Tagged: iPod

Apple's new iPhone 5 and iPods: First impressions

Today, Apple unveiled what will no doubt be its bread-and-butter products for the all-important holiday season and into 2013: an all-new iPhone 5 and revamped versions of the iPod nano and iPod Touch.

Thanks to the many leaked photos and generally accurate rumours, the iPhone 5 introduced by Phil Schiller and Tim Cook was almost exactly what we were expecting: A thinner, lighter, faster, taller and LTE-enabled smartphone. About the only feature that didn’t make it from rumour-mill to reality was the inclusion of NFC (Near Field Communication) which would have enabled the contactless-payment scheme that is currently being pursued by Google and others. For an explanation on why Apple left this and wireless charging out, see this interview with Phil Schiller.

Apple iPhone 5

In typical Apple fashion, the new iPhone has given potential buyers just enough to feel that it’s a worthy upgrade over devices that are now two generations old, yet not so much innovation that iPhone 4S owners will be left weeping over their now-obsolete cellphone. I call it the “leap-frog” approach to Apple’s product marketing and so far, it has held true for every new version of the iPhone.

But many argue that especially in today’s super-heated competitive market, “just enough” just isn’t enough. Samsung, Nokia, HTC and others have all made enormous leaps of their own, with many bringing features to the smartphone game that eclipse what Apple has offered. The big question is: Can the iPhone 5 compete against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S III, Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC One X?

My take on this is unchanged from yesterday. While Apple’s Android and Windows 8 Mobile-based competitors are giving consumers more choice than ever, Apple’s formula is still rock-solid. If you are an existing Apple iPhone user – and millions of you are – the iPhone 5 is a logical and satisfying upgrade. Here’s why:

  • You get a larger screen without needing to carry a device that feels chunkier. Thanks to Apple’s decision to preserve the iPhone 4’s width, while shrinking the thickness down to an impressively thin 7.6mm, the iPhone 5 will look and behave like a larger phone without feeling like one
  • With LTE on-board, the iPhone 5 is now just as fast – perhaps even faster – than any other 4G/LTE handset on the market
  • Improvements to the two cameras means that the iPhone 5 maintains its position as arguably the best mobile phone for taking photos and video
  • None of these improvements will hurt battery life. In fact, if you have an older iPhone, it might be a bit better
  • Improvements to the primary CPU – now an A6 chip – will make the iPhone 5 feel downright zippy
  • Price: Starting at $199 for the 16GB model (on contract) means that it costs no more to get a brand new iPhone than it did two or even three years ago if it’s time to renew.

If you aren’t already an iPhone user, these features make a good argument for becoming one. But not an airtight argument. As Reuters has pointed out, the iPhone 5 is impressive in many ways, yet lacks a “wow” factor. Unlike the iPhone 4 with its dazzling Retina display, or the 4S, which brought Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” Siri to life, the latest iPhone is an attempt to prove that if you take an already successful phone and optimize every aspect of it, you have a compelling new product. For some, that attempt may seem lacking.

Meanwhile, if you feel that bigger is better when it comes to screen size, there are several Android-based models that offer larger views of your content, the web, etc. They may not have a higher resolution than the iPhone, but sometimes there’s no substitute for square inches. Likewise, if you think a smartphone ought to come with a stylus for taking notes, interacting with the screen and getting finer control for tasks like painting/drawing, the Samsung Galaxy Note which appeared earlier this year, is still a great choice.

Apple iPod Touch, 5th generation

In addition to the iPhone 5, Apple also updated two of their iPod models. New for 2012 are the iPod Touch, which benefits from many hand-me down iPhone technologies such as a larger screen, thinner body, better cameras and a faster chip, while the biggest surprise of the day went to the new iPod nano which has actually gone up in size.

Apparently the diminutive square design of the previous nano didn’t work out as well as Apple had hoped, and proving once again that they’re prepared to get rid of something that isn’t working, they have re-imagined the  nano as a larger, multi-touch device that once again has the ability to play video – a feature that was dropped in the last generation. Also new to the nano is Bluetooth – something that fitness-addicts have been begging for in order to free themselves from the inevitable tangle that results from working out with wired earbuds.

