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We loved the last iPod nano (5 out of 5 stars, Nov/08, p68) with its brightly colored, sleekly tapered aluminum case, accelorometer-assisted Cover Flow and Shake-to-Shuffle, and Genius playlists. The fifth-generation nano brings back all that goodness and shovels on even more "OMG WANT" features, including an FM radio, pedometer, and video camera.
The video camera is obviously the marquee addition, no pun intended. A tiny lens on the back of the nano captures 640x480 H.264 video, and an even tinier microphone records AAC audio. We needed to experiment to find the best ways to hold the nano while keeping the screen visible and our fingers out of the shot. Whichever way the nano is held, the preview appears right-side-up on the screen, so we initially thought we could hold it upside-down in portrait mode--and we wound up with a bunch of upside-down video. If you start shooting with the nano upside-down, your video will be OK. But if you start shooting right-side-up and then turn the nano upside-down, your footage will flip too, even though the preview image on the screen is always upright.
Video quality is not up to the Flip cameras' standard, with more washed-out colors and less detail. Still, it's fun to shoot with, provided you have enough light. Holding the center button brings up 15 special effects that can be added to your footage in real time--Sepia, Black & White, X-Ray, Motion Blur, Cyborg, and more.
When you dock the nano, the videos (in MP4 format) are uploaded to iPhoto, but you can't use iPhoto's Facebook or Flickr uploaders to get them online. Your best bet is to export the clip to your Desktop (File > Export, and choose Original as the format). Then you can open the exported MP4 file in QuickTime to perform some trims or add a quick soundtrack. You can import the clip into iMovie for more extensive editing, although we had to choose File > Import > Movies from iMovie, as dragging the MP4 file onto the iMovie icon didn't work.
The camera's tiny mic also lets you record voice notes using the built-in Voice Memos app. Your memos are saved as AAC files and synced to iTunes with date stamps. You can also label a memo as a podcast, interview, lecture, idea, meeting, or memo, to make it easier to tell them apart later.
The radio feature is new too, but it only works with headphones plugged in, since the wire acts as an antenna. This means you can't listen to the radio with the iPod in a speaker dock, since the dock connector and headphone jack are next to each other on the nano's bottom. The radio won't play through the nano's tiny built-in speaker, either, even though any other audio can. You tune the dial (87.5 to 107.9) with the clickwheel, and save stations as favorites. Pressing pause will buffer the radio for up to 15 minutes, letting you resume playback where you left off. If the station supports iTunes Tagging, you'll see the current artist and song name displayed on the nano's screen, and you can hold the center button and choose Tag from the contextual menu. The nano remembers everything you tagged, and when you sync with your Mac, you'll see a playlist of Tagged Songs in your sidebar, with links to buy those songs on iTunes.
The built-in pedometer can be always on, or turned on manually, and it counts your steps as you bop around with your iPod in your pocket. When you dock the nano, the data is uploaded to nikeplusactive.com, tracking your progress toward various goals (walking to the top of a virtual 100-story skyscraper, burning off the calories in a hot dog, and so on). You can also tell the nano your weight, and have it calculate the calories burned by your steps. This Nike+ Active system isn't the same as the more robust Nike+ running system (nikerunning.nike.com), which still requires the Nike+ iPod Sport Kit ($29, www.apple.com) with its wireless sensor for your shoes and wireless receiver that plugs into the nano's dock port.
Besides the new bells and whistles, the fifth-gen nano is pretty close to its predecessor. It's the same shape and size, but the new nano's 2.2-inch, 240x376 display is bigger than the fourth-gen's 2-inch, 240x320 screen. The fonts are a little bigger, the menus a little more spaced out. For watching videos or using Cover Flow, just tilt the nano on its side and the accelerometer reorients the display.
The nano supports VoiceOver, letting you hear what song is playing and navigate between tracks and playlists with buttons on your headphones. But bizarrely, the included headphones don't have the buttons--you have to upgrade to the $29 Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic, or the pricier $79 Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic, or use a compatible third-party set. (Our Griffin TuneBuds Mobile worked fine.) Visually impaired users can opt for the Spoken Menus feature instead, which works with any headphones or speakers.
Battery life is impressive. Apple estimates 24 hours of music playback, but in our tests (with the pedometer off, Energy Saver on, and volume set to 50 percent), a brand-new nano pumped out a little more than 29 hours of music before needing to be recharged. Apple estimates 5 hours of video playback, and using the pedometer or video camera does ding those numbers a little.
If you need a small, handheld video camera, you'll get better quality and easier editing from any of the Flip cameras ($149.99 to $199.99, www.theflip.com), but if you want a rad little media player that can shoot quick videos of your friends goofing off, the latest iPod nano should earn a place in your hip pocket.
PRICE: $149 for 8GB; $179 for 16GB
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.4.11 or later, iTunes 9 or later, USB 2.0 port, iPhoto 6.0.6 or later for syncing videos
Built-in 640x480 video camera. FM radio, with live pausing and iTunes Tagging. Built-in pedometer. Voice memos. 16GB version is $20 cheaper than last generation.
Video camera doesn't work well in low light, and it's easy to get your fingers in the way of the lens. Shiny, curved screen picks up some glare. Built-in speaker sounds tinny. Radio requires headphones. Included headphones don't support VoiceOver features. AC adapter not included.