Fifth-Generation iPod Nano: The Technologizer Review

It's not a Flip-killer. But it is an intriguing alternative to the iPod Touch.

By  |  Friday, September 11, 2009 at 5:57 pm

iPod NanosWeird but true: For Apple, 2009 has turned out to be the year of inner beauty. Most of the company’s new products, including the iPhone 3GS and the latest MacBooks, are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, but which pack meaningful improvements inside. The trend continues with the fifth-generation iPod Nano. For the first time, Apple’s annual reinvention of its most popular music player isn’t about aesthetics–in fact, the new Nano is the same size as the old one and differs visually only its slightly larger screen and slightly smaller clickwheel, the camera on its backside, and the slicker and more vividly colorful (and, I’m hoping, more scratch-resistant) finish on its aluminum case. But the latest Nano carries more new features than any of more outwardly revised predecessors.

In fact, this is the first Nano that feels a little less like a music player and a little more like a Swiss Army Knife. Much of what Apple has added has nothing to do with music: The Nano is now a video camera, a stand-alone voice recorder, and a pedometer. And the major new music feature–an FM radio–is so retro that I’d long ago assumed that Apple would never add one to one of its products. Like most Swiss Army Knives, the new Nano doesn’t match every single-purpose product in every respect, but the improvements add up to a fun upgrade that retains a logical place in the iPod family even in the era of the much fancier and more versatile iPod Touch.

Here’s what the new Nano (left) looks like compared to the one it replaces: That the 2.2″ screen is noticeably taller, and the click wheel is just a skosh smaller, and closer to the bottom of the case.

iPod Nano comparison

And here’s the flipside, with the camera and mike on the lower left-hand edge:

iPod Nano Back

That video camera is unquestionably the most significant addition to the Nano, since it makes what was formerly a tiny music player into a tiny camcorder, and therefore opens up the possibility of it replacing low-cost video cameras such as the Flip and its competitors. After I attended Apple’s event on Wednesday, I said that some folks would now think of the Nano as a video camera that does music, rather than a music player that can shoot video. Having used it, though, I’ve concluded that it remains a music player that offers video capture as a bonus feature.

Apple iPod Nano Fifth Generation

The video camera doesn’t kill the Flip, but this tiny Swiss Army Knife of a player is more than fun and useful enough to preserve its place in the iPod family.

Price: $149 (8GB); $179 (16GB); nine colors available

In the box: iPod Nano, earbuds, USB cable, dock, instructions.

Buy from Apple

Apple cleverly uses the accelerometer to let you shoot video with the Nano in any orientation you want–any edge of the Nano can be “up,” including both landscape and both portrait orientations. (It may be my imagination, but the player seems to notice you’ve, er, flipped it to a new orientation more quickly and accurately than the previous Nano or the iPhone 3GS.) I still had trouble figuring out the best way to hold the player to record video, though–if you hold it as shown in this new commercial, your index finger is dangerously close to the lens and mike. (And if you’re a lefty, you’ll almost certainly cover the camera if you try to hold the Nano by the clickwheel.)

After a bit of practice, I ended up holding the Nano tightly by one of its lower corners-along the edge of the screen if I was using my left hand, and towards the edge of the clickwheel when I used my right hand. Which worked just fine. I also discovered that when I was shooting in bright outside light, I needed to crank up the iPod’s screen brightness beyond the default to see what I was doing.

So how’s the 640-by-480, 30-frames-a-second video and monaural sound? Good enough to have lots of fun with, but not good enough to render even the lowest-end standard definition Flip. Smart reviewers are disagreeing about how the video compares to that of the iPhone 3GS–the New York Times’ David Pogue found it to be “exactly like” that of the iPhone, while Macworld’s Chris Breen says it’s “not as good.” I haven’t attempted a rigorous comparison, but the first videos I’ve shot haven’t looked as crisp as those from my iPhone.

