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Apple iPod nano
Less is more

Though the new 6MP Nikon D50 is more compact and less expensive than the D70s, it will deliver images every bit as good and is simpler to use, making it an ideal entry dSLR. In fact, it may be the only dSLR you'll ever need.

The iPod nano is not merely a smaller version of the insanely popular digital media player. For me, the nano is an really entirely new kind of device, due to the unique usage pattern allowed by its design.

Yachts are great for traveling great distances across the water, but not so good for landing on a shallow beach. For that you need a skiff, but a skiff is not a tiny yacht, it's another beast entirely. Likewise, I keep my big video color iPod loaded to the gills with every single song, audiobook, podcast, personal recording, and digital photo I have, but I don't carry it in my pocket. Nor do I take it places where it might be damaged -- or just plain in the way due to its bulk and weight.

I admit that I scoffed at the nano's 2GB ($199) and 4GB ($249) capacities. Sure, it's extremely cool that it uses solid-state flash memory instead of a fragile spinning microdrive, but four gigs is four gigs no matter what media you use. When I received my black nano review sample from Apple, I set it to sync only two playlists: Dave's Faves and Podcasts. The former is my catch-all repository for, you guessed it, favorite songs that I never grow tired of hearing. This list has grown to 358 songs, weighing it at 1.42 gigabytes. My Podcast playlist contains, on average, roughly 50 'casts which eats up about a gig or so. Due to the ephemeral nature of podcasts, this list is constantly being updated and thus changing size up and down.

With all this media onboard, I had used up less than 2.5 gigabytes. Hmmm. Perhaps I could sync up iPhoto library of all my photos taken in the last 12 months. I did, and it ate up a mere 63 megabytes -- for 1463 photos! Admittedly, they are thumbnail versions for that little display, but I still have them with me everywhere except for showers, pools, and beds.

I spent the next several weeks with the nano in my jeans pocket. I never carry coins or anything else in my pockets, so scratching the nano's shiny shell seemed unlikely. To match the black nano, I used my favorite earbud-style headphones, the excellent Sennheiser MX500 ($19). With my most important, most current media in my pocket, essentially weightless, I discovered that I accessed it far more than I ever did my big iPod -- and in a vastly wider variety of places.

This is a whole new ballgame. With my anorexic black Motorola RAZR v3 in one front pocket and the even skinnier black nano in the other, I'm pretty much covered for communication and media and there's nothing hanging off my belt. For the longest time, I thought it was hip to wear my latest tech on my belt, proudly announcing to the world how wired I was. Now, I don't want anyone to know what I'm packing. In fact, I don't want to think about these devices at all -- until I need them, and there they are.

Drawbacks? Yeah, there are a few worth mentioning:

  • The nano's clear side does indeed get scratched a little from pocket lint alone. Even though I carry my earbuds wound up and stuck in the vestigial watch pocket all my jeans have, the nano is festooned in a fine web of tiny random lines. I'm told they can be polished out, but I don't bother. It's the skiff versus yacht thing again. Skiffs get knocked around and worn out so the yacht doesn't. Ultimately, the convenience justifies the inevitable wear. I'm sure my Sennheisers will die prematurely from being constantly recoiled and jammed into that dinky pocket, but for 19 bucks, who cares?
  • Every now and then, I get the urge to hear one of the more obscure tunes in my vast iTunes library -- usually one of the Three Bs: Bach, Beethoven, and Beatles. I've decided to create another playlist for the best of the best of these recordings. Heck, I have the room, so why not use it?
  • The iPod's display is sharp but really tiny, so sharing photos with others is pretty much an exercise in frustration. Unlike my big iPod, there is no AV out to plug into a nearby monitor. Eh, no big deal. I can always email photos to someone. Viewing photos on the nano is really about seeing photos by yourself, ones that you already have seen bigger and know well. Your memory of them fills in the details so that little picture seems subjectively larger. These images are really just reminders of a previous experience, and that certainly has its place.

    I'll sum up this review in four words: nano good! Buy now! -- David MacNeill

    $199-$249 from store.apple.com

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