At less than $200, the new 4GB and 8GB iPod Nanos will surely be the most popular tech stocking stuffer this year. While the updated iPod Classic and iPod Touch are equally drool-worthy, the new Nano is obviously priced to move.
I was fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the all the new iPods at the launch event, and even though the iPod Touch is clearly the star of the show, the new Nano is really the one to watch for. The 2-inch screen packs a dense and crisp 320x240 video resolution that looks very nice. The revamped graphic user interface (shared with the iPod Classic) is graphically rich and uses both a Cover Flow method for browsing music content, as well as a split-screen view used for browsing music, videos, photos, and more.
There's lots of small touches included on the new Nano that are easy to miss. For instance, Apple's music shuffle function has evolved. With this latest generation of iPods, after launching the player's shuffle function, users can now access the shuffle mode settings (shuffle song/shuffle album/shuffle off) from within the Now Playing pane by pressing the center button four times. This might seem insignificant, but it effectively gives users the ability to steer the shuffle function--randomizing song selections until they find something they like, then effortlessly disengaging the shuffle function once they've found an artist or album they'd like to hear more from. Accomplishing the same effect using the current generation of iPods is a maddening process of backing out of menus and manually navigating to an artist's album.
Another understated addition is the inclusion of three video games right out of the box. The ability to purchase and play iPod video games from the iTunes store was an honor only video iPod users were given--and few took advantage of. The inclusion of the three games increases the device's holiday gift-appeal and whets the appetite for iPod users who had written off Apple's game offerings as trivial. Really, the game inclusion is just the time-honored pusherman technique at its best: use a freebie to get 'em hooked. To be fair, the iPod's games have really stepped up this past year. I'm still waiting for the next installment of Lost.
On the downside, one feature that I believe Apple has sneaked out of both the new iPod Nano and iPod Classic is the ability to use the headphone jack as a composite video output jack, allowing for photos and videos to be played to your television set without the aid of a third-party interface. Honestly, most iPod users I encounter don't even know this feature exists on their 5G iPods, so I can understand Apple's motivation for cutting out this cool, but undervalued feature.
Adding it all up along with the Nano's battery life of 24 hours for audio playback and 5 hours for video, the little guy just seems irresistible. The early adopters and file hoarders will surely prefer the Classic and Touch iPods, but I have little doubt that the new iPod Nano will be the most ubiquitous must-have MP3 player for the holidays.