Review: Apple iPod nano (Seventh-Generation)
Pros: A return to the tall and thin form factor that was most popular in past iPod nanos, including eight different color options, the first 2.5” screen on an iPod nano, and a touchscreen interface. The first nano to include Bluetooth, with excellent wireless range, audio and limited non-audio accessory compatibility, and support for new Bluetooth 4 devices. Once again capable of playing videos and usefully rendering photos on its display, with small audio and radio improvements, plus newly packed-in EarPod earphones. Includes Nike+ Sensor support without the need for a dongle. Improved audio playback time versus predecessor.
Cons: Despite small resolution improvements, screen quality is mediocre by comparison with other screened iPods and iPhones, and multi-touch functionality is extremely limited. Apart from Bluetooth support, most features were executed just as well if not better in 2009 fifth-generation model; battery life for video playback is now markedly lower. Loses prior watch-ready size and shape that were popular with some users, as well as many clock faces, while omitting a number of features found on the fifth-generation nano, apparently including TV-out functionality. Use of Lightning connector breaks compatibility with some past accessories, and nano sits unusually on Apple’s Lightning to 30-Pin Adapter, which isn’t included.
Measuring 3.01” tall by 1.56” wide by 0.21” deep and weighing 1.1 ounces, the seventh-generation iPod nano returns to the extruded pill shape Apple introduced with the second-generation model, then revisited with a clip for the prior sixth-generation nano in 2010. This time, the clip is gone, enabling the new model to easily reclaim its position as the thinnest device in the current iPod lineup. Clearly the product of many engineering tricks Apple’s designers have learned over the years, the new nano is primarily finished with a fine matte texture, but its edges incorporate polished bevels akin to the latest iPod touch—a subtle upgrade in class.
Eight colors are available this year, and although they’re not collectively stunning, they’re not bad. Somewhat boring pink, purple, green, and yellow tones join red, silver, black, and blue versions that are up to snuff with the iPod nano family’s best colors. As compared with the fourth- and fifth-generation nanos, which were incredibly saturated with color in a way that just screamed “fun,” the new colors feel more mature—not necessarily the best choices for a model that historically has been aimed at kids, but perhaps more appealing to adult runners looking for something small to carry around.
Apart from the tiny bevels, polished metal is reserved for Apple and iPod logos located on the back, and the center of a redesigned volume control panel on the left side—now with a dedicated play/pause/track skip button in the middle. These controls mirror Apple’s in-line three-button remote controls, and don’t initially feel natural on the side of the nano, but aren’t terribly difficult to learn.
Like the last iPod nano, this model’s screen is covered in a thin, hard layer of glass, but this time, Apple uses a white-painted bezel and matching Home Button for every model except the “slate” nano, which instead has a jet black bezel that we found a lot more appealing. The glass on each nano picks up fingerprint smudges pretty easily, so you’ll probably want to wipe it down every few days—anti-glare film would be of particular benefit for this nano. A more subtle touch is found on the nano’s tiny Home Button, which has been glammed up with silver ink for its circular logo—the shape parallels the nano’s newly circular on-screen icons, while the ink matches the new iPod touch Home Button.
Apart from one particularly unusual design element, the seventh-generation nano feels like an inevitable, functional design—actually resembling concept art created years ago, as well as iPod-aping Nokia products that were already released. It’s fair to say that the new nano would have been impressive as a direct sequel to the 2009 fifth-generation version, though even then, some users would have considered the improvements trivial in light of obvious functional losses: yes, the new screen’s 1/4” taller, the body’s under 2/3” shorter, and the Click Wheel’s been replaced by a touch screen and Home Button, but the built-in speaker, video camera, and microphone are all gone, along with software features. Placing the fifth- and seventh-generation nanos next to each other, a modest amount of space and only 0.18 ounces of weight have been saved, at the cost of a ton of very good functionality.
The new nano’s most obvious design oddity is a stripe of plastic that can be seen on the lower back, wrapping around the bottom between the headphone and Lightning ports. White on every iPod nano except for the slate version, where its black coloration blends in rather than looking like an eyesore, it looks almost as if a paper sticker was applied to cover up a manufacturing mistake in the chassis. But lest you think it was for a centered Dock Connector port, it’s just a little too narrow. Apple’s marketing materials never explain why it’s there, but the working guess is that it’s a housing for the new Bluetooth antenna. There’s probably some good reason that it wasn’t placed above or behind the screen, but just like the new iPod touch’s rear loop button, it doesn’t look quite right.
A less immediately apparent design quirk is the position of the new nano’s Lightning connector. Over the course of the nano’s history, Apple has routinely placed Dock Connectors off to one side in a manner that made the nano look just a little askew when docked in speakers or connected to cases. Only on two occasions—the “fat” third-generation model and the just-discontinued sixth-generation model—was the connector centered, with a headphone port off to one side. This time, the Lightning port is on the far right edge of the nano, and though we don’t yet know how Lightning docking speakers will handle it, the nano looks very odd when connected to earlier iPod docking speakers using Apple’s new Lightning to 30-Pin Adapters. Our guess would be that Apple had to make a tough, last-minute decision regarding the new nano’s Bluetooth antenna, and sacrificed a central Lightning location to add wireless functionality.
The new iPod nano’s box is larger than its predecessor, matching the nano’s own growth: it’s roughly twice as tall as the prior box, just as wide, and thinner, while still made from the same clear hard plastic as before. Unlike the fifth-generation iPod touch, which had room in its package for not only Apple’s new EarPods earphones but also a carrying case—the latter left out by Apple—the nano’s box has just enough space for the EarPods inside an eco-friendly wrapper, a Lightning to USB Cable, two small Apple logo stickers, a simple manual, and a warranty booklet. As we’ve noted in our full review of the EarPods, they take several nice steps up from Apple’s previous pack-ins, though as was the case with the new iPod touch, the iPod nano version leaves out the in-line remote control and microphone found on the iPhone 5 and retail packaged EarPods.
Following tradition, the (PRODUCT) RED Special Edition iPod nano also includes a card noting that a portion of the purchase price will be donated by Apple to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa, and its red body is marked with a subtle (PRODUCT) RED logo. Like the new iPod shuffles and iPod touches, Apple now colors the Apple logos and product names on each box to correspond with the metal color of the iPod inside.