By Jacob Loeb
Take out four credit cards from your wallet. Stack them and hold them in your hand. Apple’s iPod nano is about the same weight and half an inch less wide than that stack of cards. Now put three cards back in your wallet and use the remaining card to go buy yourself a nano.
The nano’s introduction should not be misinterpreted as just another iPod in the lineup. It is, in fact, exactly what the iPod should have been in the first place: a flash-based jukebox with a long battery life and stunning color screen. This new iPod is not a smaller version of another iPod, or combination of any other two iPods. The user interface is the same (which has always been iPod’s strength) but that’s it. The differences here are under the skin, most notably with the screen.
Color screens are not new to iPods, but the way you see the color is. The nano’s 1.5-inch color LCD has a blue-white LED backlight. LEDs achieve full brightness faster than standard LCD backlights. This is particularly useful because iPods turn on and off their backlight often to save battery power. The number of seconds this saves you per day is not going to give you an extra hour of sleep at night. But the LCD’s quick start up allows your eyes to focus near instantaneously, which makes using the nano feel that much faster. LEDs produce brighter light than other backlights without washing out the image. That gives the nano screen a deep bright color. Over all the nano’s LCD is the best I have seen in the 1-inch to 3-inch size.
Another difference from previous iPods is the nano’s lack of FireWire support. Although iPods have come with only USB 2.0 cables for some time, they have always supported syncing through a FireWire cable. The iPod nano is the first to be USB only. When you connect a nano via a “FireWire to Dock Connecter” cable it displays a message that this is a USB only device. It will still charge off the FireWire cable but no file transfers can be done. If your computer has only the older USB 1.1, the nano will still sync with iTunes but you are stuck moving files over at an extremely slow speed.
Amazingly, the nano has no moving parts except the click wheel. This was done by using flash memory for song storage. Every iPod ever made has had flash memory, but it was used on most iPods as a data buffer. Song data was pulled from the hard drive and stored in the buffer for skip protection. However, iPod hard drives are very slow and can cause delays when loading a song off the drive. So Apple also uses the buffer to preload songs, so you don’t hear a pause between songs. Of course, not every song is in the buffer so sometimes there are pauses between songs. Changing songs in the nano, however, is faster than with hard drive based iPods because it has one big buffer. An added benefit of using flash memory is a significant reduction in weight.
The small size and weight of the iPod nano is its best feature. It slips into a shirt pocket without being felt or seen. The difference between the nano and its hard drive based brothers is equal to the difference between the brick sized analog cell phones of the 1980’s compared to the cell phones of today. A close second place feature is that it comes in black. When Apple released the third generation of iPods, they photographed it in the shadows. The picture made it look black and it looked good in black. Almost every person that walked by that poster asked when could they get a “black one.” After a couple of years, Apple finally realized “U2” fans were not the only ones who like black.
The iPod nano is the only product I have ever ordered the day it was released. I saw instantly it possessed all that had been missing from the iPods that came before it, and at a spectacular price. I just couldn’t wait another day… so what are you waiting for?
PowerMax’s resident Mac expert, Jacob Loeb, has been using Macintosh computers professionally since 1990. He founded a pioneering Mac based DVD production company and later worked as an IT administrator for several Portland, Oregon companies. Over the last four years Jacob has retained a top Apple Product Professional ranking. As a PowerMax technician he’s repaired, trouble shot, and tested every model Mac we sell.