Mac Musings

Nano, Nano: Is the Tiny New iPod a Step Backwards?

Dan Knight - 2005.09.12 - Tip Jar

Apple overhauled the middle of the iPod line last week, replacing the popular iPod mini with the tiny iPod nano.

At 3.5" x 1.6" the iPod nano is smaller than a business card, and it's just over a quarter-inch thick. Despite Apple's hyperbole, it's obviously not "impossibly small", but it's the smallest iPod ever with a screen. That screen is color, an improvement over the black & white display in the iPod mini.


iPod nanoThe iPod nano is smaller and lighter than the iPod mini. It has a color display. And, unlike any previous iPod with a display, it doesn't have a hard drive. Instead, the iPod nano uses solid state flash memory to store up to 1,000 songs.

That makes the nano a better choice in places where the iPod might be dropped or jarred, actions that can damage a hard drive.


Other than size and weight, where Apple wanted less, there are four other areas where the iPod nano offers less than the iPod mini. Battery life has been reduced from 18 hours in the mini to 14 hours in the nano, there's no FireWire support, the biggest nano stores 4 GB (vs. 6 GB in the US$249 iPod mini), and there are only two color choices.

The iPod shuffle was the first iPod with no FireWire support, and the nano follows in its footsteps. That's a disappointment to low-end Mac owners who have models with fast FireWire and slow USB 1.1. That means it's going to take a lot longer to upload your iTunes library to the nano on any Mac or PC that doesn't have USB 2.0.


The iPod mini offered less capacity than the full-sized iPod at what appeared to be too high a price, but the market didn't care. It was compact, visually attractive, and very solid. The nano seems to do the same thing. It offers 2 GB less capacity than the iPod mini model that sold at the same price (nano: US$199 for 2 GB, US$249 for 4 GB; mini: US$199 for 4 GB, US$249 for 6 GB).

The difference in battery life probably won't matter to most buyers.

That said, the nano adds a color screen and eliminates the fragility of bigger iPods' hard drives. I think it's going to be a hot seller.

But if you have an older Mac with USB 1.1 and FireWire, it might make more sense to pick up an iPod mini and avoid the excruciating transfer rate of USB 1.1.

Tidbit: One of my sons bought an iPod nano last week and discovered that while you can't use FireWire to transfer files, you can use a FireWire-to-dock cable to charge the nano.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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