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.

Despite Apple’s early attempt to prevent customers from rating Apple-branded products in its online store—“all Apple products have a rating of ‘5 Apples’ because we think they’re great”—the company’s new releases aren’t always home runs: while new iPhones and iPads continue to drop jaws, Apple’s iPods have spent the last two years in free fall. Sales have steadily dropped, though apparently slower than Apple itself forecasted, and the once-thriving product line has become a place where old technologies shrink to get sold at lower prices. Apple still sells millions of iPods every quarter, but there’s nothing exciting about iPods any more, unless you consider gradual miniaturization to be exciting.

Announced last month and shipped this week, Apple’s seventh-generation iPod nano ($149/16GB) is an attempt to reverse a confusing devolution of what was once the company’s most popular media player into a different, less capable form. In 2010, Apple discontinued the fifth-generation nano—a small, richly-colored device with a video camera, video playback capabilities, games, and an integrated microphone—in favor of an even smaller version that discarded all of those features in favor of a tiny square touchscreen. Built with an iPod shuffle-style rear clip and offered in a variety of dull colors, the sixth-generation model landed with a thud, only seeing its fortunes improve when accessory makers (and a late 2011 Apple software update) repositioned it as a bulky but interesting wristwatch. Few people thought that the sixth iPod nano was fantastic as it was, but it had fans, and there was some enthusiasm that Apple would introduce a redesigned version with Bluetooth headphones and an even smaller, watch-sized body, a package that would have made a lot of sense in a marketplace filled with iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.

 

Instead, the new iPod nano turns out to be something different: this time, it resembles a shrunken iPod touch, even sharing six of the same color schemes with the iOS device, then adding two more for good measure. Almost exactly twice the height and the same width as the sixth-generation nano, it returns to the tall design favored by its most well-regarded predecessors, with literally just enough thickness to match the diameters of Apple’s latest, smallest headphone plugs. It’s lighter than before, with a new 2.5” 432 by 240-pixel screen that approximates a 16:9 aspect ratio, and it adds back two features that its predecessor lost: video playback functionality and proper photo playback capabilities. It even takes a step beyond its predecessors by adding Bluetooth 4 wireless support and the ability to serve as a proper Nike + iPod wireless receiver.

 

These changes make the nano better, right? Well, sort of. While the seventh iPod nano improves upon its immediate predecessor, it’s hard to see as great. Despite obvious interface and design similarities, it doesn’t run iOS, and yet it’s also no longer small enough to be used as a watch; instead, it’s akin to the long-gone fifth-generation nano, with fewer features and less appealing color options. It’s also a major step down from the $199 fourth-generation iPod touch, which offers the same storage capacity, yet with apps and considerably better hardware does thousands of things the nano can’t do, at a very small premium.

 

While our review of the seventh-generation iPod nano remains objective throughout, and compares the new device quite factually to its last two predecessors, there’s no question that none of our editors could get excited about the new design. It’s certainly not as perplexing as the buttonless third-generation shuffle, but like its square older brother, it doesn’t feel considerably better than the model Apple released three years ago, and there are elements of the design—the unevenly lit screen, weak color choices, and limited features—that will make it extremely easy for all but the most Apple-obsessed users to pass on. In short, it’s a good little iPod, but apart from its new Bluetooth functionality, it doesn’t move the family forward or continue to justify a $149 asking price. Regardless of whether you agree with that conclusion, we hope you enjoy our review, and learn some interesting details along the way.

 

Updated September 13, 2013: This week, Apple replaced the prior “Slate” color with “Gray”—also known as “Space Gray”—as the only iPod family change in a year that saw two new iPhone models introduced. Gray is somewhere between the prior silver and slate versions, depending on the light that hits it, and has color-matched backgrounds that are nearly identical to the silver model’s.

iPod nano (Seventh-Generation): Body, Packaging, and Pack-Ins

Measuring 3.01” tall by 1.56” wide by 0.21” deep and weighing 1.1 ounces, the seventh-generation iPod nano returns to the extruded pill shape Apple introduced with the second-generation model, then revisited with a clip for the prior sixth-generation nano in 2010. This time, the clip is gone, enabling the new model to easily reclaim its position as the thinnest device in the current iPod lineup. Clearly the product of many engineering tricks Apple’s designers have learned over the years, the new nano is primarily finished with a fine matte texture, but its edges incorporate polished bevels akin to the latest iPod touch—a subtle upgrade in class.

