Review: Apple iPod nano (Sixth-Generation)
Pros: A smaller touchscreen revision of Apple’s mid-priced flash RAM media player, available in seven colors. Twin user interfaces include one optimized for the 1.54” display, and another that mimics the iOS operating system of the iPhone and iPod touch. Swipe and tap gestures are used for most of the device’s controls, while using album art and wallpapers to nicely fill the screen with color. Integrated FM radio, pedometer, and accelerometer components carry over from the prior-generation iPod nano, along with sufficient 8GB and 16GB storage capacities. Includes an integrated clip that renders it instantly wearable. Superior audio battery life and volume to predecessors; remains compatible with Dock Connector accessories, including the Nike + iPod Sport Kit. Version 1.2 software update reduces need for the Nike + iPod kit by utilizing pedometer hardware for simple run tracking. Dramatically enhanced Clock features enable the nano to be used as a watch, albeit with certain practical limitations.
Cons: Feels like a first-generation version of a new product line rather than a sequel to the iPod nano. Video, gaming, camera, speaker, and microphone features are amongst a laundry list of capabilities dropped from the new model, precluding it from being used as a complete or even substantial replacement for its three most recent predecessors, primarily by users with video needs. New glossy body colors are weaker than ones introduced in last two years. Multi-Touch screen has only one multi-touch gesture, lacking for others that might have made the device more interesting. Use of rear clip, as well as connection and disconnection of some accessories, can be a modest challenge while the device is being used.
Apple’s iPod touch receives the lion’s share of attention these days—justifiably so, given its capabilities—but until now, the iPod nano has been more consistently excellent from generation to generation. Starting with its 2005 debut as an “impossibly thin” color-screened iPod with photo capabilities, the nano has had more great years than any other iPod, receiving our high recommendation in four of its five prior incarnations. After the cool but easily scratchable first version, Apple used colored aluminum for the improved second version, added video and games to the third version, improved the capacity, body and colors for the fourth version, and threw in everything but the kitchen sink for last year’s fifth version. Since there’s been a totally new iPod nano every year since its introduction, Apple didn’t need to replace the fifth-generation model this September—a price drop would have sufficed and made a lot of sense.
As is its tendency and prerogative, however, Apple thought differently. Rather than dropping the iPod shuffle and allowing the iPod nano to become the family’s baby, placing a new iOS device between the iPod nano and iPod touch, the company undertook a radical, hack-and-slash transformation of the iPod nano into a completely different animal—one that has very little in common with the last three devices to bear the same name. The sixth-generation iPod nano (8GB/$149, 16GB/$179) retains last year’s prices and storage capacities, but combines iPod shuffle and iPod touch DNA to produce a new device that’s only slightly larger than the iPod shuffle that survived until early 2009, with only a centimeter of extra height to accommodate a 1.25” square touchscreen. Unlike the six-year-old contest-winning concept rendering that likely set this design in motion, the new nano looks like it’s running a limited version of Apple’s iOS operating system, but actually is using an update to the same operating system that has powered past iPod nano and classic models. Updated October 2011: Apple reduced the price of the iPod nano to 8GB/$129 and 16GB/$149 on October 4, 2011, and updated the software to version 1.2. We have updated this review with a new ninth page of details, and a new rating.
The result is a cute but less than totally satisfying compromise between Click Wheel and Multi-Touch iPods, marketed by Apple as the latter but actually as limited as the earliest versions of the former. In addition to the four virtual icon buttons that appear at once on the tiny screen, there are three physical buttons on top, headphone and Dock Connector ports on the bottom, and a large clip on the back. Gone are the video, gaming, camera, and other features that have been added to the iPod nano over the years, facts that Apple conveniently omitted when introducing the product, though its web site explains that the nano is “now all music and all Multi-Touch.” It still works with the venerable Nike + iPod Sport Kit, providing an athletic differentiation from the new $49 iPod shuffle, and continues to include a pedometer and FM radio, but most of the prior nano’s frills have gotten the chop.
Our comprehensive review of the sixth-generation iPod nano takes a detailed look at Apple’s new design, everything the device can do, and what’s actually been lost from last year’s model. Despite the significant changes and high price, issues that doomed last year’s similarly radical streamlining of the iPod shuffle, we wouldn’t write off the new nano so quickly—the story’s more complicated than it seems. Great battery life, the wearably small size, and the “multi-touch” gimmick all have a shot at making it a popular niche iPod; had it been billed as a super iPod shuffle or the start of a new sub-iPod nano product family, it would have been a popular low-end model. The problem is that it’s being pitched as a direct replacement for a device that did more than twice as much for the same price. Over these nine pages, accessible via the page-jumping bars above and below, you’ll get a good sense of whether it’s right for you, or worth skipping.