I’m no Apple fanboy. I appreciate the industrial design that goes into their products and the whole “look and feel” aspect of their physical products. In terms of their software, I’ve not used their operating system enough to have a complete opinion of it, though I don’t lust after it as some people who don’t own Apple computers do as Windows works fine for me. I don’t appreciate how Apple makes it difficult to download Quicktime without iTunes, and I also don’t like how iTunes (like pretty much every other commercial media player) steals my file associations when I install it. I wouldn’t agree that Apple is a superior “multimedia platform,” having done boatloads of work on my PC for print, photo, audio, and especially DVD and video without having any problems that could be traced back to the fact that I was running Windows (or Windows-specific software). BUT, to be honest, like so many things, it’s not really the “product” that bothers me, but the people in love with that “product.” Apple is particularly egregious because their TV commercials cater to that market of fanboys (and fangirls) instead of telling them to get a damn haircut. I’d include all of this if only because most people would probably give me a weird look if I were on the record recommending an Apple product.
In terms of the MP3 player market, Apple’s obviously a huge success. For some idea of where I’m “coming from” with all of this, I’ve had a Rio Karma mp3 player for the last 2+ years and have no intention of getting an Apple player, but only because I wouldn’t find a player in the ~1-4GB range a good fit for me being that my Karma’s 20GB is all but entirely used. I’d universally recommend the Karma, but unfortunately, Rio went out of business/was bought out and no longer manufactures them. They can still be found online, but it’s tough to get warranty support from a company that no longer exists and an “extended warranty” from a Best Buy-type store won’t be of much help for a product that’s no longer made unless you want to replace it with another company’s similarly priced model. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of the Rio Karma, but that’s sort of a moot point in this discussion.
Anyway, for people whose music collections consist of tracks (as opposed to whole albums), the 1-5GB range is a nice size for an MP3 player as it’s rare for someone to have more than 5GB of single, random tracks. Most players in this range have a miniature hard drive, but with the introduction of the iPod Nano, Apple replaced the hard drive with flash memory. Normally flash memory was considered too expensive to make an economical MP3 player with that much storage, but Apple has arranged discounts with flash memory makers to all-but price other manufacturers out of the 2+GB market. Flash memory uses less power (meaning longer battery life or equivalent battery life with a smaller, lighter, cheaper battery) and just as importantly has no moving parts. Many people use their MP3 players while running (whether inside or out) and though all reasonable players are engineered to withstand the jarring motion of exercise, it’s easy to see how storing data on chips instead of spinning on sensitive metal platters with a magenetic read mechanism resting impossibly close to the platter might be a better idea.
MP3 players usually have two “problem” areas: the hard drive and the rechargeable battery. For example, my Rio Karma’s hard drive occasionally “sticks” and needs a good quality whack to “unstick” it, AND the battery life is only about 70% of the 13 hours it had when it was new. Apple’s swap of hard drive for “chip memory” erases the hard drive problems (flash memory has a finite number of erase/write cycles…usually somewhere in the thousands, so much less of a concern than premature hard drive failure). The battery life issue will seemingly always be a problem with rechargeable batteries (at leas the kind that Apple uses in the iPods), but unlike companies that no longer exist, Apple offers battery replacement as part of their standard repair/service procedures. Supposedly it’s $59 and for any iPod model, so considering Apple’s financial solvency, you’ll be all set for when the battery goes the way of the buffalo.
Having mentioned Apple’s “industrial design” earlier, I’ll touch on the player itself. Simply, it’s impossibly small in every dimension, with its “thinness” being the most noticeable. It can fit in the pocket of even tight-ish “girl pants” without much of a trace even being seen, while the regular iPods leave the increasingly common “iBulge.” There used to be easy to find pictures that compared the thickness of the Karma to the original iPod, but needless to say, the Karma is thick enough to bulge even in “man pants.” Worth noting is the easy on the eyes and fingers surface finish of the iPod Nano, though I tracked down a picture that shows what the surface looks like after it’s received the inevitable scratches from regular use. Most anything will look like you’ve used it after you’ve, well, used it, so that’s not too major of a concern unless you fall in love with how it looks when you first get it.
Truth be told, I’ve never liked the iPod interface and found the Rio interface much more user friendly, but the iPod, like any other electronic device, is quite learnable. The iPod Nano comes with a color screen and the capability to store/view photos, so for those of you who enjoy showing pictures to friends or even looking through them on your own to kill time, that capability is quite useful. The screen is quite small but perfectly functional for close viewing.
Due to the success of the iPod, many companies offer any variety of (usually over-priced) accessories that are simply not available for other brands due to Apple’s marketshare.
The Apple iPod Nano receives four stars due to its more-or-less solving of the issues found in the 1-5GB range of MP3 players. There’s no hard drive to fail, there’s a documented battery replacement method (though that’s not an ideal solution), and it’s a more convenient size than even some players offering one-tenth the storage capacity. It’s not necessarily the cheapest player in its class at $140 for 1GB, $190 for 2GB, and $240 for 4GB, but it offers something most other players in that range don’t. Simply, if I were to be looking for a new MP3 player in that class whether due to battery issues, storage life, a solid company behind it, or many other reasons, the iPod Nano would be my first stop even if it might be made by a company who panders to yuppies (or “stuppies“).