Eight colors are available this year, and although they’re not collectively stunning, they’re not bad. Somewhat boring pink, purple, green, and yellow tones join red, silver, black, and blue versions that are up to snuff with the iPod nano family’s best colors. As compared with the fourth- and fifth-generation nanos, which were incredibly saturated with color in a way that just screamed “fun,” the new colors feel more mature—not necessarily the best choices for a model that historically has been aimed at kids, but perhaps more appealing to adult runners looking for something small to carry around.

 

Apart from the tiny bevels, polished metal is reserved for Apple and iPod logos located on the back, and the center of a redesigned volume control panel on the left side—now with a dedicated play/pause/track skip button in the middle. These controls mirror Apple’s in-line three-button remote controls, and don’t initially feel natural on the side of the nano, but aren’t terribly difficult to learn.

 

Like the last iPod nano, this model’s screen is covered in a thin, hard layer of glass, but this time, Apple uses a white-painted bezel and matching Home Button for every model except the “slate” nano, which instead has a jet black bezel that we found a lot more appealing. The glass on each nano picks up fingerprint smudges pretty easily, so you’ll probably want to wipe it down every few days—anti-glare film would be of particular benefit for this nano. A more subtle touch is found on the nano’s tiny Home Button, which has been glammed up with silver ink for its circular logo—the shape parallels the nano’s newly circular on-screen icons, while the ink matches the new iPod touch Home Button.

 

Apart from one particularly unusual design element, the seventh-generation nano feels like an inevitable, functional design—actually resembling concept art created years ago, as well as iPod-aping Nokia products that were already released. It’s fair to say that the new nano would have been impressive as a direct sequel to the 2009 fifth-generation version, though even then, some users would have considered the improvements trivial in light of obvious functional losses: yes, the new screen’s 1/4” taller, the body’s under 2/3” shorter, and the Click Wheel’s been replaced by a touch screen and Home Button, but the built-in speaker, video camera, and microphone are all gone, along with software features. Placing the fifth- and seventh-generation nanos next to each other, a modest amount of space and only 0.18 ounces of weight have been saved, at the cost of a ton of very good functionality.

 

The new nano’s most obvious design oddity is a stripe of plastic that can be seen on the lower back, wrapping around the bottom between the headphone and Lightning ports. White on every iPod nano except for the slate version, where its black coloration blends in rather than looking like an eyesore, it looks almost as if a paper sticker was applied to cover up a manufacturing mistake in the chassis. But lest you think it was for a centered Dock Connector port, it’s just a little too narrow. Apple’s marketing materials never explain why it’s there, but the working guess is that it’s a housing for the new Bluetooth antenna. There’s probably some good reason that it wasn’t placed above or behind the screen, but just like the new iPod touch’s rear loop button, it doesn’t look quite right.

 

A less immediately apparent design quirk is the position of the new nano’s Lightning connector. Over the course of the nano’s history, Apple has routinely placed Dock Connectors off to one side in a manner that made the nano look just a little askew when docked in speakers or connected to cases. Only on two occasions—the “fat” third-generation model and the just-discontinued sixth-generation model—was the connector centered, with a headphone port off to one side. This time, the Lightning port is on the far right edge of the nano, and though we don’t yet know how Lightning docking speakers will handle it, the nano looks very odd when connected to earlier iPod docking speakers using Apple’s new Lightning to 30-Pin Adapters. Our guess would be that Apple had to make a tough, last-minute decision regarding the new nano’s Bluetooth antenna, and sacrificed a central Lightning location to add wireless functionality.

 

The new iPod nano’s box is larger than its predecessor, matching the nano’s own growth: it’s roughly twice as tall as the prior box, just as wide, and thinner, while still made from the same clear hard plastic as before. Unlike the fifth-generation iPod touch, which had room in its package for not only Apple’s new EarPods earphones but also a carrying case—the latter left out by Apple—the nano’s box has just enough space for the EarPods inside an eco-friendly wrapper, a Lightning to USB Cable, two small Apple logo stickers, a simple manual, and a warranty booklet. As we’ve noted in our full review of the EarPods, they take several nice steps up from Apple’s previous pack-ins, though as was the case with the new iPod touch, the iPod nano version leaves out the in-line remote control and microphone found on the iPhone 5 and retail packaged EarPods.