Yet while Blutooth is great for the gym, so was the built-in clip that the older generation included, but that feature has been axed, sending future iPod nano owners back to third-party accessories if they want to keep their music players within easy reach.

Apple iPod nano

I think the decision to reformulate the iPod nano is a good one. They’ve given the popular media player some great new (er, old) features. But best of all is the price: unchanged at $149, which by the way, is for a 16GB model – the only memory option now for the nano.

And while I’m equally excited to see the iPod Touch pick up some very welcome improvements – especially the camera, which now has an LED flash and 5MP sensor – the price point is a big disappointment. Gone are the 8GB and 16GB options and gone too is the $199 entry-point price. Instead, the cheapest redesigned iPod Touch now starts at a heart-stopping $299 for 32GB.

Yes, they did drop the price on the older, 4th gen iPod Touch 16GB to $199, and yes, the new model gets Siri (the first WiFi-only device to do so) but that’s cold-comfort for those who have been waiting for a new iPod Touch redesign.

$299 is simply too high a price for a product that has become the go-to alternative to portable game systems like the Nintendo DSi/3DS or Sony PS Vita, both of which sell for less than the new iPod Touch. Even $249 would have been easier to swallow.

I would have preferred that Apple have discontinued the older iPod Touch completely, and offer up a 16GB (new) iPod Touch for $199 rather than this two-model, two-price points strategy.

Okay readers, that’s my take. What do you make of all of the Apple hoopla from today’s event? Excited for the new gadgets or feeling a little let down?

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Why the Apple iPhone 5 might ditch the dock connector

The iPhone 4/4S as it might look with a Micro-USB port instead of the usual 30-pin Dock Connector

On first blush, when I read the rumour that the next iPhone would be dropping the ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector, the skeptic in me cried “No way!”

Apple has been a rarity in the consumer electronics industry in the sense that they alone have created a multi-billion dollar market for accessories designed exclusively for use with Apple products. Obviously, the sheer number of products that Apple has sold is a big reason why companies big and small have gotten into the i-accessory game, but there’s a subtler, more powerful reason: consistency.

Ever since the advent of the third-generation iPod, Apple has employed the same 30-pin Dock Connector on every single i-device with the exception of the iPod Shuffle. There are hundreds of millions of i-gadgets in use all around the world, and while their technical capabilities vary depending on the model, that same 30-pin connector is on all of them.

How many other product categories in consumer tech or elsewhere can offer that level of compatibility?

So you can see why any suggestion that Apple might be ready to step away from such an overwhelmingly entrenched standard – one that they have the exclusive rights to –  would be greeted with a fair degree of dubious eye-brow raising.

But the notion isn’t completely laughable. In fact, it might make sense.

First, let’s consider the fact that Apple has prided itself on being able to predict the demise of a technology often well before consumers are willing to relinquish it. The first iMac famously debuted with no floppy drive. It was the first mainstream machine to do so. The optical drive was read-only and the only way to get data out of the iMac was to transmit it using the Internet or via an attached USB-device (keep in mind, super-cheap USB thumb drives were essentially non-existent back then). It wasn’t long before other PC makers were stripping out the floppy from their designs, never to be seen again.

Apple’s next big ditch: you guessed it – the optical drive itself which they made an optional accessory on the stunningly thin and light MacBook Air. Again, much like with the iMac, Apple proved prescient and the MacBook Air has become the laptop after which the “Ultrabook” line of Windows machines has been modelled.

Second, let’s take a look at what that 30-pin connector actually does for i-Devices:

  • Recharge
  • Sync data
  • Pass through audio and/or video content (which is simply a specific form of data syncing)

All of these functions are handy, yet none require the 30-pin connector per-se. USB connectors, be they mini-USB or the now-standard micro-USB are just as capable of handling these duties and do so on the myriad smartphones that Apple does not make. Micro-USB can even handle high-definition 1080p output via a newer technology known as MHL (Mobile High-Defintion Link). And thanks to iCloud, you never need to physically connect an i-Device to a Mac or PC in order to sync data. Even iOS updates are now done “over-the-air.” There is virtually no reason, other than to maintain consistency of design, why Apple *needs* to keep the dock connector.

