (3rd generation): Pocket-Size Yet Plenty Powerful"


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