 


Following tradition, the (PRODUCT) RED Special Edition iPod nano also includes a card noting that a portion of the purchase price will be donated by Apple to the Global Fund to fight AIDS in Africa, and its red body is marked with a subtle (PRODUCT) RED logo. Like the new iPod shuffles and iPod touches, Apple now colors the Apple logos and product names on each box to correspond with the metal color of the iPod inside.

iPod nano (7G) UI + Apps; Music, Videos + Fitness (Plus Audiobooks, Podcasts, + iTunes U)

Virtually every new iPod nano design has altered the screen enough to require user interface changes, and the seventh-generation iPod nano follows this pattern: Apple actually went through two different touchscreen interfaces for its square-faced predecessor, so this version is its third stab, and overall its best yet—but it’s not without issues.

Each new iPod nano awakens with an Apple logo screen that’s color-matched to its metal shell; you need to press the Sleep/Wake Button when the nano’s in deep power-saving mode to bring up this display. Rather than including a wide collection of different wallpaper textures, Apple continues the simple color-matching scheme by including only five options—the same flat colored background used behind the Apple logo, three same-colored geometric patterns, and a flat gray background. They’re boring, but just backdrops for the new model’s redesigned Home Screen icons.

Mixing the original UI it designed for the last iPod nano with the Home Screen interfaces of iPhones and iPod touches, the new interface presents users with six circular icons at a time, swipable across separate pages, with the ability to rearrange but not not delete icons. Each icon is just large enough to be tapped without error by a large fingertip—a little larger than iPod touch and iPhone icons, but smaller than the huge ones introduced in the 2011 iPod nano software update. Once you’ve tapped on an icon, you’re generally brought to a list of black text on white background options, sometimes with a tiny piece of art off to the left side. The lists are all formatted with enough white space to be easily tapped by a finger, the only major change from the Click Wheel-based interface of most earlier nanos. As with the last model, a swipe from left to right on screen brings you back one level through the menus, but to avoid confusion, a right to left swipe doesn’t advance you forward.

The nano ships with eight total icons activated, and several others appear automatically if you add audiobook or iTunes U content to the device, or connect an accessory with a microphone built in for voice memo recording. We discuss all of the “apps” below.

 

Music (and Audiobooks): As a hybrid of the fifth- and sixth-generation iPod nano interfaces, the Music app starts you with a large text list of familiar sorting options for your audio library—playlists, albums, artists, songs, and so on. Just like prior iPods, you tap on a sorting method, then keep drilling down until you reach a specific track or the shuffle button, either of which can be tapped to start hearing music.

At that point, the interface shifts to a Now Playing screen virtually identical to the one on the fifth-generation nano, filling the center of the screen with album art while the top and bottom have dark gray bars with lighter text and icons. Replacing the Click Wheel, Apple positions large track back, play/pause, and track forward icons above a slim volume slider, duplicating three functions found on the new nano’s left side buttons.

When you’re using Bluetooth—a topic discussed in detail in the next section of this review—a tiny Bluetooth icon appears on the bottom right corner of the screen; you can press this button to select from wired or wireless audio sources, bringing up a text list of choices akin to the ones on iOS devices.

 

An extra tap on the album art overlays the track number, a scrubbing position bar, and four icons atop the album art. Two icons control repeating and shuffling, one activates the Genius Playlist feature in an attempt to create a playlist of songs that sound good together, and the last brings up a list of the tracks on the current album. Song lyrics, if they’re present on a track, can be scrolled through below the icons.

It bears mention that the hidden iPod nano app Audiobooks is based entirely upon the Music app, swapping the shuffle feature for a button that toggles 1/2x, normal, and 2X playback speeds, the Genius feature for a button that skips 30 seconds back, and the track list button for a chapter list button. Their interfaces and features are otherwise the same.

Videos, Podcasts + iTunes U: Unsurprisingly, the new Videos app is a lot like its predecessors on video-capable iPod nanos, and similar to the interface of current iPod touches and iPhones. Here, Apple creates a single top-level menu featuring square icons on the left side and text headers immediately to the right, including Movies, TV Shows, and Music Videos. Tapping on any header brings you to a list of videos inside that category, and tapping on any of them will immediately start the video playing.

