Last year’s iPod Nano was Excellent. It was a big step forward for Apple, as they returned the device back to it’s roots of music player first, everything else second. If you want a music player with a bit more bulk, check out HEIFMAN’s take on portable sound the HM 901 portable audio player preview. Half the weight and size was dropped along with the VGA video camera, scroll wheel and video playback, replaced by a beautiful 240×240 pixel touchscreen, a simplified version of iOS, and a handheld that was smaller than a belt-buckle but larger than a watch face.

This year, Apple returned with more of the same, though perhaps too much more. This year’s upgrades to Apple’s mobile devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPod Nano) have been perceived by many as a lack of innovation, partly because of Steve Jobs’ at the time failing health. The iPhone 4S saw few improvements, the iPod Touch none at all, and the Nano remained questionable. iFixIt’s teardown of the Nano revealed that it too is the same as last year’s model, though with parts from different manufacturers. If you want a music device that’s completely wireless, give our Sony NWZ w252 w series walkman mp3 player review a read instead. Or, if you support clean energy, you’ll want to read our review of this solar powered MP3 player.

Sorry, no return of the camera. It wouldn’t be Apple to sell new products without some changes, and just like the new iPhone 4S and iPod Touch has iOS 5, the new Nano has upgraded software, known only as Version 1.2. For this review I tested the hardware and found no differences in performance, so we’ll only touch upon the hardware briefly. For a more in-depth look at the hardware, take a look at last year’s review of the iPod Nano 6th Generation.

Last year’s iPod Nano (left) beside this year’s. They’re virtually identical

The move from versions 1.0 to 1.2 isn’t a big step, but it improves on several key areas. Firstly, the apps now take up the whole screen, one at a time. Originally four apps were visible on any one page (and in fact users can still set apps to appear that way), but the new default is to show larger icons, and only one at a time. For farsighted users who had trouble using the small screen before, small icons made the Nano too small to use. No longer.

The other major change came to fruition because people fancied the Nano a watch. While I’ve never actually seen someone wear an iPod Nano wristwatch, major electronic retailers all sell them. Apple graciously included a few watchbands for this review, and it’s very strange to wear the Nano as a watch. Apple includes 18 different watch faces, spanning from analog and digital watches to Kermit the Frog and Mickey Mouse. 18 isn’t a whole lot, and I’d like to see the ability for users to download new watch faces from iTunes, and possibly even make (and sell?) their own.

Using the Nano as a watch does solve one of the Nano’s problems, albeit partially – as a watch, it’s harder to lose. The Nano is frighteningly small. Like last year, I lost my Nano at least three times during the review process. When I used the Nano as a watch, I never lost it once. The bright green or heavyset blue bands are much easier to spot than even the glossy, reflective screen of the Nano.

Because the Nano is so easy to lose without wearing it, there is one improvement I’d like to see in future iterations: a keychain hole in the clip. It may sound counterintuitive, to place electronics on a keychain, but the Nano is small enough to fit and light and thin enough to not be in the way. The glass would have to be scratch resistant; after all, it would be in the same pocket as keys.

Back to the watch, what’s missing from the Nano is an option to set screen duration, or how long the screen remains active before automatically turning off to conserve power. There is no option to do so. Apple simply made the screen shut off after a minute. Some users may be inclined to have the Nano shut the screen off sooner or later than that, especially if wearing the Nano as a watch.This is one aspect that should be left to users to decide.

There are a few other features that Apple passed over on this second outing for the 6th gen Nano. AM radio, an internal radio antenna (instead of using headphones), iPod earbuds with a microphone, and an improved battery. Each of these would have improved the Nano significantly, but with no hardware updates none are available this time around. And each of these areas is a fault of the Nano since last year. AM radio, or even HD Radio, is an incredibly attractive feature for people who have used it. A proper radio antenna would provide for a stronger, better signal that simple earbuds or even larger headphones. Earbuds with a microphone would allow everyone to use voice commands immediately, without spending another $30 for a set of iPhone headphones. And Apple has pushed every year for more advanced batteries, but neglected a higher-capacity battery for its smalled screened device.

The Nano’s stacked beside an iPod Touch. The Nano is thinner except for the clip.

Even updating one of these things would have drastically improved the Nano. I’m still shocked that Apple doesn’t include earbuds with a microphone on all of their products at this point. Additional radio functions could be a heavier strain on the battery, and the device’s small size requires a small but powerful battery. I know Apple could have improved in this area, but compared to their other goals it’s not surprising to see no upgrade here.

On the one hand, the iPod Nano is an excellent example of how important software is, and how with strong hardware it can improve devices better than simply pushing out newer parts. However, looking back at last year’s Nano, there was very little that needed improvement. The Nano now makes a novelty watch, and is easier for older users to see, but it isn’t a significant step forward. It isn’t even truly the next generation Nano, which is why the software version didn’t jump to 2.0. No, it’s a software upgrade only, one that last year’s buyers can enjoy just the same as new purchasers.

Even considering all that, the iPod Nano is still the best handheld music player of it’s kind on the market. I would have liked to see some serious upgrades, to see the famous Apple yearly revisions, but this year that wasn’t the case. Then again, it’s still the best.


