Sep 30, 2009


iPod Nano

I put this here, rather than in the Books and Rants area, because this is about a lifestyle product, which seems to fit in with wine and whiskey, rather than about an operating system. An OS is much more pervasive than a music player, or a video camera, so it seemed like it fit here more than in Cahiers du Cinema or Music Notes.

I’ve been using an iPod Nano since yesterday. The model over on the right to be exact. It’s going for $172.95 over at Amazon. I’ve had an iPod Classic 80GB for a while. That has enough room to hold all of my music. Unfortunately I’ve loaded up with a bunch of podcasts and courses from iTunes U (my current one Econ 159 Game Theory from Yale), and I don’t have enough room for everything.

I bought the Nano for the FM radio and the tiny video camera, not to move stuff from one iPod to the other. So how is the iPod Nano?

It’s extremely small. The finish is bright, and seems durable. It has a nice metallic sheen to it, which some people may like.

The video is 640 x 480 which is, I think, in the Standard Definition range. Keep in mind that when Apple brought out the QuickTake camera, that resolution was considered quite high, and 1 and 2 megapixel cameras were expensive. So the resolution may improve with each generation.

The instruction leaflet says to connect the Nano to the computer, not to the keyboard. Like a lot of us I’ve got all my USB ports filled, and the USB hub that gives me an extra 4 ports is also filled. I plugged it into the keyboard, and I haven’t had any problems.

For some reason Apple chose to have the Nano’s movies upload to iPhoto, which I think of primarily in terms of still photos. It won’t upload into iMovie directly. So that would seem to preclude any post-filming edits. When you upload the movie, however, it plays in QuickTime. That means that it is accessible to iMovie and Final Cut. What you have to do is upload the file using iPhoto. Then you can import the file using File→Import. The file can then be edited, and a soundtrack, special effects, titles, and so on can then be added. See update at bottom.

There is no zoom, and if you want to use the special effects that are built into the Nano, you have to make that decision before you start filming. To change effects you have to stop the camera, select the effect, and then restart the camera.

There is a tendency to put your fingers over part of the lens.

You have to have the earbuds plugged in before you can use the FM Radio. You can do scans with the left and right arrow buttons, or you can move more slowly by using the click wheel.

The pedometer works, though there may be some delay before steps register. When you set up the pedometer, it says “Press Center button to choose weight.” That seems clear enough. You’d think that you’d press the center button, and then use either the left-right or the up-down buttons to change the weight. You don’t. You use the click wheel.

The earbuds have a tendency to work free of the iPod, so that you do risk losing it, if you’re careless.

I haven’t used one of the Flip cameras, so I can’t compare the two. You do get the FM radio, which works well, and a music player. You can probably store about 2.5 hours of video shooting on an empty Nano.

Is it worth the money? You get a lightweight video camera that you can stick in your pocket and hand to your wife in church so that she can record the priest’s sermon while you catch some Zs. You get a music player, and a radio. All for the price of a Flip. So yes, it’s worth it.

Update: October 8, 2009
I did another video with the Nano yesterday, and you can see the results here. Let me note at the outset that I don’t consider my videos as good as Ed Wood’s (unanimously considered the worst ever) so nobody’s going to hurt my feelings by pointing out their defects. Some of this stuff I do for my son in the alternate universe that adjoins Baja and the Pacific, and he likes to chortle at my ineptitude.

One thing that I noticed is that there is a tendency for the video to blur during even moderate or slow speed movement, and there seems to be a bit of a lag in responding to changing light conditions. Now there’s not a lot of room inside the Nano, so features like steadicam, and rapid response to light changes, might not be put in until costs go down, or technology improves.

I haven’t done a comparison of the video from the Nano with video from my old Sony Handycam, so I can’t comment on the blurring issue in comparison with conventional camcorders. Obviously the Nano lacks some features that are in the conventional camcorders. One is that there’s no zoom, so you can’t do telephoto or wide angle. Another is low light sensitivity. My Sony will use infrared in ultradark conditions. The Nano has an infrared effect, think the cover to Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? album. That’s not the same as shooting in low light with infrared. That’s more like the green ghosts seen in action movies when the guys are using night vision goggles.

I said that you could put the video into iMovie through the QuickTime player. That’s true, but once you’ve imported it into iPhoto it shows up in the Event Library. That appears to include both iMovie projects and events and the iPhoto Videos. The picture on the right shows what my Event Library in iMovie looks like right now. You can then drag the videos directly from iPhoto into iMovie. From there you can apply transition effects, add titles and manipulate the soundtrack. This isn’t professional quality, but if you want to do a quick video for someone to show him that Spotsylvania isn’t just some hick town where some irrelevant battle in the War of Northern Aggression (called that to tick off the liberals) took place, then it’s more than adequate.

Would you rather get your heavy camcorder out, which weighs in at 2 to 5 pounds, and carry it around for an hour or two, looking conspicuous, and feeling pretty much like a fool, or would you rather carry the Nano which weighs 1.28 oz., and look not nearly as ridiculous at the local grocery store?