 

Apple’s video playback interface is different from the fifth-generation iPod nano’s. The top of the screen contains a “done” button to exit the video, plus a scrubber with twin duration indicators. The bottom has a bar with chapter list, previous chapter, play/pause, and chapter forward buttons. Noticeably missing are the current time and a battery indicator—useful features that are just gone—as well as the prior volume slider, which is now handled with the buttons built into the new nano’s side. Unlike the iPod touch, you can’t zoom in on your video to eliminate letterboxing: the video is presented in its original aspect ratio with black bars above and below. We discuss video quality in the next section of this review.

Note that the new iPod nano still cannot synchronize high-definition videos, which isn’t a huge surprise, but still remains a difference relative to the more capable iPod touch. As the nano now comes in only a 16GB capacity—14.7GB formatted—it doesn’t have a ton of room for videos, regardless, and so most likely will be used primarily to hold music, with a movie or a few TV show episodes here and there.

Two additional iPod nano apps, Podcasts and the hidden app iTunes U, are hybrids of the Music/Audiobooks and Videos apps. When you add an audio podcast or audio iTunes U download to the nano, it plays back with the same interface found in Audiobooks, including the special pop-up buttons; descriptive text can appear below the buttons. But when you play a video podcast or iTunes U video download, you get a menu akin to Videos, with similar on-screen overlays—generally minus the chapter select feature.

Fitness: Apple’s latest Fitness application expands upon earlier versions, albeit with extremely similar underlying functionality. Previously known as Nike + iPod and only available as a feature when users connected a $29 Nike + iPod Sport Kit, the Fitness application is now ever-present on the nano, retaining Nike+ branding without the mandate of purchasing separate accessories—a change initiated in the prior iPod nano, and continued here.

 

You begin by choosing from walking or running modes, with a small history icon in the bottom left corner and settings in the right—a more convenient layout than on the last iPod nano. Walking mode is just a screen-elongated version of the prior pedometer interface, complete with step counting and statistical tracking features. Apple’s pedometer is only reliable to the extent that the nano actually moves with your body, and we found that it missed between a third and a half of light steps. However, if placed in the correct location on your body and given the opportunity to bounce around, it’ll provide a respectable approximation of your walking activity.

Running mode is similarly a reformatted version of the prior Nike+ interface, but with large track and play/pause controls on the screen at all times rather than as an overlay, and new swipable icons at the bottom of the screen to show you distance, remaining time, calories burned, and other details. The integrated Settings menu still lets you choose male or female voice prompting for your runs, a PowerSong to help motivate you at times of need, and height/weight customizations to improve the accuracy of its stride estimations.

 

The improvements to Fitness aren’t obvious from these screens, but they’re non-trivial. First, in addition to the simulated, accelerometer-estimated Nike + iPod run tracking found in the prior iPod nano, Apple uses the new nano’s wireless chip to communicate—optionally—with a shoe-mounted Nike+ Sensor for more accurate motion tracking. Like earlier iPod touches but unlike any prior iPod nano, the $29 Nike + iPod Sport Kit’s dongle is not required for this—you just need the $19 Nike+ Sensor.

 

Additionally, the nano’s new Bluetooth 4.0 chip can pair with a low-energy Bluetooth heart rate monitor such as the Wahoo BlueHR, displaying constantly updated heart rate information at the bottom of the screen, as well as with Nike+ remote controls. In addition to their own dedicated pairing screen within the Fitness application—re-pairing is effortless, handled automatically when you go to start a workout—heart rate monitors have a special menu that lets you select from various sports to calibrate the data. While we noted very brief interruptions in the audio when simultaneously using a Nike+ Sensor, BlueHR heart rate monitor, and Bluetooth headphones, music generally flowed smoothly and sounded great despite the simultaneous use of three wireless accessories at once.

iPod nano (7G) Apps, Continued: Photos, Radio, Clock, Voice Memos, and Settings

The prior collection of apps represented the seventh-generation iPod nano’s core features, but there are a handful of other capabilities, all carried over from the sixth-generation model. Most are similar if not better, but some have seen old features removed or reduced, as well.