If Apple chose to abandon the 30-pin dock for the the industry-standard Micro-USB (which is unlikely – they will probably create a smaller dock connector), they would certainly please a segment of their customers who would prefer to carry a single, cheap and easily replaced power cord  – but what about that massive eco-system of accessories like speaker docks and alarms clocks whose numbers are now to great to count? Would they have to issue all-new designs just for the iPhone 5 (or “The New iPhone” as I suspect Apple will call it)? Yes and no.

In the past two years, Apple has been making a bit of a fuss over a wireless audio and video standard they call “AirPlay.”  AirPlay lets you effortlessly stream audio or video from your Mac or PC’s iTunes software to any AirPlay-equipped gadget on your home Wi-Fi or wired network. Apple TV is a great example of this. Not only can you stream hi-def movies from iTunes to your TV via AirPlay, you can stream any music or video from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch in the same way, so long as the app you’re using has been AirPlay-enabled.

AirPlay has seen a lot of support amongst the top brands in the electronics space. Pioneer, Denon, Sonos, JBL, B&W, iHome and Klipsch  – just to name a few – have all introduced AirPlay-compatible products and that number is guaranteed to grow. Why? Because AirPlay is the new, wireless dock-connector at least as far as bullet number three from the list above is concerned. It’s a new standard and is already supported by nearly every Wi-Fi equipped product Apple sells.

Could Apple be planning an AirPlay adapter for older speaker docks? (click for larger image)

I know – that’s all well and good for new products – they obviously don’t need a dock connector for audio and video, but what about those older products? The ones that are still carrying around a seemingly obsolete dock? Well here’s where we take an even longer drive down the speculative highway…

I think Apple could easily create an AirPlay Dock Adapter, which would snap into any speaker dock and give it AirPlay connectivity. Assuming that the adapter could draw power from from the dock in the same way that an iPod or iPhone could draw power for recharging, nothing else would be needed. Given how inexpensive Wi-Fi radios have become, I’m guessing that Apple could sell these for $50, turn a very handsome profit, and give millions of older speakers etc., a new lease on life.

I’m not the first one to think this is a good idea – at least one enterprising fellow is trying to get some movement on this notion – assuming Apple doesn’t beat him to the punch!

So readers, what do you make of these prognostications? Would you freak out if Apple dropped the dock from the new iPhone?

Hands-on with Apple's AirPlay

airplay-the-good-and-the-badOf all the features that launched with last week’s iOS update to 4.2, the one I was most eagerly anticipating was AirPlay.

In case you haven’t been following along, AirPlay is the ability to wirelessly stream audio and video from a device like an iPad to your 2nd generation Apple TV. It’s essentially and enhancement on the existing AirTunes feature that already let you stream audio from iTunes to an AirPort Express router so that you could pipe your tunes directly into a connected receiver. AirPlay takes that framework and expands it to include video.

The system is dead-easy. Just make sure that your i-device and your Apple TV are on the same wireless network. Then choose your app: iPod for video or music, the Photos app for, well, photos and the YouTube app for, uh, you get the idea. Once your media is playing or your photo is displayed, simply tap the little rectangle pierced with a upwards-pointing triangle icon and choose “Apple TV” from the list that pops up.

When using the AirPlay menu from the native YouTube app on an iPhone, you get the option to stream video and audio to an Apple TV. (click for larger image)

When using the AirPlay menu from the native YouTube app on an iPhone, you get the option to stream video and audio to an Apple TV. (click for larger image)

The result is nothing short of spectacular. I tried AirPlay using my iPad as the source device and played back a high-quality version of How To Train Your Dragon. For the techies out there, the file specs are: 1280×544  in .m4v, @155kbps with 5.1 Dolby. In short, it’s a file that has been optimized for Apple TV. Once I had selected Apple TV from the AirPlay list, the movie started playing on my plasma TV within 2 seconds.

I didn’t watch the whole movie but I did let it run for several minutes during which there was no observable glitch in audio or video. Both were perfect. In fact, the video compared so well to the HD version we had rented via Bell TV’s on-demand service, I couldn’t tell the difference.

