Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Hello, Nano

10th October, 2011

We were in the Apple store the other day (the fairly new shiny one in Reading’s Oracle shopping centre, which seems to have the mystical property of being perpetually busy irrespective of whether the rest of the town is rammed or completely quiet) swapping out a busted iPad power brick - they kindly gave me a new one from their spares for free, after I convinced them I am capable of debugging electrical issues and they verified it was busted - when I decided to buy one of the new iPod Nanos.

I could claim this was an impulse decision, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate - I’d been tempted by one of the Nanos since it was first released, but thought the software could be improved with more functionality. On 4th October Apple did just that, releasing a software update for the Nanos as well as a price drop (although the hardware was not updated), which was just about enough to tip me over the edge and grab a couple (only one for me!).

The Nano is absurdly small. In fact, the unit covers less area than one of the cans on the headphones that I use to listen to it! Just as much thickness is taken up by the clip mechanism as the rest of the unit. Pretty incredible considering the screen looks great (and is really bright) and the touchscreen has a reasonably high resolution for touch.

The unit is also really well put together, and feels very robust. One of the ones we got had a small manufacturing defect where it looked like some glue escaped from under the screen glass, but in true Apple style they immediately swapped it for a brand new one as soon as we took it back in.

The Nano’s software update bumps it to version 1.2. Where it had previously been forced to render small icons (see above), it is now by default in large icons (see below), but you can switch between them in the settings. The navigation between screens is really intuitive considering the only buttons are power and volume - swiping from left to right pulls you back through menus and apps until you reach the home screen.

Some of my favourite software features are the ability to twist the screen to any orientation with two fingers (useful for if you clip it on some clothes at a weird angle), the photos, and in the new version you can choose the clock face design. Even cooler, however, is the fact that the colours of the clock faces change depending on the colour of your device! Mine is a nice rosy orange so the clock faces with colours have an orange tint to them, great attention to detail.

The software also now has built-in fitness functions, with walk and run tracking steps through the Fitness (Nike+ logo) app.

There are only a few changes I’d make to the Nano. Ideally I’d love to see a Bluetooth module squeezed in - this with wireless headphones would be phenomenal (although I should imagine batter life would be just as much a problem as space for the electronics). I would also like the option to include apps, even simple ones based on HTML and JS. It would be likely they could only run without an internet connection (they couldn’t fit WiFi in there, surely?) but it would be REALLY fun to develop for!

The new Nanos are priced at £115 and £129 for the 8GB and 16GB models respectively, and are available from Apple and approved resellers now (you may have to do the software update yourself when you plug it into iTunes). Gallery of a few more pics below.