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Why the 2011 iPod Nano is still the sexiest smartwatch of all

Is it possible that the classic wrist-worn Nano could still outclass the latest wearable tech on looks alone? Actually, it certainly feels like it.

From left: Martian, iPod Nano, Pebble Sarah Tew/CNET

After reviewing a handful of the latest and greatest smartwatches, I discovered something shocking. Out of my old electronics drawer I pulled out my iPod Nano, the 2011 clip-on MP3 player that's no longer even sold by Apple. It's attached to a Hex Nano metal watchband. I wore this for over a year, and was so in love with the idea of an Apple smartwatch that I was willing to forgive its limitations -- and that it wasn't really all that smart.

All of these smartwatches have arrived, and I've worn them. Yet, when I slip that old Nano watch on my wrist, it still seems better-looking than all of them.

Weirdly enough, most people I know seem to agree.

iPod Nano (left) and the Martian Sarah Tew/CNET

Why? Maybe it's the perfect balance of digital geek meets higher-class design. Apple's Nano feels like the place where metal, glass, and nerdy watch faces meet in the middle. Maybe it's the familiarity of Apple's design. Maybe it's the addition of the Hex gunmetal watchband. But the Nano, and its elegant form, still feels progressive for smartwatch design, even though it wasn't even intended to be a smartwatch in the first place.

Martian, Pebble, I'm Watch, MetaWatch, and Sony SmartWatch. Nano not pictured. Sarah Tew/CNET

The smartwatch Class of 2013, for the most part, looks like it's trying to borrow from similar design inspirations, but to greater and lesser degrees of success. To be blunt: a lot of them are ugly. Only a few even feel semistylish -- namely, the Pebble and Martian. The Martian Passport looks sharp, but it's thick and bit too retro-future. The Pebble Watch is an adrenaline shot of geek, but so much so that's it's veering way off into plastic fun-toy land. Sony's SmartWatch has appeal, but its interface doesn't feel as crisp. The I'm Watch and MetaWatch feel like they've escaped from 1980s EPCOT gift shops.

The Nano-as-watch works, to some extent, but with limitations. It tells the time. It has a battery that lasts anywhere from a day to a week depending on how you use it. It has 12 pretty excellent watch faces that run the gamut from classic to full nerd-out. It has Nike pedometer and run-tracking integration. It even has a real FM radio, which has made it an excellent tool for bringing to Jets games. However, it lacks Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. You need to sync it to iTunes to transfer any music to it. You need to physically plug in a pair of headphones. And, it's not really made to be dunked in water.

Of course, this only makes me wish even more for a true Apple watch, one that has Bluetooth and notification capabilities. If that old Nano watch actually performed connected smartwatch functions via Bluetooth, and kept its design, I'd prefer it. Even now, it's still a nice offline novelty in my smartwatch rotation.

What do you think? Vote for yourself. What's the hottest-looking smartwatch based on looks alone?

Does Apple still win the contest two years later?

Sarah Tew/CNET