Sounds great right? Yes – it really does exactly what is promises. But (you knew there had to be one…) I’m extremely disappointed by the lack of AirPlay video support for 3rd party apps.

That’s right. As of right now, the *only* apps that can send video wirelessly via AirPlay to the Apple TV is the Video app on the iPad (iPod app on the iPhone/iPod Touch) and Apple’s own YouTube and Photos apps.

When using the AirPlay menu on an iPhone inside a 3rd party video app such as VLC Player, you only get the option to stream the audio to the Apple TV - note the little speaker icons instead of monitor icons. (Click for larger image)

When using the AirPlay menu on an iPhone inside a 3rd party video app such as VLC Player, you only get the option to stream the audio to the Apple TV - note the little speaker icons instead of monitor icons. (Click for larger image)

While 3rd party video apps such as the excellent VLC Media Player, CineXPlayer or even YouTube inside of Safari can stream the audio portion of their program to the Apple TV, none can stream video.

Here’s why this stinks: Apple TV is, out-of-the-box, able to stream any content that iTunes can play on your PC. It also has it’s own YouTube app. Lastly, it can present photos from your PC if you enable iTunes to stream that content too.

So what exactly has AirPlay done to extend Apple TV’s capabilities? Nothing. Well, almost nothing.

If you have content on your iPad or iPhone that you don’t have on your Mac/PC, then I suppose it’s handy to be able to stream that content to the Apple TV without the need of a middle-man device. But let’s think about this: If you bought an Apple TV, it’s fair to assume that you were already using your computer as your primary media repository and you were okay with managing that media via iTunes. Now I’m not suggesting that you would *never* use just your i-device to download new content – thereby skipping the iTunes-PC step, but I’m guessing it will be rare.

I real promise that AirPlay held for me, and I suspect many other Apple TV owners, was the ability to use all of the 3rd party apps that have popped up in the App Store that support all of the media file types that iTunes (and thus Apple TV) don’t support.

I was frustrated by Apple’s decision to limit Apple TV to just a few video formats when they announced the product, but I immediately thought “okay, no problem, Apple doesn’t want to support other formats, I can deal with that since it looks like AirPlay will enable other companies to take on that burden through 3rd party app development.” With AirPlay being limited to just Apple’s trio of native apps, what would have been an otherwise perfect compromise between what Apple was willing to do and what consumers wanted, is now almost superfluous. A neat trick of engineering that will rarely be used or needed.

For the sake of being optimistic, I hope that this limitation with AirPlay is merely temporary while 3rd party apps are updated by their developers to be compatible with the new feature… but I’m not very convinced this will happen. Some other blogs have pointed out that 3rd party video *was* working in the beta of 4.2 but was subsequently disabled in the final release. Apple, what say you to this?

Update: Apple got back to us rather sooner than we thought, or at least, MacRumours thinks Steve Jobs has gotten back to us. In an email reply reportedly sent to one of their site’s readers, who asked about Safari YouTube and 3rd party support, the iCEO himself said he “hopes to add these features to AirPlay in 2011.” I don’t know if we can bank on one as-yet unvalidated email, but here’s hoping!

Okay, your turn: Have you used AirPlay yet? If so, do you think it’s a feature you’ll be using on a regular basis? Let us know.

The iPad: An iPod Touch on Steroids?

Apple iPad

It’s not quite what the pundits were expecting, but the iPad has landed and with it Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging all the other PC makers to catch up – if they can. It’s a slick device, offering all of the features and functionality of an iPod Touch, with a larger screen and more powerful processor. Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple put on a good show, demonstrating the iPad’s deft handling of web browsing, watching videos, reading publications and running apps such as racing games. But the price for this uber-iPod starts at $499 USD and rises sharply as you add more memory and 3G connectivity, leaving all of us to decide if we really need a device that sits somewhere between our MP3 player and our laptop, a device that offers little in the way of new functionality yet nonetheless occupies a category of its own.

