iPod Nano

iPod Nano


Introduction

I am one of those proud parents who inherited the iPod from my son. Yes, for a change it was passed-up to me. Not that he is generous, but because of the fact that he along with my daughter were gifted a 4 GB Nano each (silver for my son and pink for my daughter, inscribed with their names at the back in white).

They do look gorgeous to say the least, having a beautiful brushed anodized aluminium casing in comparison to the one I inherited (white plastic) which is the most basic iPod one can get, yes, it is a shuffle with just 512 MB of storage space. I must admit, it is not as gorgeous as ones they have, but, it is a cute little thing slightly bigger than a Wrigley's 5 stick chewing gum pack, to put it into proper perspective – a mouse that roars!

1.jpg


Today when I look at these iPods I cannot help but remember that it was 22 years ago, in 1984 to be exact, on my visit to Tokyo I had purchased a Sony Walkman in brushed aluminium having a sky blue color. It was the hottest selling Walkman at that time and one of the most expensive at $125 (the only other model which was more expensive was the Walkman Professional, the finest Sony ever came up with). Why $125 you may ask? Well it was the only Walkman to work with a single AA battery and once folded (without the cassette being inside) would be the size of the cassette case itself and no more. It was all aluminium casing and not plastic, it was brimming with features from that era, Dolby B and Dolby C processing and having the capability to play metal oxide cassettes. The earphones provided with the player had diamond coated diaphragms and sounded superb as I remember it. It was by far the smallest Walkman Sony ever produced.

When it comes to portable players Sony's name has been replaced by none other than Apple. They have the top slot as the market leaders for selling portable audio players today. Apple's iTune store is responsible for allowing downloading of a staggering 1.5 billion tunes to its customers.

2.jpg


Apple's newest iPod Nano (2nd Generation) is not a plug and play device out of the box! Yes, that is true, with previous iPods you got a software CD with iTunes and after installing the software you could connect and download the music to the unit. With the new iPod you have to first download the latest iTunes version from Apple's website before you can use it. Do not try to connect the iPod with your existing iTunes software unless you have already upgraded to iTunes version 7 or higher. I certainly sympathize with those still on dial-up as the software is about 35MB and may take a while to download, ouch! According to Steve Jobs of Apple the packaging of the iPod is reduced by 52%, it may be the case but the fact remains that the CD has been omitted to achieve that objective. I cannot criticize this much as this is done supposedly to save the environment by minimizing the litter.

Being a flash memory based player I do not think it would be difficult for a company like Apple to install the software itself into its memory and upon inserting it into the USB port it would either install or update the software on the users computer and give the user the option to either delete the file residing on the unit itself or let it remain for use on another computer if need be. I think that is possible, we just have to wait and see if it is implemented in iPods introduced in future. I wonder why nobody thought of it at Apple.

Specifications

The iPod Nano 2nd Generation is essentially a music only player even though it has a screen which actually is helpful in navigation and selection of songs and various other bits. The iPod Nano 2nd Generation supports various audio formats which include, AAC (16 to 320 Kbps) Protected AAC(from iTunes Store) MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps) MP3 VBR, Audible(formats 2,3 and 4, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV. It also can support various photographic formats for viewing pictures which include, JPEG, TIFF, GIF, BMP, PSD (Mac only) and PNG.

3.jpg


Included Items

1. The unit itself (iPod Nano 2nd generation)
2. USB adapter cable (which charges the unit as well as for syncing it with the computer)
3. Earbuds
4. Start-up guide (Instructions)
5. Docking adaptor (for use with dock, sized to fit larger iPods)


4.jpg

Earbud performance

The supplied earbuds are newly designed and have a rubberized surround which helps keep them in place once you insert them into your ears. The design has been improved compared to what was bundled with the previous version of iPod. Apparently Apple spent a good few months in finalizing its design before it was approved for production and inclusion with the new iPod. The 32 Ohm specs of the earbuds make them a fairly easy load on the Nano however it is not the last word in sound quality by any means, an upmarket pair of headphones certainly improves upon the quality of reproduction that Nano is capable of.

LCD Performance

The display measures 1.5 inches diagonally with a pixel resolution of 176x132 and having a dot pitch of 0.168. It is bright and crisp as far as readability is concerned (I am 48, use reading glasses but I could do without them). I took the iPod outdoors to check how readable the screen is in direct sunlight. I had no issues whatsoever, unlike some of the cell phones that I used in the past were a pain when it came to visibility in direct sunlight, a situation which has improved with most of the portable products with tiny screens these days.

