Review: Apple iPod nano (Seventh-Generation)
Company: Apple Computer
Price: $149 (16GB)
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.
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It would have been easy to write the seventh-generation iPod nano off as a less capable rehash of the fifth-generation model if Apple hadn’t added a major new feature: Bluetooth 4.0 wireless support. Although the feature isn’t perfectly executed, and would have been even better as an update to last year’s wearable model, it enables the new nano to add a convenience previously reserved for the iPod touch, and offers surprisingly good performance.
As noted in our discussion of Settings, Bluetooth is activated by entering the Settings menu, tapping on the first menu item, and then flipping a switch labeled “off” to “on.” A spinning gear quickly gives way to a list of Devices, a grayed-out Searching indicator, and another spinning gear with the phrase “Now Discoverable” beneath it. Turn on a Bluetooth device, tap on it, and one of two things will most likely happen: more often than not, the device will automatically pair with the iPod nano, chirp that it’s ready to start playing audio, and require no additional work. It will subsequently re-pair with the nano quickly and automatically, reliably streaming audio.
Alternately, you may be confronted with a PIN entry prompt—and the iPod nano will bring up a special numeric keypad specifically for this purpose. After entering the PIN code, you’ll enjoy reliable Bluetooth streaming just as noted above, and re-pairing will be similarly quick.
Having tested a collection of different Bluetooth speakers, headphones, athletic add-ons and car accessories with the new iPod nano, we only had a few small issues. In early testing with a relatively recent Bluetooth 4.0 speaker—SuperTooth’s Disco 2—we found that multiple iPod nanos would not pair with the speaker, even though iPod touches and iPhones weren’t having a problem with it. After a reset of the speaker, all of our nanos were able to pair with it correctly. We had a similar but shorter-lived hiccup with one of our Bluetooth 2.1 speakers, but no issues whatsoever with a half-dozen others, or with headphones we tested. Apart from requiring a PIN code, the nanos paired easily with in-car audio systems, as well as with Wahoo Fitness’s BlueHR Bluetooth 4 heart rate monitor.
Most of the time, the iPod nano’s Bluetooth streaming capabilities are extremely impressive, going well beyond the standard 33-foot promise made by Bluetooth manufacturers—Apple notably has omitted any reference to Bluetooth on the iPod nano’s tech specs page, for reasons unknown. Regardless, we were able to reliably stream audio over 100-foot distances, literally from one side of a large house to the other, only experiencing signal breaks from three rooms and one floor away. While performance will vary from speaker to speaker, it’s safe to say that there should be no issue whatsoever maintaining a wireless connection to a pair of headphones while the nano’s sitting in your pocket or inside a yet-to-be-released armband. That having been said, it needs to be underscored that a small number of even good Bluetooth headphones are available, and only a handful have been designed for athletic use. Major improvements are necessary, and thanks to less power-hungry Bluetooth 4 chips, they’ll hopefully be forthcoming in 2013.
We only encountered wireless audio issues with the new nano when we challenged it to simultaneously communicate with Bluetooth headphones, a Nike + iPod Sensor, and the BlueHR heart rate monitor at the same time—a realistic if not necessarily common usage scenario for a now wireless, workout-focused device. Even then, interruptions in the audio signal were infrequent and the equivalent of small ticks, rather than pronounced drop-outs. Moreover, the iPod nano’s battery life as a purely streaming audio device was stronger than one might guess from its size, a topic addressed in the next section.
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