Just how much like an iPod Touch is the new iPad? Let’s take a look at the specs:

The iPad features:

  • A 9.7” LED-backlit IPS LCD multi-touch screen (IPS is one of the varieties of LCD technology that uses fewer transistors, but requires more backlighting for an increased viewing angle)
  • A 1.5lbs aluminum and glass enclosure
  • Built-in microphone, speakers and headphone jack
  • 10 hour battery life
  • Wi-Fi a/b/g /n
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • A custom Apple-built 1 Ghz processor, dubbed the “A4”
  • Accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor
  • 1024-by-768-pixel resolution (3×4 aspect ratio)
  • Can output 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable to a TV

So far, with the exception of the compass, it’s a large iPod Touch, with a fast processor and a not-quite 720p resolution screen. Though it’s hard to tell without benchmark testing, the processor may deliver similar performance to Intel’s Atom platform – the Atom varies between 1.3 and 2 Ghz. In fact, given Apple’s close working relationship with Intel on most of their other computing products, it’s a bit of a surprise that an Atom isn’t at the heart of the iPad. One reason might be cost, but I suspect Apple needed two very important things for the iPad: A need to clearly distinguish it from the netbook category (having an Atom processor would immediately invite comparisons) and the ability to extract every second of battery life possible.

Now for the software:

  • Safari (web browser)
  • Email
  • Photos (with an optional dock adapter that lets you read SD cards)
  • Customizable home screen
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Maps
  • Notes
  • iBooks (an online bookstore very similar to what Amazon offers on the Kindle)
  • iPod
  • iTunes
  • App Store
  • Video & YouTube, both with HD support

Again, we have a few minor enhancements over the iPod Touch, most notably the iBooks integration, but on the whole, it’s very similar.

The pricing:

Though Canadian pricing hasn’t been announced, here’s what they get in the U.S.:

16GB + WiFi: $499; 16GB + WiFi + 3G: $629

32GB + WiFi: $599; 32GB + WiFi + 3G: $729

64GB + WiFi: $699; 64GB + WiFi + 3G: $829

Since the iPod Touch only comes in 8, 32 and 64GB sizes, let’s take the 32GB model for comparison at $299 USD. The same size iPad is $300 more, or double the price. If you want to compare the iPad to the 32GB iPhone it starts to get tricky given the carrier-underwritten pricing, but it’s still cheaper than the equivalent iPad 3G.

Speaking of 3G, this is one area that will give prospective buyers of the iPad the most difficulty when it comes to deciding on which model. You will need to honestly ask yourself if you want to use the iPad absolutely everywhere or just when in range of an available Wi-Fi network. There is no evidence so far, that if you go Wi-Fi only, you will be able to upgrade to 3G capability at a later date. But because you aren’t tied to a carrier for the 3G model (unlike current iPhone purchasing models) many people may decide to splurge, simply as a way to future-proof themselves.

In the U.S., Apple has partnered with AT&T to offer unlimited data on the iPad for $30 a month which is a great deal if you’re going to use it outside of Wi-Fi network range regularly.  For Canadians, who can’t currently get an unlimited data plan on *any* carrier, the questions are: will a similar deal will be struck here, and if not, will the iPad be viable financially when not within range of a Wi-Fi network?

So that’s pretty much it as far as the specs go. If it sounds like the iPad is a little underwhelming from this description, you and I have the same perspective.

However, as tempting as it may be to dismiss the iPad as an overgrown and overpriced iPod Touch, as with so many of Apple’s products, there’s always another aspect – an element that cannot be quantified through an analysis of the specs alone. The iPad is very attractive. It has the same simple elegance that has been a hallmark of Apple’s industrial design since Jobs took back control of the company over 10 years ago.

I haven’t even seen it in the flesh yet but I can hardly wait to get my hands on it – to touch it, interact with it, play with it. Though it may not boast capabilities that any well-equipped netbook couldn’t match and for much less money, its touch-based interface and beautiful, jewel-like screen call to gadget lovers like a siren song.  Steve Jobs described it as “magical”. I’m not sure I would call it a magical device given how much of what it can do is already available in other products, but there’s no question – it does exude a magical appeal.

