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.
Every time Apple releases a new iPod nano, some people rush to declare it the “best nano ever,” while others mourn the loss of some feature, and still others are indifferent to whatever’s been done—the nano remains a decidedly mid-range model, and changes to the more popular iPod touch and iPhone now affect far more people, moving their product families forward in ways that the nano does not. But as reviewers, we never write off an iPod merely because it’s the simplest, the most complex, or the most compromised device; rather, we try to consider the users each new model was designed to thrill, and see how well Apple’s latest effort measures up to their reasonable expectations.
The seventh-generation iPod nano isn’t the best or the worst nano Apple’s ever made—it’s someplace in the middle, and from our perspective, towards the lower middle of the pack given its price tag and features. Viewed most generously, it offers small improvements relative to the fifth-generation nano it most resembles, losing several big features such as an integrated speaker, video camera, and game playing capabilities, while gaining a modestly larger screen and a generally very-well executed Bluetooth wireless mode. Considered less positively, however, it’s stuck at the same $149 price and 16GB capacity as last year’s model at a time when impressively capable 7” tablets—or the fourth-generation, 3.5” Retina-equipped iPod touch—can be had for $199. Sure, the nano’s smaller than those devices, but not critically so; it’s back to being pocket sized, rather than small enough to be used as a watch. Unless mirrored facets, the touchscreen, or Bluetooth really matter to you, it doesn’t move the ball forward from the similarly-priced 2009 iPod nano in the ways that, say, a small iOS device could.
All of this is to say that the new iPod nano is less than thrilling, even by the standards of a mid-range media player, though it’s just competent enough to merit a flat B rating and general-level recommendation. It’s a particularly viable option for athletes who so prize lightweight devices that they’re willing to pay 75% of a fourth-generation iPod touch’s price to lighten their loads by 2.5 ounces. Yet unlike the earliest nano, we’d have a hard time recommending this one for most kids. While it does enjoy pricing and size advantages over the 16GB touch, the gaming, educational, and other features offered by today’s $199 iOS device so thoroughly surpass this nano’s capabilities that only the most price-conscious parents should consider this an alternative—and even then, their kids would do much better with a used or refurbished iPod touch at the same price. Apple helped to usher in a world where interactive apps and games are increasingly more important than passive media, and a $150 device that uses multi-touch solely to zoom in and out of photos is an anachronism—cute and simple, but not necessarily smart.
There’s one factor that could be a game-changer for the seventh-generation nano—and portable wireless devices in general—and that’s the next generation of Bluetooth 4-enabled headphones. If upcoming earbud-styled designs take a big step beyond the clunky headsets that are currently available, iPod nano-toting runners may finally be able to meaningfully dispense with the cords that have tethered their heads to their arm- or shirt-mounted iPods. This could spark a small revolution, leading athletes to seriously consider the total weight of their earphones and media players, and upgrade for the aggregate benefits. For the time being, however, wireless functionality primarily enables the seventh-generation iPod nano to enjoy some of the Bluetooth speaker and car audio options already developed for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. We’ll see if that’s enough of a draw to make this otherwise familiar set of features seem fresh again in a smaller package.