Like the first iteration of the iPod Nano, the 4GB second-generation Nano (US$199 as of January 9) is small. It weighs 1.4 ounces and measures roughly a quarter-inch thick--thin and light enough to be barely noticeable sitting in your shirt pocket. Its brushed metal case with rounded edges is arguably more stylish than the plastic case of the first-generation model.
Apple's signature scroll wheel has been shrunk to Nano-size proportions, but the wheel's smaller size doesn't impair navigation of the intuitive menus. The new Nano is better for viewing photos and video because it has a brighter screen than the first-generation model. Still, at just 1.5 inches, the screen isn't well suited for extended viewing.
What sets the Nano apart from its competitors is its high audio quality. In our tests, the Nano delivered great overall sound quality, earning a score of Superior. It reached the loudest level before reaching 1 percent distortion, and our test equipment measured a very high signal-to-noise ratio, meaning that the player introduces little hum or hiss into its audio. Also, its frequency response (how well it reproduced tones across an audio spectrum from 20 Hz to 20 kHz) was above the average. Though Apple's earbuds are better than those provided with many competing players, getting the most of the Nano's fidelity will require a better set. (Our tests measure the signal coming out of the headphone jack, not from the earbuds.)
Like other iPods, the Nano lacks some features that are common on competing players, such as a built-in microphone for voice recording, and an FM tuner. To make recordings, you'll need an optional dock or other accessory with a line-in jack because the Nano lacks one. The optional US$49 iPod Radio Remote adds FM capability.
Because the headphone jack is located on the bottom of the player, you'll likely want to place the Nano upside-down in your pocket to avoid putting strain on the connection or cable. You can charge the player from your PC through the included USB cable. The Nano lasts an estimated 14 hours on a charge.
Of course, with the Nano you're locked into using Apple's iTunes software. Though iTunes is well integrated with the iTunes Music Store, this arrangement means you can't use a music subscription service such as Napster or Rhapsody. Nonetheless, if you consider these missing capabilities extras--as Apple apparently does--this fashionable player will deliver plenty to crow about, including great audio quality and a bright, high-resolution screen.