Ooooooooooh, boy. Now here’s a review I never thought I’d write. I’ve had a number of different music players over the years, but I’d always shunned Apple’s offerings for a number of reasons. They tended to be expensive compared with those from other companies, no user-replaceable batteries (unless you’re a fan of microsurgery, which I’m not), proprietary connectors, and of course the “everybody else has them, I’d rather be different” factor. But the influence of using the Mac has been insidious. When I started copying CDs to the Mac, I accepted the iTunes default format (AAC, which creates .m4a files). Now these files do offer better quality for the size compared with the ubiquitous (if not indigenous) MP3 files that we all know and love, but they do have a slight problem: most portable music players don’t recognise them. They’ll all play those MP3 files, most will happily play the Windows WMA format (with or without DRM), but M4A is a bit of a poor relation.
So, I did a bit of looking, and found a nifty Creative Zen beast that would play them. Nice thing, flash memory, big screen, easy controls, available in a range of capacities at moderately non-painful prices. The more I looked, the better it got, until I noticed that it wasn’t supported on the Mac platform. Now it might well be possible to persuade it to play nicely, but I’m really not inclined to play with things that are not supported by the manufacturer, so I reluctantly crossed it off my list. I’ve had good experiences with Creative stuff in the past, and I’d have been happy to get another one, but never mind.
So, I wanted something that would talk to the Mac, play MP3 and M4A files, be nicely small, preferably with flash memory rather than a hard drive. Which led me to this little beast. It’s the latest in the “small but perfectly formed” range of iPods and is available in either 4GB or 8GB capacities. The larger size is available in a choice of colours for those who like to look at their devices rather than listen to them.
Apple are pretty good about packaging their fancy toys – the boxes tend to be just big enough to hold the device and its bits, with much less of the huge volumes of air many companies like to include. This comes in a really small plastic box which contains the Nano, a cable (USB to that proprietary dock cable), an adaptor for clipping the toy into a desktop docking stand, and a small quick start guide.
Opening the small box revealed the really small Nano. It looks pretty wide in pictures, to accommodate the widescreen format display. )Yes, you can watch videos on it if you like, but personally, I find looking at anything other than short clips quite uncomfortable at that size.) However, that’s just relative wideness. The actual size is on the teeny side of tiny, and it really is remarkably thin. The front is in brushed aluminium, which looks very nice. The back, in one of Apple’s curious design decisions, is in mirror finish metal, which looks great for the five seconds before it shows a fingerprint. It’s also quite scratchable, so some kind of case or skin is a good idea if you want to keep your toys looking good.
Transferring music was as simple as plugging it in. It mounted on Mac, then appeared in iTunes, where I was offered the chance to register it and to update its firmware to the latest version. You have a choice about how to synchronise – if you have more capacity than you have music, accept the easy choice of copying everything from computer to iPod. Then every time you connect it, it will automatically keep things updated. If you have more music than capacity, you can let iTunes select enough music to fill the iPod. I’m not sure how it makes that choice, and personally, I’m not sure I’d trust it that far, so I went for the other option, which depends on creating playlists in iTunes – I tend to do that with music players anyway, so it suited me. Then all I have to do is tick boxes to determine which playlists I want on the iPod.
At first, I wasn’t too impressed with the sound. It seemed very quiet, even with the volume turned up all the way. Then I found the not at all obvious settings for changing the maximum volume (this is intended for parents who want to stop their kids deafening themselves, apparently). That was quite a lot better. Then I changed from the Apple ear buds to my trusty in-ear Sony set. That was much better, and my music began to sound the way I’d hoped it would.
The next stage will require another review, which I’ll do soon.
I managed to get an Apple remote control at half price in John Lewis, and that means I can safely bury the iPod in a pocket and have the ability to turn it off and on, pause, play, go forward and back and adjust the volume. The remote also adds an FM radio to the iPod, but I wasn’t really interested in that, and I haven’t tested that feature. I did find that if the earphones were connected to the remote rather than to the iPod, there was more background hissssssss between tracks, which is worth bearing in mind.
I’ve had the iPod for a couple of weeks now, and it’s doing the job. Battery life so far seems to be very good – Apple quote around 24 hours for audio or 5 hours for video. I’m happy with the sound, and the click wheel thingy is nicely easy to use (certainly it requires less practice than the Zen Micro’s odd slider thing). Nice kit. And it’s pretty.
 Unless you want the 32GB version. That’s a wee bit expensive