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

Nano RadioThen there’s the FM radio. Apple may be late to the radio-on-an-MP3-player game, but it’s done it right: The Nano is, in certain respects, the best FM radio I’ve ever used. It’s not that it sounds good (although it does, for a pocketable radio–it uses the earbud cord as an antenna). It’s that it uses its memory as a buffer to provide TiVo-like features. You can pause a station at any time, and the Nano will record up to fifteen minutes’ worth of airtime, letting you pause, rewind, and fast-forward. The interface is a little quirky (I had trouble remembering which clickwheel action did what in radio mode) but it makes over-the-air radio act a lot more like digital music.

Unlike most of the FM radios I own, the Nano uses RDS to display the station’s call letters (and sometimes what’s playing) on its display. It also supports a tagging feature that lets it identify songs so you can purchase them from iTunes; David Pogue says that only Clear Channel supports this feature so far, and I didn’t come across any taggable songs as I browsed my way through the FM band looking for music I liked. But if it catches on, it’ll be another point in the Nano’s favor.

The fourth-generation iPod Nano had a spoken menu feature that was aimed mostly at users with impaired vision. The new Nano retains this feature and adds VoiceOver menus, as first seen in the buttonless, displayless iPod Shuffle. Enable this feature (which you do in iTunes, not on the Nano itself) and briefly tapping the clickwheel’s center button causes the player to speak the artist and song title in a surprisingly pleasant, comprehensible robotic voice. Very handy if you have the Nano tucked away in a pocket or somewhere else where its display is out of sight.

One other new feature is only semi-new: Until now, the Nano could serve as a voice recorder if you plugged in an external microphone. With the advent of the 5G Nano’s built-in microphone, it can now record up to two hours of audio at a time, no accessories required.

As a music and video player, the Nano hasn’t changed much–which is fine, since it was already about as refined as a device this tiny can be. You still get access to all the goodness of the iTunes ecosystem, now with Genius Mixes (autoprogrammed selections from your music, similar to the existing Genius playlist feature). And the slightly larger screen makes the new Nano a slightly more pleasing video playback device.

In short, the new Nano provides everything that was nice about its predecessor plus quite a bit more, for either the same price (for the $149 8GB version) or less (the $179 16GB model replaces the $199 16GB 4G player). The Nano was always the slickest, most elegant undersized media player; now it’s one of the most feature-rich, too.

Which leaves me fascinated by one question: How does it compare to the iPod Touch? The Touch, which starts at only $20 more than the $179 Nano (albeit for a unit with half the memory) has a far roomier screen and access to tens of thousands of applications; at first blush, you might think that the only rational reason to buy a Nano instead is if the Touch is just too chunky for your tastes.

But with the new Nano getting all these new features and the Touch remaining almost unchanged (except for a faster processor and 64GB of memory in the top-of-the-line version) these two iPods have diverged into surprisingly distinct devices. And the Nano has more going for it than just lack of bulk–it’s a video camera, it’s an FM radio, it’s a pedometer, and it can record voice memos without an external microphone. (Apple rates its battery life as somewhat less generous than that of the Touch–24 hours of audio and five of video vs. 30 hours of audio and six of video for the Touch.)

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to develop a hunch that Apple will eventually release an iPod Touch with most or all of the Nano’s new features–or to think that “eventually” may come real soon now. For now, though, the choice between the Nano and Touch will be, for some people, a tough one. That’s a tribute to just how thoroughly Apple has reinvigorated the Nano.



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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:


  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…

  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.

3 Trackbacks For This Post

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    […] New iPod Nano Reviewed […]

  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 « 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. […]