Review: iPod nano (7th generation) combines the best of its predecessors

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You won’t want to watch a lot of video on the iPod nano, and you certainly won’t buy a nano just because it can play video, but it’s nice that the option is there. And you can be sure that if Apple hadn’t included the feature, given the new screen size and dimensions, people would have complained.

Bluetooth wireless…

Those who loved the previous nano’s built-in clip, especially for exercise use, will certainly lament its loss in the new model. But I predict that many of those same people will be won over by one of the 2012 nano’s biggest fitness-related additions: Bluetooth. (Yes, finally.) Specifically, the nano has gained Bluetooth 4.0 with LE (low energy) for connecting wirelessly to Bluetooth A2DP headphones and speakers as well as to Nike+ sensors and Bluetooth heart-rate monitors. (If your headphones or speakers include AVRCP-compatible controls, you can use those buttons to control playback.)

Pairing Bluetooth headphones or speakers is a simple process. You tap the Settings icon on the nano’s screen, tap Bluetooth, and then turn Bluetooth on if it isn’t already. When the name of your headphones or speakers appears in the list, tap it, and enter a pairing code if necessary. (In my testing, most didn’t require a code, and those that did used 0000.) Your headphones or speakers then appear as Connected in the Bluetooth screen. The process is, again, nearly identical to the way you pair with Bluetooth devices in iOS. You switch between Bluetooth output and the built-in headphone jack by tapping a little Bluetooth icon on the Now Playing screen and then choosing either iPod or the Bluetooth device’s name.

I tested the new nano with a handful of Bluetooth headphones and speakers, and all paired immediately. Over several days of testing, I didn’t hear any dropouts or static. (I wasn’t able to test the new nano with a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor.) I was also impressed by the nano’s Bluetooth range, as I was able to listen through Bluetooth headphones from over 20 feet away. Note that one drawback of Bluetooth headphones and speakers is that you can’t use them when listening to the nano’s FM radio, as the radio requires wired headphones—it uses the headphone cable as an FM antenna—and connecting wired headphones switches audio output from Bluetooth to the headphone jack.

…but no Wi-Fi

On the other hand, the new nano doesn’t get the other common form of wireless communication: Wi-Fi. Just a couple short years ago, I wouldn’t have mentioned this as a drawback, but with Apple’s recent emphasis on cloud features, and especially considering that many Apple customers have iTunes Match accounts that make their music accessible from anywhere with an Internet connection, Wi-Fi would be a handy feature in the iPod nano: Forget to sync your updated workout playlist? If your gym has free Wi-Fi, you could just access your iTunes Match account to download the latest track additions. It’s possible the Wi-Fi circuitry and antennas couldn’t fit in the nano’s wafer-thin body, or that adding Wi-Fi would have impacted the player’s battery life considerably, or that adding Wi-Fi would bring the nano one step closer to the iPod touch. But I think a wireless data connection of some sort is the obvious next step for the nano and other dedicated media players. Next year?

This, that, and the other thing

The nano continues to offer a slew of minor features that are sure to be used heavily by certain people and completely ignored by others—but that taken together make the nano an impressively well-rounded gadget. As with all recent nano models, the latest version offers a voice-recording feature. You can still use the nano as a flash drive by checking the Enable Disk Use box when connected to iTunes. A built-in pedometer tracks your steps and distance when walking, and the seventh-generation nano supports Nike+ and NikeFuel for tracking your workouts when paired with a Nike+ sensor or a Bluetooth-enabled heart-rate monitor. (As with the iPod touch, you don’t need an iPod-attached dongle to connect to the sensor—the sensor can pair directly with the nano.)

The new nano's radio feature

As mentioned above, the nano continues to offer an FM tuner for listening to the radio (or for listening to broadcast audio from the TVs at many gyms). In my testing, the new nano seemed to get slightly better reception than the previous generation. It offers the same RDS (Radio Data System) display and the same capability to pause live radio for up to 15 minutes, skip back in 30-second increments, skip forward in 10- or 30-second increments, scrub through buffered audio, and tag songs for latter syncing and purchasing through iTunes.

Apple claims the new nano offers up to 30 hours of music playback on a full charge (the longest ever for an iPod nano) or up to 3.5 hours of video playback (shorter than the fifth-generation nano’s claimed 5 hours). Apple also says you can charge the nano to 80-percent capacity in only 1.5 hours; it takes 3 hours to get a full charge. I’ve spent much of the past few days connecting and disconnecting the new nano to and from various computers, so I haven’t yet had a chance to do any controlled battery-life testing.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Larger screen makes Multi-Touch much more usable than with previous model
    • Physical playback and Home buttons
    • More-iOS-like interface
    • Regains video playback of older models
    • Exceptionally thin and light


    • Only $50 less than entry-level iPod touch
    • Screen isn't as good as those on other Apple devices
    • Some users will miss previous model's built-in clip
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