The seventh-generation Apple iPod Nano is a fun, cute, capable MP3 player. With it, you can take virtually all of your iTunes media on the go -- your music, videos, audiobooks, podcasts, and even photos.
Priced at $149 and outfitted with 16GB of storage, the iPod Nano offers most of the amenities we've come to expect from an iPod, and strikes an interesting balance between the simplicity of the iPod Shuffle and the smartphonelike operation of the iPod Touch. Unfortunately, there's nothing balanced about the iPod Nano's price. With the 16GB iPod Touch out there for $199, and the iPod Shuffle available for just $49, the Nano's compromise between the two isn't very compelling.
The Nano has seen some radical design changes over the years. This time around, Apple has fashioned it to look and behave like a tiny iPod Touch. It has a 2.5-inch touch screen, complete with a small home button beneath it and a volume rocker switch on the left edge. A sleep/wake button is located on the top edge, while a headphone jack and Lightning port are found on the bottom edge. The back of the Nano is a single piece of colored aluminum (eight colors are available) that gives way to a glass panel on the front.
The whole thing measures 3 inches tall, 1.5 inches wide, and an impossibly skinny 0.21 inch thick. It looks comically small in an adult hand -- like an iPhone made for a teddy bear. But to my surprise, the touch-screen controls are just large enough to work well with full-size fingers. Apple was smart enough not to squeeze in any features that would require an onscreen keyboard or small buttons or menus.
The most significant success in the Nano's design is a unique volume rocker design on the side that includes a center button that works as a Play/Pause and also functions for VoiceOver navigation, similar to the iPod Shuffle. With some practice, you can use this button to browse your music collection without even setting eyes on the screen.
That said, one of the frustrating missed opportunities with the iPod Nano is that Apple neglected to bundle headphones with an integrated remote, which would have made it possible to quickly play, pause, and browse music right from the headphone cable. It's one of those extras Apple tosses in with the iPhone, but omits with iPods even though they are all compatible with headphone remotes. It's a disappointing omission, but I guess it saves Apple a few nickels.
The included headphones are Apple's latest EarPod design, which I personally prefer to the older earbud-style headphones, though not by much. The all-plastic design of the EarPods hurts my ears during extended listening and the sound quality is still humble, though improved.
The iPod Nano retains all of the software capabilities of last year's clip-on model, including dedicated menus for music, Podcasts, Clock, Radio, Audiobooks, iTunes U, Photos, Fitness, and Settings. The big new features of the seventh-generation Nano are the reintroduction of video playback, and the addition of wireless Bluetooth audio.
Pairing the iPod Nano with a Bluetooth speaker or headset couldn't be much easier. After tapping on the Settings icon, you'll see an option for Bluetooth prominently shown at the top of the list. After I switched it on and chose a Bluetooth speaker from the listing of nearby devices, the Nano simply connected within seconds.
As with any of Apple's iPods, you'll need to load your media using Apple's iTunes software on your PC or Mac. Fortunately, iTunes is widely regarded as the best program around for organizing and syncing your media. It's the powerhouse behind the iPhone, the iPad, and every iPod ever sold. For the uninitiated, iTunes can be a beast of a program to navigate, but once you learn your way around, routinely syncing your iPod Nano is a mostly automatic process. Compatibility with iTunes also brings along one of the best and most convenient ways to download and manage podcasts and audiobooks.