5.jpg


Improvements on the 2nd Generation iPod Nano
  • Anodized aluminium casing with colour choices
  • Improved battery life (double capacity as per Apple's claims)
  • Brand new UI (user interface) with intuitive controls
  • Brighter screen (40% brighter compared to older model)
  • Slide show option while viewing photos with various timer settings you can choose
Features
  • Quickscroll feature to search songs, if you move your thumb faster on the wheel it changes to alphabetical index instead of song by song search to make things faster.
  • Clock with multiple time zones and a stop watch. Can come in handy when you are travelling across the oceans or want to just keep track of two time zones.
  • User configurable maximum volume limit, really a great feature which helps the user in prevention of hearing damage (I urge every user to set it sensibly to prevent hearing loss)
  • Being a music player I just could not figure out why there would be a need for “Contacts” don't we all use a cell phone for that AND back it up on our computers?
  • Syncing of album art associated with the songs downloaded from iTunes. This will surely take up expensive space on your iPod Nano restricting the user to less number of songs, more so if you have the 2 GB version and does nothing to the enjoyment of music listening.

The new version of iTunes Software

The new iPod Nano 2nd generation works only with the updated iTunes software version 7 or higher. The interface is very refreshing and colourful to look at and the first thing that I noticed and was pleasantly surprised by was the picture of the iPod connected to it, yes the software is intelligent enough to detect not only the iPod but also which colour of the iPod is connected to it. A nifty feature indeed. Immediately after connecting it will prompt you to update the firmware version installed on the iPod itself if a newer version is available on the server. In case of my shuffle it prompted me to update it to version 1.1.5 from 1.1.2 which was installed on it. I promptly went ahead. The updated firmware for the shuffle was about 0.5 MB which it downloaded and updated in no time. As far as the Nano 2nd generation is concerned it would do the same if need be. However, I reckon the firmware of Nano would be bigger than what it was for the shuffle since it has a lot more features in comparison. Not something that you need to worry about.

The interface of the new iTunes give you quite a bit of information, on top when you click the “Settings” tab, it will tell you which iPod is connected by displaying its picture (as I explained earlier), the name of the unit, the firmware version installed, capacity, and serial number. In the middle “Update” and “Restore” buttons, and at the bottom few options for its configuration.

When you click on the “Contents” tab at the top it will display the contents of the iPod, including MP3 files. At the bottom it give you a graphic picture in a horizontal bar form of the amount of memory used, the memory for music files is represented in blue and “Other” files in orange, free space is represented in white.

The left of the interface deals with the usual, Library, Device and Playlist. The rest of the interface is very intuitive easy to follow and I do not think it is necessary for me to go into any further details than I already have. Anyone familiar with iPods or computers can easily manage to navigate the software.

Allow me to mention just one new feature with the iTune 7 software which is gapless playback. This feature can come in very handy when one is copying an entire CD of any concert where most of the tracks even though are listed with song names are actually merged together. By using this feature the iPod can play the music without giving you a hint of change of track thus preserving the continuity of the show. I am sure this is a welcome feature which would be appreciated by many if not all users.

Music used for evalution and comparison

“A thousand years” from the album “Brand New Day” by Sting
“Africa Bamba” from the album “Supernatural” by Santana
“Bola” from the album “Primal Magic” by “Strunz and Farah”
“I've Got You To See Me Through” from the album “Yola” by Eleanor McEvoy
“Both Sides Now” from the album of the same name by Joni Mitchell
“No Ordinary Love” from the album “The Best of Sade” by Sade
“Other side of the world” from the album “Eye to the Telescope” by KT Tunstall
“The Girl from Ipanema” from the album “Getz/Gilberto” by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto
“The look of love” from the soundtrack of Casino Royale by Burt Bacharach featuring Dusty Springfield on vocals


6.jpg


Sound quality of the Nano

I chose the listed tracks which I converted from the collection of CD's specifically for doing the evaluation of the iPod nano. Being extremely familiar with all the music I just wanted to see how well the tiny player can cope with difficult music to reproduce. “A thousand years” which has extremely low bass, “Africa Bamba” which has a very lively tune and instrumentation, “Bola” with exquisite flamenco guitar sounds, “I've got you to see me through” with lovely female vocals, “Both Sides Now” with Joni Mitchell's melancholy melody and aging voice, rough around the edges so to speak, “No ordinary love” with consistent and pounding bass, “Other side of the world” with what todays music is all about but mature enough to be appreciated by old-timers like me, “The girl from Ipanema” offering four distinct instruments packaged in one, male voice, female voice, saxophone and piano. Finally, “The look of Love” which one can listen to again and again and fall in love with for its sheer beauty in the way it is rendered by Dusty. The iPod Nano 2nd Generation came out a real winner when it comes to portable players. The sound is crisp and clear. This is also the first experience for me to do extensive listening on MP3's exclusively.

Earbuds versus upmarket headphones

I listened to the Nano with supplied earbuds and also with the Sennheiser PX200 (borrowed from my wife) which I had reviewed earlier. The sound from the earbuds I am afraid was nothing to write home about, as basic as any earbud sound could be but adequate if there are budget constraints and for casual listening. It's the likes of Sennheiser PX200 which puts the iPod Nano in a different league altogether. The sound from the Sennheiser transformed the capability of the Nano tremendously, the sound-stage widened on all four sides, from side to side and top to bottom, it was like viewing through a viewfinder with a 20mm wide angle attached, whereas with the supplied earbuds, it was more like viewing through a standard lens with a focal lens of 50mm. The dynamics improved, and so did the transients, there was a sense of space in which the music was being reproduced and not at all claustrophobic as the case was with the supplied earbuds.

