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.
More than most of Apple’s iPods—and certainly the majority of its iPod nanos—the sixth-generation iPod nano is a love it or hate it addition to the family, dropping so many of the capabilities of its predecessors that it’s hard to take seriously as a sequel. Haters will seize upon the omissions, the unchanged price tag, and the lack of true multi-touch functionality as reasons to pass on the nano, and we can’t say that we’d blame them; this would certainly be the first nano we’d have skipped, and as our limited recommendation suggests, we’d expect that most of our readers will do the same. There are enough of last year’s nanos floating around at lower prices to make this one extremely easy to forget; our editors all agreed that we would have felt differently if this was a $99 model; there’s just not enough here to justify these prices.
None of this is to say that the sixth-generation iPod nano is a bad product overall. The new form factor and touch screen represent one cool if not strictly necessary result of blending iPod shuffle and iPod touch DNA, and the result is surely not as ridiculously hard to use as last year’s iPod shuffle. Even if it turns off at least as many people as it ropes in, there will be some who embrace the new nano in spite of all it has lost—and don’t mind paying $149 or $179 for the privilege. Unlike the prior iPod shuffle, we wouldn’t actively urge them to save their money. The sixth-generation iPod nano may well wind up being a one-off design, like the third-generation “fat” nano, but like that model, the heart of this product’s a good one—it’s just the rough interface edges and limited feature set that need some additional work. Apple will have to decide going forward whether to shrink the nano further into the watch it could become, or enlarge it a little to regain the video features it has lost.
As 2010 winds down and 2011 draws near, Apple’s iPod lineup has two sweet spots—the new $49 iPod shuffle, and the $299 fourth-generation iPod touch with 32GB of storage. Everything in between these models strikes us as just a little bit off the mark right now in terms of features or value for the dollar, so the easiest option until Apple improves the middle of its lineup is to consider last year’s models and possibly used and/or refurbished devices, instead. Otherwise, this is the year to join the touch crowd, live with the limitations of the cheap shuffle, or enjoy the new nano for the novelty that it is. Apple’s never come closer to making something worth wriststrapping, and who knows, you might be at the vanguard of a fashion movement if you’re willing to give this one a try.