Photos: The sixth-generation iPod nano’s Photos mode was nearly a joke, thanks to the tiny square screen and truly horrible quality TV output of the images. Apple has fixed these issues in two ways: by returning the screen to a more natural shape, and by removing the nano’s ability to output photos to a television. Photographs more naturally fit the new screen, automatically rotate based on the device’s orientation, and can be pinch- or tap-zoomed at least a little. They look reasonable given the small screen, but not great, and nowhere near as impressive as on any iPod touch.

It’s worth noting that iTunes has to process photos before they reach the nano, which radically reduces their file sizes while preserving enough fidelity to make the images viewable without complaints on the smaller screen. Lists leading to 3×5 grids of images let you choose from whatever you’ve synchronized, preserving the event or folder organization from your favorite image library program. Currently available iTunes 10.7 becomes extremely sluggish when processing photos for the nano, dragging out simple synchronizations even when no new images are being added to the device; hopefully Apple will improve the speed in a forthcoming iTunes update.

 

As with prior iPod nanos, there’s a very limited slideshow mode to automatically display pictures in sequence on the screen. Apple now provides zero control over transitions—images just fade in, overlapping whatever was last on the screen; you can only change the duration of the images. This is a step backwards from the fifth-generation iPod nano, and again, there’s no TV output for slideshows, another step back, though the number of people displaying iPod nano photos on TVs has likely dropped considerably over the past few years. Regardless of these changes, the device’s improved screen makes for a better overall photo viewing experience.

Radio: As has been the case with earlier FM radio-equipped iPod nanos, Apple requires you to connect any pair of wired earphones to this model in order to tune in stations. The earphones are actually used as the nano’s antenna, creating much greater surface area for picking up radio signals than any internal FM antenna it could have squeezed inside. Without wired earphones attached, the nano’s Radio app will be inactive and light gray; notably, current Bluetooth headphones are not capable of serving as an antenna.

 

The new Radio interface is nearly identical to the fifth-generation nano’s. Large numbers in the center of the screen tell you the current station, with RDS text appearing above them when available. You can now scroll through channels with a tuner, or use seek buttons to change stations. Additional buttons can be called up to activate TiVo-like time-shifting effects, including a pause button, a scrubber bar to move through temporarily recorded radio audio, and buttons to skip forward or back in the audio.

 

A settings button brings up options to automatically locate local stations, create favorites, tag songs that interest you for later purchase on iTunes, and look at lists of recently played songs. These features are now accessible via a couple of taps on the screen rather than holding down a Click Wheel button—not hugely different. Apple appears to have quietly improved the radio tuner in the new nano, however, as stations tend to have a little less static than on the prior model, and a crisper overall presentation, even when using the exact same pair of earphones on both devices. If you’re still a fan of radio, the new nano is a better performer than before: a little easier to use, with better sound.

Clock: One area in which the iPod nano has taken a marked step down is in clock functionality. Initially mentioned at an Apple special event with a wink from Steve Jobs, the idea of using the prior square iPod nano as a wristwatch quickly took off with some people, and wristbands quickly became the primary accessory for the new device. Apple supported the idea by stocking wristbands, and then adding additional clock features in a 2011 software update, creating a total of 18 different alternative watch faces that could appear as the first thing seen when the nano woke up from a power-saving mode.

 


The new nano doesn’t work as a watch, so Apple has unceremoniously dumped almost all of its prior clock designs. Now, there are six, all but one color-matched to whichever metal skin you’ve chosen for your nano. They’re all solely for portrait orientation use, without the ability to rotate into widescreen mode. Three look to have been hastily cobbled together, while the other three are very similar to one another, including a three-face world clock—in the Settings menu, you can choose two additional cities besides your own to display on the screen. Apple also includes Stopwatch and Timer features from the prior iPod nano, each only modestly reformatted to fit the new display.

 

Overall, the new Clock application feels like a step back from the last version, and while this isn’t surprising given the changes to the new nano’s form factor, it would have been great to see Apple find some way to advance a new feature that people enjoyed last time around.

Settings: Apple has slightly streamlined this menu, while carrying over a long-awaited iOS change to the nano: a menu for Bluetooth is up at the top, and easy to access, with General, Music, Video, Radio, and Photos options below.

 


Continuing what it started with the sixth-generation nano, Apple has pared down options in the seventh-generation model, eliminating the ability to change the length of time the screen remains bright while inactive, amongst a number of other features. While music and radio settings are the same as before, video options have been removed relative to the fifth-generation nano, including the absence of TV-out functionality, though Apple preserves toggles for alternate audio, captions, and subtitles, plus the ability to start videos from the beginning or last played point. Similarly, photo choices have been cut down, including the elimination of transitions and TV-out functionality.

