Since its 2005 debut, Apple's iPod nano has had more facelifts than Joan Rivers. It's been tall, short, rectangular and square. For its seventh generation, the nano grows in height while shrinking in width. The new nano is the thinnest device Apple has ever made, and includes a 2.5-inch screen for controlling music, enjoying photos and watching videos. There's also an FM radio and built-in Nike+ fitness app and pedometer. So is the latest nano the best yet, or is this $149 MP3 player past its prime?
It's pretty amazing just how thin the new nano is; you could practically floss with it. Despite having a sturdy anodized aluminum back, this device measures just 3.01 x 1.56 x 0.21 inches and weighs a mere 1.1 ounces. The previous generation nano was a lighter 0.7 ounces but had a smaller screen. That device was 0.4 inches thick.
The seventh-generation nano's shape is a mix of both past and present. It takes the long rectangular design of the original nano and the touch screen of the sixth-generation to create a wholly new device. This time around, the screem measures 2.5 inches compared with the previous version's 1.5-inch display. A thin, glossy white bezel surrounds the display's top, left and right sides and stretches toward the nano's bottom.
Below the display is Apple's telltale physical home button, with a twist. Instead of the classic square icon at the center of the button, Apple uses a circle. The back of our nano was coated in green anodized aluminum. If that hue doesn't suit your style, the iPod nano is also available in slate, silver, purple, pink, yellow and blue. A (PRODUCT) RED version of the nano is also available for purchase with a portion of sales going to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa.
Along the nano's bottom edge are its 3.5mm headphone jack and Lighting connector. Between the two is a matte white cutout that covers the nano's Bluetooth 4.0 receiver. On the left edge is a long volume rocker, with a play/ pause button ensconced between the volume buttons. Up top is the power button. Around back, the standard Apple and iPod logos are given a glossy paint treatment.
The only design weakness is that despite its clear focus on the fitness crowd, Apple has done away with the clip found on the previous-generation nano. Now. instead of allowing users to clip the nano to their clothing, you'll have to either get a third-party armband or lanyard or put the nano in your pocket. Apple hasn't listed any armbands or lanyards on its online store yet. Third-party options on Amazon.com cost around $15.
Along with its design, the seventh-generation nano also gets a new interface. Apple has replaced the square app icons with new rounded icons that resemble those found on Sony's PlayStation Vita. The images on the icons are also different, with a more simplified look. The nano's interface is less of a pared-down version of iOS 6 and more of an evolution of the previous nano's interface.
The nano offers users three customizable home screens, each of which can be filled with two columns of three apps. The first home screen has the Music, Video, Fitness, Podcasts, Photos and Radio apps. On the second, you get the Clock and Settings apps. To get the third page to appear, you'll have to drag and drop an app icon over to it. There are, however, no additional apps available for the nano beyond what the device comes with.
At the top of each page is an ever-present digital clock and the iPod's battery life indicator. If you're playing a song and exit to the home screen, a play icon will sit neatly to the left of the battery indicator. Speaking of exiting apps, users will no longer have to tap and hold the nano's display to get back to the home screen. Instead, you can simply press the home button. It's a welcome addition to the nano and far more intuitive.
The simple, but elegant touches Apple is known for adding to its apps are all present in the nano. In the Music app, for example, tapping the album art image while listening to a song will show a sub-menu that allows you to to set the song to repeat, activate the Genius function, set your playlist to random or navigate to the album tracklist.
This time around, Apple is only selling a $149 16GB version of the iPod nano; the 8GB option has been eliminated. In general, 16GB should be plenty of storage space for the average music lover. Start packing in multiple movies and TV shows, however, and you'll begin running short on space rather quickly.
As expected, the iPod nano includes a pair of Apple's new EarPod earbuds. Apple says the EarPods were specifically designed to fit into most users' ears. We found them to be comfortable, albeit slightly loose. That said, they were much more comfortable than Apple's old earbuds. The EarPods were easily able to acommodate our penchant for listening to music at ear-splitting volumes without introducing any distortion.
As with previous generations, the new nano has no means of connecting to the Internet on its own, so you'll have to add music and movies to the device via iTunes on your Mac or PC. In 2012, not syncing or downloading through the cloud feels rather dated. You'll also have to connect the nano to iTunes to activate the Music app's Genius mode for the first time. Apple's shake-to-shuffle feature makes a return appearance with the new nano, allowing users to randomize their playlist by shaking the device.
In addition to its music player, the iPod nano includes an FM radio tuner, giving you the ability to listen to your favorite FM stations. To use the tuner, you'll have to connect the EarPods to the nano's 3.5mm headphone jack. We appreciated the FM app's Live Pause feature, which let us pause and rewind up to 15 minutes of our radio broadcast.
While the nano doesn't pack any external speakers, it does offer Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, so you'll be able to connect it any compatible wireless headphones, speakers or car stereo setup. Naturally, you can also connect the nano to any compatible stereo dock via its Lighting connector.
Video and Photos
For its seventh generation, Apple has returned video playback to the nano. And with a 2.5-inch 432 x 240 touch-screen display, the device is more than capable of handling standard definition video playback. While watching episodes of "Vegas" and "Made in Jersey" (the pilot was free to download), we were struck by how clear the image looked. There was no sign of image tearing or artifacts. Tapping the display while watching a video brings up the player's fast forward, rewind and pause controls.
Of course, with a 2.5-inch display, it can be difficult to see images from even a moderate distance. When held at arm's length, expressions on actors' faces were difficult to decipher. That said, we certainly don't expect most users to spend their time watching full-length movies on the nano.
The iPod nano's Photo app lets users load compatible photos to the device and play slideshows. Tap and pinch-to-zoom are fully supported, and you can even swipe to the right to view the next photo. Swiping to the left, as with the rest of the nano's menus, returns you to the previous menu.
The iPod nano now comes with a full version of the Nike+ app, instead of requiring users to purchase a separate Nike+ iPod Sports Kit for $29. Using the app, and the nano's built-in pedometer, users can track the speed and distance they walked or ran during a workout, as well as the average number of calories burned. Once you've finished your workout, you can upload your results to the Nike+ website to keep track of your overall performance by syncing your nano with iTunes.
We used the Nike+ app to see how many steps we took from our office to our home. When we connected our nano to our PC and started iTunes, we were immediately asked if we wanted to sync our Nike+ information with the Nike+ website and if we wanted to visit the site. When we went to the site, we were able see our overall workout. You can also set the app's calorie counter to a predetermined number of calories and follow the workout plan to burn that particular amount.
To provide some motivation, the iPod nano lets you set your own Power Songs, tunes meant to get you pumped up and power through those tough hills and keep you going when you begin to tire out. To activate your Power Song, just tap the Power Song button on the Nike+ screen. The song will then begin playing and the display begins to glow slightly.
Apple says the iPod nano's lithium-ion battery provides up to 30 hours of music playback or 3.5 hours of video playback when fully charged. During our time with the nano, we were able to watch videos for 3 hours and 40 minutes with the display brightness set to 40 percent before needing to recharge.
For $149, the new iPod nano is an excellent music player, and the addition of video capability and the Nike+ app make this ideal for users who like to excercise. But for just $50 more, you can purchase a fourth-generation 16GB iPod touch, which offers a larger 3.5-inch Retina Display, access to tons of apps and games, and the ability to get your content fix without having to go through a PC. The new nano is fairly pricey given its limited functionality, but it's a good choice for Apple's target audience.