Why my new digital watch is an iPod Nano

My love of watches drew me to the iPod Nano, and nothing else. After a week with it, here are my impressions.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read
The Nano, with new watch face and Hex Vision watchband. Sarah Tew/CNET

OK, I'm ready for the backlash. I'm wearing an iPod Nano on my wrist as a watch. I already own an iPhone. And an iPad. What's wrong with me?

Would you believe me if I said that I'd have done the same thing if there was any watch that could do what this one does? Would you believe me if I said I didn't do this for the iPod?

Let me explain.

My iPod Nano watch (photos)

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I've always been a fan of digital watches and funky watch design, especially tech watches (I even defended them on TV). I'm a watch geek. I wore a retro Casio watch. I just got a cool Diesel one. A long time ago, I tried the Fossil Palm-powered watch, the Fossil Wrist PDA. I still have it in my desk drawer. Microsoft Spot watch? Check.

The iPod Nano-as-watch is a proud successor of that line, a gadget that I believe will stand the test of time for its novelty. Apple may not make a true iWatch, and the iPod's long-term destiny may not inevitably be on my wrist, but for now it's the most innovative use of iPod technology since, well, the first iPod.

A geek watch museum: iPod Nano watch (left) next to a Fossil Palm watch. Notice the legacy. Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm late to the party on the iPod Nano watch, I'll admit it. When the Nano was first released, I thought it was ridiculous. Stupid, even. It was a Super Shuffle, robbed of its video playback and recording features. Then I saw the watchbands. What started as a clever entrepreneurial idea turned into a movement that resulted in Nano watchbands in Apple Stores and the latest update of the Nano showing off, first and foremost, its expanded collection of 18 digital watch faces.

The recently dropped price did it for me, along with the arrival in the mail of a sample Nano watchband made by Hex. I was going to pull the trigger. Stopping by an Apple Store, I realized that my wife--normally an extreme tech skeptic--actually thought the Nano was cool. She thought the idea of a Nano watch was even cooler. How could this possibly be? I indulged my watch obsession.

My graphite iPod Nano slots into the gunmetal-steel Hex Vision band like a glove, clipping in solidly and locking into place. I walked around with the watch and stopped by fellow editors, went to a coffee shop, had lunch with friends. Most never knew I was wearing a Nano until I expressly showed it to them. It's not ugly--it's square, but it's pretty damn cool.

If any other watch manufacturer had a digital watch that had 18 different faces and an easy way to swap bands, I'd have considered buying that watch. Having the iPod, 8 to 16GB of storage, and an FM radio is gravy. Yes, there are serious drawbacks I haven't mentioned. The Nano charges via a 30-pin port that's exposed on the side, a long silly open port. The headphone jack's adjacent to it. That's a lot of open ports on a wearable device, and the Nano is absolutely not waterproof, not even water resistant. An accidental hand-wash or a sudden downpour could ruin me. The good news is, in cold weather, that 30-pin port is on the inside, under my shirt cuff, where it's generally protected. Still, I'm cautious.

Yes, you need to attach headphones physically. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Nano has no Bluetooth, so, yeah, I'm running a headphone wire to my watch. That's not terrible, though. On a subway it snags far less than a wire running to my bag or pocket, and it's great to change music tracks on my wrist rather than hold my phone. The Nano's clipped on solidly, and can't be removed without removing the whole watch. At a collected total of $220, my watch still costs far less than most high-end designer watches ($149 for the Nano, $69 for the Hex Vision band).

The Nano also needs charging, something a regular watch doesn't need. So far, my Nano lasts a good several days before needing a charge-up, but it's fast to charge--and it encourages me to remove the watch at night, thus not accidentally groggily wake up and hop in the shower with it.

Having some form of smart watch function--e-mail, iTunes, podcast downloading--would be nice, but it would only compromise the battery life further. It's kind of nice, as a colleague reminded me, to have a device that's not online. The pedometer feature, included, remains a temptation for when I eventually drag myself to a gym.

I'll still wear my other watches, but I love this new addition. Silly? Of course. Cool? Absolutely. In this day and age, watches are a novelty anyway. At some point, tech might finally reach a state of miniaturization where even phones could be practically wearable on a wrist. Even if that day never happens, I still love my Apple watch. Tell me otherwise, and I won't care. Just don't throw me in a swimming pool. Hopefully, water-resistant Nanos are next.

Would you ever wear a watch like this, or are you already?