Hands-on with the new iPod nano, part 2

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Our planned look at the camera feature on the iPod nano got delayed by a household medical emergency, as described in one of our nano example videos above. It did give me a bit more time to go a little more hands on with the nano video camera, and the end result is satisfactory. You're not going to buy this nano for the camera; it's just a bonus feature. Will it be the deal breaker over buying a nano versus another iPod, an iPhone or even a Flip? It all depends what you want out of it.

The video above was shot indoors using the nano. It was actually my fourth attempt at taking an indoor video because if you want any luck with the nano's camera, you've got to have decent lighting. This shot was my first attempt with the camera, and you can see the difference the lighting made.

As mentioned during the keynote, Apple is looking to take on Flip mino with the new nano. As such, we decided to see not only how the nano compares to the Flip, but also to an iPhone 3GS. Continue on reading to see how these shots turned out.

iPod nano

Flip mino
(courtesy of Victor Agreda, Jr.)

Flip minoHD
(courtesy of Mike Schramm)

Please note that the minoHD has 4GB of memory in it, not 1GB as stated in the video.

iPhone 3GS
(courtesy of Joachim Bean)

As you can see, the minoHD has the best footage out of all those submitted, but the iPhone 3GS isn't bad either. Both are still better than the nano. As for the regular mino, which was displayed during the keynote, how does it stack up versus the nano? The Flip mino has zoom, a feature the nano lacks, but the colors are muted -- an issue as well with the minoHD shot as Steve Sande pointed out when I showed the video to other TUAW bloggers. With the nano, you have more saturation, but poorer contrast. Also, as seen in the nano video, it's easy to find a wayward thumb or finger making it into the shot and you don't even realize it.

For a deeper look at the nano's video specs, this is the info file generated from the indoor shot of the cat at the beginning of the article:
  • Size: 14.6 MB (for a 44-second video)
  • Dimensions: 480 x 620
  • Codecs: AAC, H.264
  • Audio Channels: 2
  • Total bit rate: 2,666

Taking video

You can either shoot horizontally or vertically using the nano. Click the center button on the click wheel once to start the video, click it again to stop it. This is where the major deficiency in the camera comes in -- the placement of the lens. I kept finding myself naturally wanting to grip the click wheel, and it's a hard habit to break given five years of continual iPod ownership. Of course, gripping the click wheel means that you're obscuring the camera and you'll get a nice shot of the inside of your palm.

Once I oriented the camera the right way, I kept finding myself doing my absolute best not to cover the nano's screen. Of course, that's a dismal failure if you want to hold the camera for any length of time. After I got over that quirk, taking video was easy. It was a lot easier than using the movie-recording feature on my Canon PowerShot S5 IS, but the quality on the Canon is still better than the nano.

One thing that I dearly wish had made it to the final release of the nano is the ability to take still shots. When the device was first announced, I was looking at possibly adding a point-and-shoot camera to my Canon for my upcoming trip to Liverpool next month. I had hoped that the nano would be an adequate substitute, especially after seeing the spectacular photo blog that my good friend, Charles Apple, kept during his recent journey to South Africa. The nano will fit its original purpose quite nicely, but shooting video on it will be secondary to taking pictures with the Canon.

Special effects

To activate the special effects, press and hold the center button on the click wheel of the iPod. After a few seconds, you will be presented with the 15 different special effects that are available with the nano. Note that if you're holding the nano upside down for a vertical shot that the controls orientations remain the same.

The special effects are pretty neat in and of themselves. You get a nice preview of them, four to a screen, so you can study your subject through the different filters and select the one that you want. I can see a lot of amateur filmmakers having fun with this feature.

Uploading video

When you hook up your iPod, your videos will be handled by iPhoto, so go ahead and fire that program up as well. For Windows users, you must have disk use enabled on your nano. Once it is, you can navigate through the nano to retrieve video. The same is also true for the Mac, though you can also use iPhoto for everything as well.

In iPhoto, double click on your video and you can bring it up in QuickTime to play. You'll also then have the option to either send your video to iTunes, MobileMe, or YouTube. You can also perform a basic trim on the footage to make it shorter. I did a "save as" to send my video to the desktop so I could utilize the video in other applications as needed.


As a package, it's hard to beat the nano if you want don't want to go the iPod touch/iPhone route. You're not going to get the nano solely for the video camera, though. It's not worth the money despite the larger storage capacity for the same price range as a Flip and the additional special effects. Lack of contrast features, along with no zoom, makes this a poor standalone video camera. You're going to get a nano because of everything else it can do, from playing music to a built-in radio tuner and fitness tracker. The camera's just a nice bonus to make it compete against the Flip.

Again, many thanks to Victor, Mike S. and Joachim for their assistance in providing comparison video!
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