If you ask yourself “Do I really need an iPad?”, the probable answer is “No.” But once you’ve used one, or watched curiously as someone else works with one, then ask yourself “Do I want an iPad?”, I’ll bet the answer will be “YES!”

It is already apparent that the iPad’s strengths are: Surfing the web with a multitouch interface on a screen that lets you really appreciate a full web page; Having access to books and periodicals in full colour with adjustable font sizes and orientation; Watching videos in your choice of letterbox or full-frame presentation, organizing and viewing photos, and of course, accessing the 160,000+ apps in the App Store that not only run on the iPad, but are sync’d with your existing App Store purchases if you already own an iPod Touch or iPhone.

This last point is really the iPad’s greatest strength of all. Not only does Apple already has a superb set of online tools through which users can download anything from apps, to movies, to music to TV shows, the company has fostered an enormous development community who can leverage every line of code that they wrote for the iPhone and iPod Touch and layer-on additional features for the iPad.

As with the iPhone, it will be this dizzying array of creative energy that figures out how to take the iPad to places that even Apple itself hasn’t imagined. I know they had to call this thing an iPad for consistency in branding etc, but I think its unofficial name ought to be “the AppPad”.

On a final note, I’ll share a few disappointments. These weaknesses are more omissions than outright mistakes. There’s no GPS (though A-GPS is available on the 3G models), there’s no camera either on the front or the back, there was no mention of the ability to multi-task or background your apps – something that has been a complaint on the iPhone for some time.

I strongly suspect that all three of these elements will make their way into future versions of the iPad, with multi-tasking being the first to come, with a software update, since clearly Apple’s new A4 processor is more than capable of handling it.

So welcome to the world iPad. You may not be the device that anyone needs, but I doubt that will stop you from winning a place in our hearts.

originalUpdate Jan 28, 2:10 P.M.: found this over at gizmodo… hilarious!

 

 

 

 

 

icm20Update Jan 28, 2:55 P.M.: Obviously Apple engaged with the accessory community early on for the iPad launch. If you were really bummed out by the absence of a webcam onboard the iPad, the folks over at iLuv have a solution (albeit a clunky one): A dock-adapter based webcam available in 1.3 or 3 megapixel resolutions. No word on price or availability yet.

Apple's 5th generation iPod Nano: the perfect gift

iPod Nano photo courtesy of Lubyanka

iPod Nano photo courtesy of Lubyanka

It’s all too easy, quite frankly, to hop on the Apple bandwagon – especially these days. For the last 5 years or so, it seems the company can do no wrong. The ongoing success of its iPod family, which now includes the iPod Touch and iPhone, has done more for the Apple brand than any of its desktops or laptops ever have. Which is not to say those machines aren’t doing well – they are. Quite well in fact, with Apple enjoying one of the largest market shares in its history.

And perhaps it’s this run away success and the corresponding reviewer enthusiasm for Apple’s products that makes me want to take a much more critical look when I try out their latest offerings.

Naturally when I got my hands on the latest iPod Nano, I immediately began looking for the flaws. Trouble is, I found myself having a ridiculous amount of fun while I looked, so what began as skeptical review of just another portable media player, has now evolved into a hearty recommendation.

Here’s why.

Everything you know is the same

If you own the 4thgeneration of Nano, the 5thwill barely look like a new device when you’re holding it in your hand. In fact, there are only two physical changes to the device, which I’ll get to later. Absolutely every feature that was present in the previous model appears in this unit. That is one of the great hallmarks of Apple’s approach to the iPod: evolution instead of revolution.

But this is nothing like previous Nanos

Brand new in this generation is:

–          An FM Radio with pause and rewind functionality

–          Integrated pedometer with iPod Nike + compatibility

–          A voice recorder

–          An internal speaker

–          A larger display

–          A VGA camcorder

It’s these extras that put the new Nano in a class of its own. Media players that can handle audio, video and photo playback litter the landscape – it’s practically table stakes these days. Most of these devices also pack and FM radio and there are even a few that do voice recording or recording from the FM tuner.  But you won’t find a device at any price that merges these functions into one unit and then throws in video clip recording, games and a pedometer function as well.

