iPod nano (sixth generation) review: first look

Apple refreshed almost its entire range of iPods last night, with the iPod nano given the most radical overhaul.

I have a vested interest here: the fourth-generation nano remains one of my favourite ever tech purchases. It’s unobtrusively lightweight, boasts enough storage to hold almost my entire music collection, and the battery lasts an entire commuting week.

After a brief play with it at last night’s Apple launch, I’m not sure its sixth-generation successor is going to prise my wallet open once more. The new nano dispenses with the familiar iPod click-wheel, and replaces it with a square, 1.54in, 220 x 220 multitouch display. The only hardware buttons on the device are the power button and the volume controls.

Can multitouch work on a display that dinky? I’m far from convinced. While Apple has done its best to revamp the iPod UI for the new nano, problems remain. Although it was hard to tell from the limited selection of albums stored on Apple’s test devices, I suspect scrolling through long album/track lists is going to be an immense chore, because naturally the device can only fit three or four listings on the screen at any one time. If you’ve got 200 or 300 albums to wade through, that’s a lot of finger flicking required.

The shrunken, square dimensions also mean that video has been squeezed out of the nano’s feature list. Now I won’t pretend watching video on the fourth-generation nano’s  320 x 240 pixel screen was a cinematic experience, but it was sufficient at a pinch. I watched an hour or so of Alan Partridge on the plane to Las Vegas this year, when my iPhone battery was (as ever) threatening to keel over and the seat was too cramped to get out my laptop, and it was perfectly adequate. The video camera that was introduced with the fifth-generation nano hasn’t made the cut either.

Criticisms aside, the new iPod nano is a delightful piece of engineering. It feels solid, it can now be clipped to your lapel or (if you want to look less of a berk) your inside pocket, and that display is awesomely sharp for a touchscreen. And, heaven forefend, Apple has finally decided to pop an FM radio into an iPod (Correction: the fifth-generation iPod also contained an FM radio, as reader Jim noted below. Apologies for the mistake.)

But my overwhelming first impression is that the new nano is a miniaturisation too far.

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