Take a quick glance at the new iPod nano and you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for the old one. Aside from an expanded range of nine colours, it sports the same slim, curved body, and the capacities haven't increased beyond 8GB and 16GB, either. Flip it over and the big new feature becomes obvious: the new nano has a video camera on the back.
The fixed-focus lens records video at VGA resolution (640 by 480 pixels), but brace yourself for some disappointment: the nano can't shoot still photographs, due to Apple's unflinching resolve to stick with the existing form factor.
So why has it added a camera at all? Considering the limitations imposed by the almost wafer-thin dimensions, Apple has done a good job. Video is sharp and stable enough, and its automatic white balance kept up as well as could be expected, even under office lighting.
The built-in mic fares well in capturing sound, which can be reviewed without earphones through the speaker. That works with music, too, but the sound is too quiet and too tiny to bear for long. You'll need to enable disk mode to get video off the nano, otherwise it won't appear in iPhoto or the Finder. In fairness, we discovered this due to trouble downloading the VoiceOver Kit, but with two new features reliant on disk mode, Apple would be wise to force it on by default.
VoiceOver guides you around the iPod and announces track and artist names. It goes very well with the Genius Mixes because you don't need to pull the nano from a pocket to find out what's playing.
If you're not ready to take on a full fitness regime with the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, you can fall back on the more casual Pedometer function, which uses the accelerometer, to measure the number of steps you take each day.
Tell it your weight and set a daily step goal and it records achievements on a calendar and syncs them to the Nike+ website through iTunes.
We're delighted that the nano now has an FM radio. Now you can soak up some talk radio, or new tunes if your library isn't striking the right chord. The glamorously-named Live Pause feature stores the last fifteen minutes of a broadcast, so interruptions aren't too much of a problem.
However, the iTunes Tagging feature that shows who and what's playing is only available in the US.
Screen resolution has increased slightly to 376 by 240 pixels, while maintaining the 204 pixels per inch density. The 2.2in display is still better suited to video podcasts and short TV shows than long films, though we're still not convinced by the curved and slightly reflective surface, which catches a bit too much light.
The nano's camera is a great addition, at least if you don't already have a good camera in your phone, and certainly good enough to capture the larks that Apple expects you'll upload to YouTube or Facebook. Real-time video effects are fun but gimmicky. (When did you last use the ones in Photo Booth?)
The nano fills its niche well, beating the shuffle by virtue of its screen, and with a more discreet form than the iPod touch. However, we'd like to see Apple finally unlock the shuffle's on-the-fly compression when syncing music to these lower-capacity iPods.