A deeper look

FM Radio

It’s been a complaint of iPod owners for years: why isn’t there an FM radio on this thing? It’s a question that Apple has seemed intent on dodging for nearly a decade. Instead of addressing it head-on they’ve left it up to 3rdparty accessory companies such as Griffin, Belkin and others to satisfy the market demand for radio. Trouble is, as good as these add-ons may have been, they were still add-ons and as such they were at best a consolation prize – a way to get FM on an iPod, but not a very satisfying way to do it.

So finally the iPod has an FM tuner and in true Apple fashion, they’ve included a few tricks that make it much more than just a way to listen to FM. Firstly, they’ve tied the radio to the Nano’s internal memory which means you get a one-hour15 minute buffer of recording time while listening. You can use the Nano’sforward and reverse controls on the click-wheel to go back in time and re-listen to earlier portions of the broadcast. Similarly, you can pause the radio for up to an hour 15 minutes and resume “playback” whenever you wish. Anyone with a PVR will be familiar with this feature and are probably wondering why no one thought of this for radio before.

Here’s a tip for people who like to tune-in to their gym’s TV broadcasts: you need to turn the record function off when listening to the radio, because it adds a 1-2 second delay as it buffers the audio, throwing off the sync between what you’re seeing on the TV and what you’re hearing on the iPod.

Secondly, the FM radio is compatible with a feature known as iTunes tagging. Some radio stations – though unfortunately none in Canada at the moment – support this function which broadcasts the meta-data associated with each song that they play. The Nano can interpret this data and offer the listener the option of adding the current song a “buy later” list. When you next sync your iPod with your PC, this list of tagged songs will appear in a separate list, so that you can instantly order them from the iTunes store. It’s a nifty little feature that the Microsoft Zune has had for some time, though its version of this feature has also been handicapped in Canada due to the lack of a Zune Marketplace in this country. Ever get the feeling we live in a 3rd world country, technologically speaking?

Voice Recorder

There’s not much to say about this feature other than to acknowledge how handy it is to haveit on board a device that can go anywhere. Recording quality is good, but not great, however the mic is more than sensitive enough that if you placed the Nano on a table while you had a conversation with someone (say for an interview), you could easily listen to the recording later on and understand every word – though beware noisy environments!

Internal Speaker

One look at the incredibly thin profile of the Nano and you are stunned that Apple was able to fit a speaker of any kind inside. But somehow they managed it. But before you get your hopes up about being able to share your eclectic taste in music with friends without handing them the headphones, it’s only natural that a speaker wedged into a device this small isn’t going to be delivering much punch. Think of it more as a monitor – a way to check that your recorded what you thought you recorded – either with the voice recorder or the video camera, without needing to jam an earbud in your ear. The sound quality is predictably tinny.

VGA Camcorder

The addition of the ability to record video to the Nano was the big surprise when Apple announced the 5th generation earlier this year. Long a standard feature on cellphones, it has not found its way into many other portable devices. If you want to credit one company with demonstrating the value of having a small, basic camcorder that you can take anywhere that credit goes to the folks at Flip Video. Their introduction of the Flip camera a few years ago proved that people are okay with giving up some of the standard features associated with a video camera if they can have one that fits in their pockets and syncs seamlessly to their PC for easy editing and sharing.

This was clearly Apple’s inspiration for adding a video camera to the Nano. In doing so, they created a video camera that is even smaller and more pocketable than Flip’s standard definition cam.

Apple’s Flip-ization of the Nano is both brilliant and flawed. On the one hand, Apple had the vision to see that the inclusion of 15 video effect filters would dramatically increase the creative possibilities. Budding directors can play with Sepia, Black and White, X-Ray, Film Grain, Thermal, Security Cam, Cyborg, Bulge, Kaleido, Motion Blur, Mirror, Light Tunnel, Dent, Stretch, and Twirl filters. My favourites are Security Cam and Cyborg, the latter of which includes a picture-in-picture, voice-analysis graph and a type of targeting array that makes for a convincing Terminator-style look to the footage you shoot.

This ability to tweak the video you’re shooting definitely one-ups Flip Video in the fun department. However, things get decidedly worse when you go to transfer your footage from the Nano to your PC.