Here’s one of the first Nano videos I took, of a San Francisco street scene (and yes, that’s my finger making a guest appearance at the start):

The new Nano’s tiny speaker is useful for reviewing your videos before you’ve synced them back to your PC and Mac; it can also play back music, the audio portion of movies and TV shows, and voice memos. As you’d expect from a speaker tiny enough to fit in a device this thin, it’s really, really tiny (it reminds me of my Flavoradio).

I was startled to discover that my second favorite new Nano feature is the pedometer. (I’m not sure if Apple is trying to tell America anything, but between this and Nike+ the iPod is developing into a sophisticated weight-loss device.) You can use it in one-off sessions or keep it turned on all the time, set daily goals, and use a tiny calendar to review just how much you’ve walked and how many calories you’ve burned. As someone who totes an iPhone rather than an iPod, this is one Nano feature I’m officially jealous of. (There are third-party pedometer apps for the iPhone, but I want one like the Nano’s that runs in the background so it’s monitoring my meanderings no matter what.)

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11 Comments For This Post

  1. developar Says:

    Nice review, it’s different line of iPods, I mean fom now on it will be a standred in nano, Apple can;t just remove the camera on the next gen.

  2. ediedi Says:

    They upgraded it to justify the price. They don’t want the touch to eat into the nano’s (or the iphone’s sales). Annoying marketing shenanigans.
    The nano is a good product, but for jogging I would go with the shuffle, and for anything else with the touch (I own them both and they fill all the gaps).

  3. MAL SISSONS Says:

    HI DOES THE 5TH GENERATION IPOD NANO TAKE STILL PHOTOS OR JUST VIDEOS . THANKS

  4. Tom B Says:

    I have a 7 year old Canon Elura DV cam. Bought it prior to my son’s birth. MiniDV tapes. Awkward. I shoot more video with my Canon 3S IS “still camera” now. The price and convenience of vid recording is REALLY improving fast. Ubiquitous video is basically here. Who was that MSFT guy– maybe Myrhold– who had a nerd hat with a vid cam taping his whole life? We might ALL be doing that in a few years.

  5. Relyt Says:

    @MAL SISSONS – it only takes video.

  6. Bob Says:

    I enjoy istening to public radio at work, but meetings don’t always allow me to listen to certain programs. My “retro” Creative Muvo FM MP3 player plays my MP3s, and records FM radio so I listen to those shows I would otherwise miss. I could care less about lossy video recording, or apple’s close audio format. MP3 and FM recording is it for me.

  7. dean miller Says:

    i want it to feel in ma pocket… whereva i go… n want it to break ma lonly silence by giving some music into ma ear…
    http://www.buyergen.com

  8. starfighter Says:

    Just wondering.. why doesn’t he say anything about sound quality? Or are you suppose to assume it´s the same as before…? weird, it’s after all a mp3-player…

  9. Emily Says:

    My friend just got the Ipod nano and she was sssooo excited, then I realized it does all the same stuff as cellphone (the Juke) .
    My cell;
    Takes pics.
    Takes videos
    Plays music
    Has games
    Can call people
    Can go online
    And it can text.

  10. zusatzinstrumente Says:

    Wish i had the money for a Ipod or better for an Iphone.

  11. Rick Bellefond Says:

    I still have an iPod Nano second generation. I think the one that I have has been a great mp3 player.

    So far the main reason for me to upgrade is not the video capability or the color screen it is primarily just because the 4GB capability which seemed like plenty when I got it just no longer seems like enough.

    I am sure I will find a feature or two in the 5th generation that will seem really great but for me upgrading will be all about just being able to store more music on it.

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  2. Ten Random Questions About Apple’s Music Event Says:

    [...] vs. 2.2″). It doesn’t have a camera anymore (looks like it’s official that the camera-enabled Nano never killed the Flip). I assume it can’t play video. The pedometer is presumably gone. [...]

  3. Ten Random Questions About Apple’s Music Event « gamestopmafia.com Says:

    [...] vs. 2.2″). It doesn’t have a camera anymore (looks like it’s official that the camera-enabled Nano never killed the Flip). I assume it can’t play video. The pedometer is presumably gone. [...]

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