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Saturday, September 12, 2009, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Review: Apple's fifth-generation iPod nano (2009)


Special effects

To spice up recording, the nano offers a series of 15 special effect modes for video capture: sepia, black and white, x-ray, film grain, thermal, security cam, cyborg, bulge, kaleido, motion blur, mirror, light tunnel, dent, stretch, and twirl. These degrade the captured quality and can't be removed later, so more serious mobile filmmakers might want to import their video clips into iMovie for editing with special effect filters instead.

If the target is YouTube or Facebook, however, the nano's simple in-camera effects can help turn a third grader into a short clip cinematographer, with enough variety to make nano videos as fun as Mac OS X's Photo Booth. Simply click and hold the center button while the video camera is up, and you get a preview of what the capture will look like with the effect applied.

nano 09


Putting basic special effects right in the camera, and making them easy to apply, means kids won't even need to master iMovie to create fun clips they can share like digital-era Polaroid talkies. And for us adults, applying film grain or security camera effects means you won't even notice the crow's feet.

There's no trim video editing features within the nano as there is on the much more powerful iPhone 3GS, but similar simple editing controls are now available in QuickTime X, making it easy to cut off the beginning intro where your fingers were all over the lens. Because the nano captures standard H.264 video, it's also easy to pull them into iMovie or similar tools for more advanced sprucing up as well.

Hardware features: Nike+ and pedometer

Unlike last year's nano, the 2009 model no longer requires the Sport Kit external transmitter and shoe sensor just to track your steps. You can still use the Nike+ Sport Kit to act as your running coach as before, but the new version includes an independent, accelerometer-based pedometer for tracking basic fitness goals.

The system can be turned on to count all your steps in the background, so you can upload your regular walking activity to the free Nike+ website to monitor your progress and perhaps incentivize taking the stairs. Enter your weight and set a daily step goal, and the new nano will keep a calendar of your daily walking activity. While counting steps, a shoe icon appears on the nano screen next to the battery indicator.

The nano also supports regular Nike+ workouts with the Sport Kit and Nike+ cardio gym equipment designed to plug in via the dock connector, both of which continue to work the same as in previous iPod models.

Hardware features: FM radio

Apple has previously maintained that few iPod users are clamoring for FM radio features, and that its external radio adapter is enough of a solution for those who want to listen to the radio rather than their own music. The new nano now incorporates an FM radio, along with support for iTunes tagging, a feature that identifies the song being played and can add it to a favorite list for later purchase from the iTunes Store. Radio stations supporting this tagging feature display a tag icon.

The new radio also features Live Pause, a digital recording window that lets you pause your radio station and play it back with as much as a 15 minute delay, similar to how DVRs like the Tivo pause live TV. You can rewind and fast forward to any point within the cached playback period, making it handy for repeating part of a song, pausing the playing music for a quick conversation, or, of course, skipping ads. If you have a few minutes of radio playback cached and leave the radio app's menus, the stored radio segment is lost.

The nano's FM radio uses the headphone cord as its antenna, so without headphones plugged in, the radio won't work. Given that the nano is the most gym-friendly iPod model, inclusion of a radio may be welcomed by those who run treadmills in front of a bank of TVs with their audio broadcast on different FM stations. No iPod models support built-in FM radio transmitting though, so if you want to play back music through your car's speakers, you'll still need to use an external radio or cassette tape adapter.

Hardware features: VoiceOver

The new nano now supports VoiceOver, a feature that debuted on the iPod shuffle. VoiceOver will announce the name of the currently playing song with a single press and brief hold of the click wheel, if you're eyes are too busy to check the screen. The feature is enabled in iTunes, which involves installing the VoiceOver component. Once installed, the system can be set to speak song information in twenty languages, and will automatically read off foreign song titles in the correct language.

Using headphones with integrated playback controls (which again do not ship bundled with the nano), you can also control playback blindly in the same manner as the shuffle: click once to pause or resume, double click to jump to the next song, or triple click to restart the song or jump to the previous song.

VoiceOver uses high quality voice synthesis created on your iTunes computer, so it doesn't tax iPod playback and provides more natural sounding voices than the iPod itself could generate given its low power embedded processors.

On page 3 of 3: Software features: iTunes 9 Genius Mix, games, voice memos, and other basics; Polished colors and specs; What ships in the box; Product Review Rundown; and Rating.