One of the strengths of the Flip is that it carries its syncing and editing software on-board so that you can use it on any PC to which you connect the camera. It includes basic editing features, and the option to upload your videos to YouTube or Flip’s own video-sharing service.

Apple on the other hand, leaves you out in the cold when it comes to doing anything with your clips. Though this may differ depending on whether you use a PC or a Mac.  On Apple’s website, they say:

Connect iPod nano to your Mac, and iPhoto opens and syncs all the video you shot on iPod nano to your computer. It’s just as easy on a PC when you use your favourite photo software. On a Mac, you can browse and edit your videos in iPhoto, too. The video file sizes are perfect for sharing on YouTube or emailing to friends.

Though Apple claims it’s just as easy on a PC, my experience was that absolutely nothing happened when I connected the iPod. If I wanted to do anything with the video clips, I had to open the iPod as a drive letter on my PC and go through the file structure to find the clips, copy them manually to my hard drive and then, well, frankly I got stuck. The Nano shoots H.264 video and saves them as .mov files.  These can be opened easily in QuickTime, which installs when you put iTunes on your PC, but as for editing or converting them to a format that is friendly to YouTube (FLV, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4) you’re out of luck.

I was a bit surprised by this lack of support on the PC side of the equation as Apple has always gone to great lengths to make the iPod a dual-platform device. But for now, it seems, the new Nano is better on a Mac.

Video quality is surprisingly good given the tiny size of the lens. It’s only VGA resolution which means standard-definition as opposed to high-definition, but given that it’s not intended as a full-blown camcorder, the trade-off is worth it.  Audio is quite good too, and is even recorded in stereo which is odd given the single microphone opening on the case beside the lens. By comparison, Flip Video’s Mino HD’s audio is recorded in mono.

Conclusion

The new Apple iPod Nano starts at $169 for the 8GB model and goes up to $199 for the 16GB edition. This is more expensive than the closest model from Sony – the S Series Walkman, which at $159 for the 16GB model offers nearly everything that the Nano does except for video recording, games and pedometer functions. The Walkman also sounds much better than any of the iPod family, in my opinion. But Apple has evolved the Nano into so much more than a media player, it becomes nearly impossible to compare to any other portable media player, at any price.

If you’re looking for the biggest entertainment bang for your buck this holiday season, look no further than the latest Nano. It’s a blast.

iPod Nano: now with FM tuner, video

Apple iPod Nano, with FM radio tuner

Apple iPod Nano, with FM radio tuner

Don’t get me wrong, I think it was a brilliant move on Apple’s part to take on the wildly popular Flip video line of super-small camcorders today, by instantly turning every new iPod Nano into a portable video studio.

But I was much more impressed by the addition of an FM tuner. Why? Well for one thing, this feature has been missing from every single iPod since they launched the product back in 2000. That’s nearly 10 years of everyone (give or take a few Apple fanboys) telling them that they should add radio capability.

So either Steve Jobs has proven that he can listen to his customers, or he’s realized that the quarter of the media-player market that Apple doesn’t control is dominated by devices that can play FM radio – including the Microsoft Zune.

Speaking of the Zune, the new Nano borrows a trick from Redmond’s baby: While listening to your favourite FM radio station, you can “tag” the songs you like for future lookup and purchase in iTunes. It’s a killer feature, but it requires that the station you’re listening to supports iTunes tagging, which not all of them do.

I’ve tried to find a definitive list of Canadian stations that have this, but have so far come up empty. Drop a comment below if you know of a good resource for this.

But Apple has not only met the Zune in the radio department, they’ve also upped the ante. The Nano’s FM radio behaves more like a satellite radio receiver than a typical FM receiver: as soon as you tune-in to a station, the iPod starts buffering the audio to memory, allowing you to pause or even scroll back and forth along the recorded timeline. PVR users will identify with this right away as it’s the same thing you get when watching live TV with a PVR.

Nice work Apple, now tell us again why we had to wait a decade?

Update: Apple’s Canadian spokesperson, Simon Atkins, tells me that there are no radio stations in Canada that currently support iTunes tagging. Bummer.