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

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Looking back two generations, compared to the 2009 iPod nano, the latest model is missing a video camera and a built-in speaker, but given the downright poor quality of those features, they weren’t a big loss with the 2010 model and I don’t lament their omission here. Other iPod features that still haven’t found their way back from 2010 elimination include games, alarms, and information syncing (notes, calendars, contacts). Again, with the possible exceptions of alarms and games—and possibly not even those—I think it’s safe to say that these features weren’t widely used.

Finally, the audio buffs out there are surely curious about how the new nano sounds (and they’re cursing me under their breath that audio quality has been relegated to “finally” status). The iPod nano isn’t an audiophile gadget, so I didn’t treat it as such. But I did test the new nano over several days with a range of headphones, including several higher-end models that work well with low-power headphone outputs. Overall, I found no glaring issues with sound quality. Compared to the 2010 iPod nano, I noticed only very minor differences when comparing the same uncompressed music tracks played through the same headphones. The new model seemed to sound ever-so-slightly clearer with slightly better bass response, but the differences were small enough that I can’t make a definitive claim.

In terms of audio formats, Apple says the iPod nano supports AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (tracks purchased from the iTunes Store), AIFF, Apple Lossless, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX, and AAX+), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, and WAV.

Bottom line

Those who loved the previous iPod nano’s built-in clip and square shape—especially folks who used the nano as a clip-on workout companion or a makeshift wristwatch—will lament the latest model’s taller, clipless design. But as handy (or, if you will, hands-free) as that clip was—and for many people it might be useful enough for Apple to consider a similar product separate from the nano line—dropping it let Apple make the new iPod nano remarkably thin and light. In addition, the larger screen and physical buttons dramatically improve the nano’s usability, and the addition of Bluetooth functionality is a big win for active use. Clip aside, it feels like this is what last year’s iPod nano wanted to be: Familiar, but better in almost way than the one before it.

This year’s model, in fact, addresses most of the major complaints I had about the sixth-generation iPod, taking what was good about that model and incorporating features and design elements from both Apple’s iOS devices and the 2009 iPod nano. The results is, in my opinion, the best iPod nano yet—as long as you don’t want to wear it on your wrist or clip it to your workout clothes. It’s still missing a few features present in older models, and Wi-Fi—along with iTunes Match—would truly set the nano apart from other media players on the market, but the 2012 iPod nano is an impressive device that’s easier to use than any nano before it.

That said, the big question facing the iPod nano line these days is a simple one: Why? If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPod touch (or a similar non-iOS smartphone), you’ve already got a solid music-listening device, and there’s a good chance you carry that device with you most of the time. If you don’t already have such a device, for $50 more ($199) you can get the previous-generation iPod touch which, though not as small, is more capable in every way. At $99, the nano would be easy to recommend, but at $149, it’s a tougher sell. If you’re looking for a dedicated media player to save your smartphone’s battery for calls and apps, or if you want something smaller and lighter while working out, or if you’ve got a child who just wants a media player, the nano is a solid choice. But the iPod touch is encroaching on the nano’s territory, and the days when you needed a separate iPod are fading fast.

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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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