Genius on iPod nano makes new musical connections on the fly

Not only did Ryan Kim ( find the new iPod nano “great for video,” but he also found the new Genius feature “surprisingly helpful in mixing up my listening habits.” Genius allowed him “to create a new playlist on the fly that made my listening experience feel fresh again.”

iPod Nano sports new shape and features

It's been two weeks now with the latest Apple iPods and I thought I'd chime in with some thoughts and observations. Of the two refreshes, the iPod Nano's is more dramatic, shifting its design back to its more candy bar shape after spending one generation in squat, square purgatory.

The Nano's shape, a throwback to the first two generations, feels right for the iPod. The third generation went with its square design to allow the 2-inch screen to sit horizontally. But the new Nano can go back to its old shape thanks to an accelerometer tilt sensor that allows you to turn it on its side and the player shifts the 320x240 screen (same as the 3G Nano) accordingly.

This great for video and I found it felt more natural holding the Nano on one side to watch movies and TV shows. You can flip it either way and the sensor adjusts the picture. The only downside is the controls are now 90 degrees off, which takes a second to get used to. The accelerometer can also power the shuffle feature so you can give it a hard shake and pull up a new random song. It also starts up Cover Flow when you turn the Nano on its side, giving you an alphabetical look at album covers.

Overall, the Nano departs from its predecessor and the iPod Touch and iPhone by retaining its sharp corners. It finds its curves along the front and back, which taper toward the sides forming something of a sword or wing shape. It affects the edges of the screen which curves as well, adding the potential for some glare. But as long as I didn't get carved up by my Nano while sitting down with it in my pocket, I found its shape to be quite appealing.

One of the other big additions is the Genius feature, part of iTunes 8 which you'll need to install to run the Nano. The service scans your iTunes library looking for songs that work well together. The algorithms get loaded up on your Nano so when you choose the Genius feature for a song, it pulls up 24 other songs that should be similar in nature. The trick is iTunes anonymously reports your listening habits back to Apple, which uses the collective data to make the connections.

I was skeptical about the service, but using it while out and about was surprisingly helpful in mixing up my listening habits. The lists sometimes reflected existing playlists but also pulled in a wide array of songs that I overlooked in my library. There were some jarring additions as well but you can just skip those. I just liked how I was able to create a new playlist on the fly that made my listening experience feel fresh again.

Some other thoughtful additions especially for visually impaired users were the ability to change the font size and also a new audio menu system that reads aloud your menu selections in a synthesized voice. One feature I really appreciate is an audio recording function so you can turn your Nano into a mini-recorder. You'll need to use some new headsets Apple is selling in October for $29 and $79 that feature music controls and microphone. Or you can use one of the iPhone earbuds.

The Nano offers the same 24 hours of audio playback and one less hour of video playback (4 hours). It comes in nine colors now and sells for $149 for a 8 gigabyte version and $199 for a 16 gigabyte model.

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Posted on October 12, 2008 at 2:32 PM