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 sixth-generation iPod nano has two key tricks up its sleeve to win people over—the new body design and the screen. This and the next section of our review focus on each of these subjects in turn.
As noted in the introduction to this review, the sixth-generation iPod nano is dimensionally only a little larger than Apple’s second-generation iPod shuffle: the 1.61” width is nearly identical, with a taller 1.48” height, and a shallower 0.35” depth, including its rear clip, for a total volume of 0.614 cubic inches—barely larger than the 0.5 cubic inch shuffle. If it wasn’t for the fact that companies have been stuffing screens into shuffle-sized enclosures for years, the feat would seem close to miraculous here—the difference in Apple’s case comes down to the quality and functionality of the materials.
The new iPod nano’s body is made from polished anodized aluminum, finished to the same gloss as the fourth-generation iPod shuffle released earlier this week—not as shiny as the car paint-like finishes of last year’s iPod nano, but similar. Seven colors are available this year, down from nine in the past two years, with historically unpopular yellow and our prior favorite purple both getting the axe.
Other colors have shifted in tone to match this year’s less than eye-popping iPod shuffles, including a familiar silver, the same nearly purple “blue,” copper-toned “orange,” a rosy pink, and a neutral green.
A strong red version is offered as a (Product) Red option solely through Apple Stores, and a “graphite” colored model replaces the black and charcoal nanos with a decidedly lighter, pencil tip-like tone.
Aside from the rich red version, we’re not huge fans of any of these colors, particularly by reference to the just right nano options offered two years ago, but they’re inoffensive and easy not to notice during normal use.
That’s because your chosen color peeks out only a little from a face that’s otherwise glass—viewed head-on, the nano looks jet black when its screen is off. By contrast, the top, sides, bottom and back are thoroughly tinted save for the ports, and for three matte metallic gray buttons that look just like smaller versions of the iPhone 4’s volume and Sleep/Wake controls. They’re circular and pill-shaped, matching the welcome return to soft corner radiuses for this iPod nano from its two blade-like predecessors.
A plus marks the volume up button, and a minus is on the volume down button; these are notably the only way to control volume on the new nano, as there aren’t touchscreen equivalents. The larger Sleep/Wake button turns the screen on and off, similarly the only way to accomplish this with the nano as there’s no iPhone-style Home button to act as a second trigger. There’s room up top for track and play-pause buttons, but they’re not there—you’ll need to activate the screen or add a wired remote to the nano if you want to control playback or change tracks. Click Wheel iPod fans have been telling us for years that the loss of physical buttons for track control would be their biggest pain points in an touchscreen iPod nano, and now that it’s happened, only the new iPod shuffle offers a similarly compact alternative with these buttons built in. Apple could have tossed in its three-button remote-equipped Earphones, but didn’t.
Another big change to the new iPod nano is the addition of a rear shirt clip, a feature that renders the device wearable straight out of the box for the first time, just like the last three versions of the iPod shuffle. Though it’s oversized by comparison with the clip on any iPod shuffle, the nano’s glossy, Apple-logoed clip is slightly smaller than the rest of its rear surface, a subtle design tweak introduced in the third-generation iPod shuffle.
Unlike the shuffles, the nano’s clip doesn’t mask the presence of a rear service access compartment; Apple instead fits all of the components into this model by inserting them ahead of the screen, which then fills the only large hole in the otherwise unibody casing. It’s a highly elegant design, and feels good in the hand with a 0.74-ounce weight; the only physical challenge in using it is avoiding accidental screen and button interactions while clipping it to clothes or making connections and disconnections with accessories. Users will quickly learn where their fingers should and shouldn’t be to avoid problems; the nano’s black screen frame and somewhat bare top surface turn out to be advantages for this reason alone.
Apple packages each iPod nano in a clear hard plastic box that’s roughly 2.25” on each side and 1.75” deep—similar to the new iPod shuffle box, only larger. Yet Apple still packs a full USB to Dock Connector cable, a pair of standard, remote- and mic-less iPod Earphones, one Apple logo sticker, a Start Here guide, and a warranty booklet into a compartment behind the place where the nano is displayed—an incredibly efficient use of space. Gone, however, is the Universal Dock Adapter that Apple has included with every iPod nano since the first model, a victim of the company’s desire to reduce packaging waste, and of the challenge of recessing a device this short by the traditional 0.4” required by Universal Docks. We’ll discuss that last point further in the Accessories section of this review.