This prompted me to do the same experiment with the shuffle, as I had only one aspect to check or verify, I am glad I went ahead with that and what I found is not at all surprising to me. The shuffle did improve with the Sennheiser's attached and did sound better but the difference wasn't huge in comparison to the Nano when subjected to the same experiment. The Nano had a lot more to offer with the upgrade unlike the shuffle. This goes to prove that Nano has much better amplification, circuitry which makes it a much higher resolution player. For those who like to relate things in photographic terms I can say that the difference on the shuffle was more like 50mm lens (earbuds) and 35mm lens with the Sennheiser.

On the positive side it is nice to know that Nano has the capability of far better resolution than what the earbuds lead you to believe, however, the negative side of the experiment is that if you are reading it you know that you may have to spend additional dough to get the most out of your investment.

The Nano with an outboard amplifier and upmarket headphones

Lastly, I tested the iPod driven by a portable amplifier with upmarket headphones like the Sennheiser PX 200. I had bought the amplifier recently to drive my Sennheiser HD-600 directly feeding the amplifier through the laptops USB port, this set-up I would be using when I am travelling overseas where I would not have the luxury of the sound I get in my living room through my regular hifi. However, the amplifier and Sennheiser HD-600 is a costly combo which would not be used in regular circumstances or in real world scenarios by folks with just the iPods. The amplifier I have is the Headroom Total Bithead which has a D/A Converter built-in and is essentially responsible for the conversion of the digital files. It also has the line-in facility to cater to the portable MP3 players. The amp has a gain switch which can be flicked to accommodate either less than 120 Ohm or higher than 120 Ohm impedance headphones. In this case the PX200 is 32 Ohms and the HD-600 300 Ohms. The amp also has a chamber in which 4 AAA batteries can be housed, it can be used in either battery powered mode or USB powered mode depending on the need. I mainly use it in the battery powered mode rather than the USB powered mode. The USB powered mode would be driven by a 5 volt input, however a set of 4 Alkaline AAA batteries at 1.5 volt each would equal to 6 volt of power, not only it would play louder but also very cleanly. In any case trying to listen to an iPod through this amp one would not be in position to use the USB powered mode since conversion of files is not needed. DC powered headphone amps are much cleaner compared to AC powered ones and thus give a purer sound quality. I personally felt the battery driven state gives a slightly darker background to overall sound quality and also tend to improve upon the dynamics.

7.jpg


I used the PX200 for this review and my observations are that the sound quality through the amplifier really gives better dynamics, cleaner background and above all a very smooth presentation. The amplifier will also help conserve the battery in the iPod as the headphone is not being driven by the op-amp housed inside the tiny iPod. The amplifier on the other hand has the capability to last around 40 hours with a set of 4 AAA batteries, so the listening time with the headphone is such that the iPod will be first to stop producing the sound before the amplifier needs a replacement of batteries.

8.jpg


Headroom is a specialist headphone amplifier maker based in the US and they also offer a cheaper version of the same amp with no built-in D/A converter, having only the line-in facility which is an ideal companion for the iPod. For those, who can afford the luxury of the amp and upmarket headphones this would be a killer combination giving the best possible sound quality on the go. If the pocket allows it why not take the plunge?

Conclusion

The iPod does not come with any protective sleeve or a pouch which in my opinion makes it vulnerable to say the least. Not that it is susceptible to smudges and scratches, if not careful it can slip out of the hands and land on the floor, depending on how hard the surface is and the angle it decides to take on its journey downwards, it could mean a damaged screen. In my opinion it would be prudent on the part of the user to get a decent pouch or sleeve to protect it. There are many types to choose from, remember I warned you here.

By far the most durable players on the market today are the ones sporting NAND flash memory or in other words solid state memory. On the surface the flash memory based players in comparison to the likes of Video iPods seem ridiculously expensive based on storage capacity offered, but the fact is that flash memory is expensive per GB of storage, unlike the hard drives, which are much cheaper to manufacturer and can have much larger capacity. The hard drives have moving parts so the likely hood of its malfunctioning sooner is very much a possibility.

If you are a music listener and don't care to watch video's on tiny screens, and love to take a walk or wish to go for jogging, iPod Nano 2nd generation is by far the best option you have. It really is a very nice little player – in my opinion, a mouse that roars majestically in the crowd of portable players!

Pros
Extremely compact and lightweight design, now with choice of colours, very good battery life, excellent display, intuitive user interface

Cons
No protective casing, software not bundled

Verdict
Having flash memory (solid state with no moving parts) unlike the iPod video which is hard drive based, it is by far the most durable and feature laden iPod one can buy for exclusively playing music on the go!

Author
Quadophile
First release
Last update

More resources from Quadophile

Top