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.
One of the new iPod nano’s surprisingly underwhelming features is its new screen—a component that’s the star attraction in new iPod touches and iPhones, but has remained stuck in an earlier age for Apple’s smaller devices.
After excitedly introducing its new 326ppi 3.5” Retina displays for iPhones and iPod touches two years ago, Apple chose to give the tiny sixth-generation nano a much smaller and lower-definition but still highly detailed square screen—a 1.54” diagonal, 240x240-pixel, 220ppi display, replacing the much larger 2.2”, 376x240-pixel, 204ppi display on the fifth-generation model. Neither screen was fantastic, but the newer one packed more tiny dots into a smaller space, and looked sharper.
This time out, Apple has gone in the opposite direction, shifting to a 2.5” diagonal, 432x240-pixel, 202ppi screen. While the new display has more pixels than any prior iPod nano, they’re spread out across a wider area, so the extra sharpness found on the sixth-generation screen has disappeared for this model. Details in text and videos actually look a little sharper on the old fifth-generation model than they do here, but videos playing on the new model are just a little larger—not enough to make a huge difference in the viewing experience, but slightly better overall.
The new screen is a tiny bit brighter than the fifth-generation model’s, but neither one has particularly excellent color rendition or viewing angles—they’re basically on par with one another, and not fun to watch off-angle; blacks become mirrored and other colors quickly wash out. A little waviness related to the backlighting system is evident at the top edge of the screen, and the overall appearance of on-screen elements now feels several steps behind the other screened devices Apple is selling. While it’s not surprising that the new nano is considerably behind the latest iPod touches and iPhones in display quality, nothing other than the fact that it happens to have touchscreen controls makes this nano feel evolved from devices Apple was making three or four years ago.
As a general statement, iPods and iPhones keep getting better sonically from year to year, but the differences tend to be so subtle that users would need extremely sensitive and high-fidelity headphones to hear them. The sixth-generation iPod nano was an exception in that it came roaring out of the gate with much louder audio than its predecessor, jumping roughly 10-15% in volume in direct comparisons with lossless audio tracks and UE-11 Pro earphones. This year’s model is at least as loud, perhaps a touch louder, and offers small improvements in clarity, treble detail, and bass detail.
Because Apple has switched from the prior 30-Pin Dock Connector to Lightning, direct A-to-B comparisons between the bottom ports of the current and prior iPods aren’t currently possible. When using Apple’s Lightning to 30-Pin Adapter, the new model’s overall output quality appears to be very similar, though we noted that the swirled metal reflection on the nano’s on screen volume slider shakes unsettlingly when playing music through the Adapter—a minor issue Apple will likely address in a software update.
The single biggest change between this iPod nano and the fifth-generation model is the aforementioned absence of a built-in speaker, which wasn’t fantastic before, but at least enabled videos and music to be heard without headphones. Apple removed the speaker from the square-shaped nano, but its absence during video playback is particularly missed.
Battery and Transfer Speed Performance
Audio: Apple promises up to 30 hours of music playback time from a full charge when using wired headphones at 50% volume, and the seventh-generation iPod nano actually achieved 35 hours and 49 minutes of continuous playback in our testing—an improvement over the two prior models. The fifth-generation and sixth-generation iPod nanos both promised 24 hours of audio playback, but blew well past that number, the former achieving 32 hours and 32 minutes, and its sequel running for 33 hours and 19 minutes.
Apple does not specify how long the new nano will play music over Bluetooth, so we tested that, and saw a solid 9 hour and 10 minute continuous runtime. Moreover, the nano provided a Low Battery voice notification for roughly the last hour and a half it was playing, fading the music out and in as it spoke; this appears to coincide with roughly the last 10-20% of battery life, and a full-screen warning appears at the same time to alert you that a recharge will soon be necessary.
Video: Apple promises a video playback time of up to 3.5 hours from a full charge. With the screen at 50% brightness and the volume at 50% with headphones attached, the nano performed for 3 hours and 32 minutes before dying. This matches Apple’s latest claim, but is well below the over 5-hour run time promised and delivered by the fifth-generation model.
Recharging Time: Apple says that the iPod nano can be fully recharged in around 3 hours. Our test came in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, a little better than expected. We did note some oddities during the battery recharging process, including some nanos’ failure to switch from a “still charging” to a “fully charged” icon, but since iPods use 0.5-Amp power—the lowest amount supplied by common USB ports—you can pretty much know that if your nano’s been connected to any wall adapter or computer for three hours.
Past iPod nano users may be relieved to know that this model can still serve as a flash drive, as it appears as a mountable volume on either PCs or Macs. It transferred a 1GB video in 49 seconds during an iTunes 10.7 test, versus 1 minute and 5 seconds for a fifth-generation iPod nano.