Voice Memos: Hidden unless you plug in an accessory with a microphone—such as the standard version of EarPods—this application does away with the handsome classical microphone image found on the fifth-generation iPod nano, and the more functional VU meter found on the sixth-generation model, in favor of a boring screen with a prominent numeric timer, a simple green audio level meter, and two buttons: one to start and stop recording, the other to let you access a timestamped list of your prior recordings.

Memos can be heard on the nano immediately after they’ve been recorded, and are automatically transferred to your iTunes library during synchronization. Just like the prior-generation model, they’re encoded as 44.1kHz AAC files at 128kbps, in stereo despite the fact that the audio is actually monaural, and requiring roughly 1MB per minute of recording time. The nano remains just fine as a voice recorder, though the absence of a built-in or included microphone practically limits the utility of this feature relative to the fifth-generation model, and the lack of Lightning microphone accessories doesn’t help, either. Two different Blue Mikeys we tested with a Lightning to 30-Pin Adapter failed to even bring up the Voice Memos icon; one raised a persistent “unsupported accessory” dialogue box, and the other did nothing at all.

While that wraps up the built-in apps, it’s worth a brief mention that a variety of other software features from the fifth-generation nano that disappeared in the last model remain absent here. Alarms, Cover Flow, games, calendars, contacts, and notes are all missing from the nano, and though none of these features is critically important, some users will notice their absence.

iPod nano (7G): Bluetooth 4.0 Performance

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.

iPod nano (7G): Screen, Audio + Battery Performance

One of the new iPod nano’s surprisingly underwhelming features is its new screen—a component that’s the star attraction in new iPod touches and iPhones, but has remained stuck in an earlier age for Apple’s smaller devices.

After excitedly introducing its new 326ppi 3.5” Retina displays for iPhones and iPod touches two years ago, Apple chose to give the tiny sixth-generation nano a much smaller and lower-definition but still highly detailed square screen—a 1.54” diagonal, 240×240-pixel, 220ppi display, replacing the much larger 2.2”, 376×240-pixel, 204ppi display on the fifth-generation model. Neither screen was fantastic, but the newer one packed more tiny dots into a smaller space, and looked sharper.

This time out, Apple has gone in the opposite direction, shifting to a 2.5” diagonal, 432×240-pixel, 202ppi screen. While the new display has more pixels than any prior iPod nano, they’re spread out across a wider area, so the extra sharpness found on the sixth-generation screen has disappeared for this model. Details in text and videos actually look a little sharper on the old fifth-generation model than they do here, but videos playing on the new model are just a little larger—not enough to make a huge difference in the viewing experience, but slightly better overall.

The new screen is a tiny bit brighter than the fifth-generation model’s, but neither one has particularly excellent color rendition or viewing angles—they’re basically on par with one another, and not fun to watch off-angle; blacks become mirrored and other colors quickly wash out. A little waviness related to the backlighting system is evident at the top edge of the screen, and the overall appearance of on-screen elements now feels several steps behind the other screened devices Apple is selling. While it’s not surprising that the new nano is considerably behind the latest iPod touches and iPhones in display quality, nothing other than the fact that it happens to have touchscreen controls makes this nano feel evolved from devices Apple was making three or four years ago. 

Audio Performance

As a general statement, iPods and iPhones keep getting better sonically from year to year, but the differences tend to be so subtle that users would need extremely sensitive and high-fidelity headphones to hear them. The sixth-generation iPod nano was an exception in that it came roaring out of the gate with much louder audio than its predecessor, jumping roughly 10-15% in volume in direct comparisons with lossless audio tracks and UE-11 Pro earphones. This year’s model is at least as loud, perhaps a touch louder, and offers small improvements in clarity, treble detail, and bass detail.

Because Apple has switched from the prior 30-Pin Dock Connector to Lightning, direct A-to-B comparisons between the bottom ports of the current and prior iPods aren’t currently possible. When using Apple’s Lightning to 30-Pin Adapter, the new model’s overall output quality appears to be very similar, though we noted that the swirled metal reflection on the nano’s on screen volume slider shakes unsettlingly when playing music through the Adapter—a minor issue Apple will likely address in a software update.

