New Gear: iPod Nano 5G

At lunch on Wednesday, Jay and I had lunch with Becky, spending much of the time looking at our iPhones, watching the blow-by-blow of the Apple announcements on Twitter. We had a great time. I’m not so sure about Becky. 🙂

Jay had three predictions:

  • Steve wouldn’t be there.
  • There would be no camera on the iPod Nano.
  • There would be no Beatles-related announcements.

Jay was one for three.

On Wednesday, Uncle Steve did appear on stage to a towering ovation, having beaten yet another life-threatening malady. He was still thin, and his voice sounded gravelly compared to a presentation he gave late last year, but he was still alive, much to the thrills of Apple’s shareholders, I’m sure. Frankly, I’m glad he made it. I think he’s a visionary, and maybe his shiny new liver will give him some shiny new ideas.

After going through a ton of announcements, the event ended with “One more thing…” — a Jobs trademark, and frequently means that the best was saved for last. Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of the iPod Nano — Touch, Classic and Shuffle all got some love during the presentation, but nothing about the Nano. One more thing. Steve talked about video, and how handheld solid-state video devices were grabbing up a big chunk of the market. And he said Apple wanted a piece of the action.

And they’re gonna give it to us for free.

Enter the new iPod Nano, now outfitted with a camera that’ll shoot video at 480p at 30fps. The free part? It’s free because Apple built the camera into the Nano, and kept the price the same. And added an FM radio. And a speaker. And a pedometer. And voiceover. And voice recording. And a slightly bigger screen. Same physical size, same price. Crikey. And it was available immediately.

In reality, it was available for order immediately, and only showed up at the local Apple Store on Thursday. A quick dash from work to the Galleria during lunch has put a nice electric reflective green iPod Nano in my hands.

I love the new finish on the 5G Nanos -– very nice. However I’m inclined to think it’s a fragile finish. In fact, despite it being aluminum, the slick feel reminds me of a plastic case. And I don’t know if it’s that my hands are telling my brain that the thing is plastic, but the 5G Nano feels lighter than my 4G Nano. That’s gotta be some kinda subliminal thing from my fingertips to my brain’s weights and measures division. Speaking of fingertips, the slick feel of the case keeps making me feel like the little thing is gonna squirt out of my hands — it’s the same kind of feel my iPod Touch had.

The FM radio works well enough, although the big ol’ building I work in blocks a lot of signals. BTW, you have to have the headphones plugged in for the radio to function -– it uses them as the antenna, and is aware when they aren’t attached. I’m using non-standard-issue Bose earbuds, and they seem to work just fine as the radio antenna, so it appears there’s no Apple voodoo going on requiring the use of the Apple headphones in order to use the radio. That’s a pleasant surprise after some the headphone wackiness that’s gone on lately from Apple.

The video camera functionality is fun and actually seems to work pretty well. Uncle Steve said that there was one-button publishing to YouTube, with the implication that this would come through iPhoto. However, even in his presentation Wednesday, iPhoto didn’t have an icon for YouTube, and we never actually saw him upload a video anywhere, despite playing some YouTube hosted video shot with the 5G Nano.

I’d wanted to post a new video on YouTube from the Nano, but have yet to get it to work. First off, I found no place for one click publishing to YouTube from iPhoto. Instead, I copied my videos to my desktop, and tried to upload one through YouTube’s web interface. To quote Janie Porsche, “Eeeehhhhnnnntttt!” I didn’t save Christmas, nor did I get a successful video upload. While the video appeared to upload, the backend processing never completed, and finally errored out.

Not being satisified with that — and having a blockbuster video shot with my iPod Nano that I wanted to share — I tried uploading the video via Quicktime Pro. It does have a menu item for uploading to YouTube. Filled in the boxes, and once again, the upload finished, but there was no completion. In fact, I left it churning for about 10 minutes (for about 30 seconds of video) before mercifully ended the process’ life.

I’m not a YouTube video expert, but to me, it seems like YouTube doesn’t like converting the Nano video stream into whatever it prefers. I like the video shooting capability, but so far, the one-click publishing to YouTube seems to be falling on its face for me. YMMV.

Speaking of pulling video from the Nano, it appears that the only way you can access your video gems is to put the Nano in “disk mode”. I tend to slam my iPods in docks when I’m done with ’em, and pluck ’em out at a second’s notice as I’m headed out the door. In disk mode though, you can’t do that. You have to do an orderly eject from the Mac desktop or iTunes. While that’s not a real big deal, it does take longer, and it definitely doesn’t fit with how I’ve been using my iPods for years. A prediction: I will foul up that sequencing at some point, and toast the load on the new Nano, forcing me to go through a restore.

One thing of note. The camera will not shoot stills — it’s motion only. My understanding is that that’s not uncommon in fixed-focus, fixed-zoom solid state video cameras, but it still would’ve been a nice thing to have. (Pardon the pun.)

The built-in speaker was a surprise the first time I accidentally hit play on a music screen while showing the thing to co-workers. The sound is tinny, of course — on a movie of my Bernese Mountain Dog, playback made her sound like Chihuahua — but the fact that it’s there at all is cool and is great for quick and dirty video sharing.

The slightly bigger screen is nice. When playing tunes, the thing displays artist, album and title with no scrolling — a nice UI improvement. Not a big deal, but nice.

I really thought the form factor would be different with all the new toys, but Uncle Steve says it’s the same form factor. The photos I saw early on made me think that the new Nano was a little thicker, and more squared off on the sides. That doesn’t appear to be the case. Obviously, there are changes to the case in order to accommodate the bigger screen and the camera on the rear. And in a brilliant move, the headphone and dock connector have swapped positions on the bottom, meaning new accessories if you have a toy that is strict about that sort of thing.

Also, the capacity isn’t stamped on the case anywhere. That tells me Apple can stockpile cases, and put them on whatever capacity comes down the line. (C’mon Apple — 32GB would be sweet!!!) My guess is that the new case manufacturing process probably doesn’t lend itself to a quick turnaround. This way it doesn’t matter what comes next as long as the form factor is the same.

Two paws up on the Colinomometer. 🙂