  • Larger icons are easier to see
  • Watch feature is an interesting turn for many users
  • Everything good about it last year is still there
  • No hardware upgrades from last year. No AM/HD radio, no internal antenna, no earbuds with a microphone
  • Watch faces are limited; no option to download/make/buy different ones
  • Still very easy to lose. No solution for keeping it safely in sight except by wearing as a watch

Editor’s Rating:

[Rating: 4/5]


Bottom Line: There are a lot of things I’d have liked to see improved on the Nano, but it’s still by far the best device of it’s kind on the market.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.

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  1. I actually desperately want them go to back to the style of the 5th generation nano. I like dedicated physical buttons and a thin style that fits in my pocket. I listen to music at work and don’t want to have to pull it out every time I need to pause it… if i did, I’d just use my Android and do away with Apple for good.

  2. Hi all no new nano as of yet. It is still the 6th gen with a firmware update. Roumors have it that a new nano is expected in September along with the new iPhone. The nano was designed to replace the iPod mini with the features of that of the ipod photo (iPod 4th Gen). And I must say it did quite well right up until the 5th gen. The 6th gen I hear it makes a good wrist watch. As for music and media players I chose Apple as they had the most storage space, ok expensive but its quality over quantity with apple. Someone mentioned bluetooth, as a touch user we had to wait until the third gen before the touch got bluetooth so to speak. In fact the touch had had bluetooth since the second gen but it did not get the firmware to enable it until iOS 4. So who knows the 6th gen nano could have bluetooth just not enabled yet. There’s a lot I’d like to see on apple devices but with apple you only get what they want to give you so dream on.

  3. If there is a new ipod nano coming out tjis year,I would like to also see some apps that could be downloaded on the nano, is such a facility available, like calculator or photo viewer etc..

  4. They can improve the nano by adding bluetooth so it can display various notifications from your android phone like when a txt comes in or when you get an email etc.

  5. i wear the ipod nano as a watch and it is excellent. Have owned nano for more than a year in a half and have never so much as misplaced it, so the small size is not factor. Also the issue you brought up not having timer for screen, you simply touch sleep button to turn watch face on and off at your convience. Two improvements i would like to see on next version would be bluetooth, wireless headphones would eliminate the need to run cord up your arm. And Apps, because who doesnt love apps.

  6. they can really improve this by adding
     inbuilt microphone Bluetooth, wifi, apps
    make and receive calls
    and last but not the least SIRI 
    if they can do this in this device it would be the biggest hit after iphone. 

    imagine wearing a ipod nano as watch while driving than making a recving calls chaging music it can be a totally mobile urban device. 

  7. wish they put in the antenna … ‘sigh’ guess they don’t have enough improvements for the next launch, just have to wait then…..

  8. Along with the AM antenna the reviewer mentioned how long will it take for them to realize the Nano’s ability to accompany the IPhone or any bluetooth capable mobile. There are a lot of phone-mp3-mp4-watches on the market (although weakly built/unattractive/limited…yet expensive).

    Give Nano bluetooth (maybe even a speaker and mic for when you don’t want to have earbuds in), allow it to bridge to the IPhone, add a couple apps such as dial pad and contacts and BOOM you have an I-Watch! It won’t replace an Iphone of course but it would be a very handy companion, allowing you to leave the IPhone in your pocket but still take and receive calls, get FB/twitter updates, and receive messages along with the normal Nano stuff.

    1.  I definitely want bluetooth!! I’d like to wear it as a watch and play tunes through my vehicles stereo!  If anything is done, I hope it’s by adding bluetooth!!

  9. Such a pointless review. You should have reviewed the software changes as this is still the 6th gen with a firmware update. The 7th gen has yet to be released.
    Using tags like “7th gen” is a rather cheap trick too.

  10. Hi, it is strange for me that no reviewer is talking bot the upgraded Nike app. According to Apple’s presentation, it can now count steps and calories etc without requiring any additional accessory like Nike shoes or connectivity kit. I think thats a big step forward and this is exactly what is pushing me to buy this gadget. It can prove to be a good companion during my treadmill workouts. So can u please review this feature as well for the benefit of all?

    1. The reason I didn’t mention it is because accelerometer-based fitness applications are, for the most part, are not factual. It’s based on an algorithm, but doesn’t take everything into account. It’s a cheap-man’s calorie counter. (Besides, counting calories is a terrible way to determine weight loss/physical activity).

      That said, if there was an accessory like Nike Shoes, then it would be worth looking into. But if you just want to know about how the app works, it works just fine. It knows when you take a step and tells you what you need to hear; how many calories have been (theoretically) spent, how much time you’ve exercised, and how many steps you’ve taken.

      1. Whether the app has any worth for fitness ain’t the point here. The point is that it has improved over 6th gen. And that’s exactly what I wanted to know. So thanks for that.

    2. Im pretty sure this is a feature introduced with latest software update and not strictly the latest iPod. Mine is the 6th generation, and the Nike+ app has been upgraded. I think it’s a really cool feature, and it’s helpful on my runs. You can tell the app to base your workout on time, distance or calories burnt. I just put it on time and select my playlist. It will record your pace and distance, and it gives you the option to put in your actual recorded distance so it can calibrate and do a better job. It does a pretty good job (within 1/10 of a mile), but I wouldn’t trust the calorie counting aspect. It will voice over the music to give you updates on how much longer you have.

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