The single biggest change between this iPod nano and the fifth-generation model is the aforementioned absence of a built-in speaker, which wasn’t fantastic before, but at least enabled videos and music to be heard without headphones. Apple removed the speaker from the square-shaped nano, but its absence during video playback is particularly missed.

Battery and Transfer Speed Performance

Audio: Apple promises up to 30 hours of music playback time from a full charge when using wired headphones at 50% volume, and the seventh-generation iPod nano actually achieved 35 hours and 49 minutes of continuous playback in our testing—an improvement over the two prior models. The fifth-generation and sixth-generation iPod nanos both promised 24 hours of audio playback, but blew well past that number, the former achieving 32 hours and 32 minutes, and its sequel running for 33 hours and 19 minutes.

 

Apple does not specify how long the new nano will play music over Bluetooth, so we tested that, and saw a solid 9 hour and 10 minute continuous runtime. Moreover, the nano provided a Low Battery voice notification for roughly the last hour and a half it was playing, fading the music out and in as it spoke; this appears to coincide with roughly the last 10-20% of battery life, and a full-screen warning appears at the same time to alert you that a recharge will soon be necessary.

Video: Apple promises a video playback time of up to 3.5 hours from a full charge. With the screen at 50% brightness and the volume at 50% with headphones attached, the nano performed for 3 hours and 32 minutes before dying. This matches Apple’s latest claim, but is well below the over 5-hour run time promised and delivered by the fifth-generation model.

Recharging Time: Apple says that the iPod nano can be fully recharged in around 3 hours. Our test came in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, a little better than expected. We did note some oddities during the battery recharging process, including some nanos’ failure to switch from a “still charging” to a “fully charged” icon, but since iPods use 0.5-Amp power—the lowest amount supplied by common USB ports—you can pretty much know that if your nano’s been connected to any wall adapter or computer for three hours.

Past iPod nano users may be relieved to know that this model can still serve as a flash drive, as it appears as a mountable volume on either PCs or Macs. It transferred a 1GB video in 49 seconds during an iTunes 10.7 test, versus 1 minute and 5 seconds for a fifth-generation iPod nano.

iPod nano (7G): Color Comparisons

The following photos show the seventh-generation iPod nano next to its older siblings, as well as same-colored iPod shuffles. While the new nanos are the same tones as this year’s shuffles and iPod touches, there are very substantial variations between today’s “yellow,” “purple,” and “green” models—amongst others—and the ones that Apple has released in the past. Look for the white or black bottom stripe to locate the seventh-generation nano in each of these pictures.

Silver

Apple’s old standby color is effectively unchanged here.

Red

 

This year’s red is very close to the neutral but super-saturated tones Apple has used in the past.

Pink

 

Surprisingly like a faded version of red, this year’s pink looks like a failed attempt at muting the red tone, and far afield from past pinks.

Green

 

Blue-tinted, this green is far from the richest green tone Apple has produced.

Blue

 

Very similar to Apple’s classic blues, without richness or intensity.

Purple

 

Nearly pink due to additional red tones, this color is again well short of the intense purples Apple has used in earlier products.

Slate/Black

 

Called “Slate,” this nearly black gray is akin to charcoal metals Apple has used in some (but not all) past nanos. Slate was discontinued in September 2013 in favor of “Gray” (below).

Yellow

 

Gold and yellow have been oddball colors for Apple, reaching their apex during the fourth- and fifth-generation nano era. The current color is a little less intense and leans a little closer to green without crossing over that line.

Updated September 13, 2013: Gray

 



Slightly darker than silver but markedly lighter than past slate and black nanos, gray (aka “Space Gray”) is akin to gunmetal and preserves the black accents of the slate iPod nano it replaced in September 2013. It’s a handsome new color, and could as easily have replaced silver if Apple made a brand-wide shift away from the brighter aluminum color it has used for years. Apple repurposed the silver iPod nano’s wallpaper for this gray model, slightly darkening all but one of the background images; the prior flat gray wallpaper is now jet black.

Conclusions

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.

Our Rating

B
Recommended

Company and Price

Company: Apple Computer

Website: www.Apple.com

Model: iPod nano (seventh-generation)

Price: $149 (16GB)

Compatible: PC/Mac