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With the latest nano, the iPod returns to its roots

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Apple’s latest version of the iPod nano has come under criticism for omitting features such as — among many other things — a built-in camera. However, the previous nano always seemed just too small for that feature (or maybe it’s just my aging eyes), so I’m happy to see the small iPod return to its roots as a straightforward music device.

As you might expect, the latest nano replaces the click wheel with a Multi-Touch interface that lets you navigate your music collection by simply tapping or swiping a finger on the display. I was dubious about how effective this would be on a nano that’s nearly half the size of the previous generation (1.48 x 1.61 x 0.35 inches). But it works well — even for me, even without my reading glasses.

You can use the Multi-Touch interface to access songs, artists, albums and playlists with a tap or swipe of your finger on the display. Holding down a finger returns the user to the Home screen, and you can use two fingers to rotate the screen if it’s clipped onto your clothing upside down — a feature I really like. You can also customize your Home screen by dragging icons from other screens onto it. Of course, the Multi-Touch interface also brings with it the problem of fingerprint smudges a la the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad.

The sixth gen iPod nano also features Shake to Shuffle, which lets you shake the device to shuffle to a new song in your music library. I’ve never been big on the shuffle feature (though I know folks who love it), so this doesn’t do much for me. But it’s there if it’s your cup of tea.

Continuing the refocus on music, the teeny iPod features Genius Mixes, the ability to create and edit playlists, a built-in FM radio with live pause and up to 24 hours of music playback on a single battery charge. The built-in radio works surprisingly well; I get decent reception of all the local stations pretty much wherever I am. The convenient live pause lets you pause and resume playing your favorite FM radio shows without missing a beat.

The audio quality is good, though you’ll want to upgrade from the mediocre headphones that come with the nano. Also good is the fact that, despite its drastic design change, the latest nano still sports the 30-dock interface so it works with all existing accessories.

The latest nano also looks good (would you expect less from Apple?) with its polished aluminum and glass enclosure. A nice touch is the built-in clip, which makes it instantly wearable. I’m waiting to get my hands on a wrist band so I can use the nano as a watch. Geeky? Maybe. Cool? For sure.

The iPod nano features a built-in pedometer that lets you track your steps and also supports Nike + iPod, giving users the ability to track runs and workouts. The pedometer works reasonably well, though I wouldn’t want to base my rigorous workouts on it.

If you’re looking for a compact, gorgeous MP3 player with some added niceties, you’ll probably appreciate the latest nano. However, if you loved the camera, microphone, speaker and games/contact/notes/alarm clock support of the previous model, you should stick with it and skip this generation of iPod nano (which, by the way, I think will eventually replace the iPod shuffle). Instead, go with the iPod touch when you’re ready to replace your iPod. By the way, the fact that Apple has removed features on the latest nano but not reduced the price is a bit hard to swallow.

Macsimum rating: 6.5 out of 10

The new iPod nano is available for a suggested price of US$149 for the 8GB model and $179 for the 16GB model. Both models are available in silver, graphite, blue, green, orange and pink through the Apple Store (http://www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers. The 8GB and 16GB iPod nano (PRODUCT) RED is available through the Apple Store and Apple’s retail stores. iPod nano requires a Mac with a USB 2.0 port, Mac OS X10.5.8 or later and iTunes 10 or later; or a Windows PC with a USB 2.0 port and Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (Service Pack 3) or later and iTunes 10 or later.

— Dennis Sellers

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