Apple iPod nano (2010) Review: Better Than Expected

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“There’s no way a 1.5-inch touch-screen is going to work.”

Famous last words.

Apple’s iPod nano has always been in an awkward position as the middle child in the iPod family. It’s never had the capacity, flair or diminutive size of its brethren but the sixth generation nano is something different. Think of it like the Frankenstein of iPods. (That’s a good thing, BTW.)

Let’s start off with the obvious, the nano is considerably smaller than its predecessor and now rivals the shuffle as the smallest iPod and the touch as one of the coolest and “funnest” iPods ever made. It has the same anodized aluminum frame as the previous generation nano but it now houses a 1.54-inch multi-touch touch-screen (240×240) with an iOS-like interface, a built-in clip and comes in seven different colors. It weighs close to nothing (21g) and is barely noticeable once it’s clipped onto your pants, for instance. If it weren’t attached to a set of headphones, you’d likely forget that it was even clipped on.

(More: Apple iPod touch (2010) Review: Don’t Want an iPhone? Get This!)

Everything you knew about the previous generation nano is all but forgotten. No more clickwheel, camera, mic, or speaker. You can check out photos or listen to audio. The latest sports just three hard buttons: volume up, volume down and power/sleep. Simplicity reigns supreme.

Sure, the screen is small but it’s not very difficult to navigate and the multi-touch, while limited, works great. You can rotate the screen with two fingers depending on the orientation of the nano or double tap to zoom in on photos. Like all other Apple touch-screen devices, the nano is extremely responsive. As I mentioned before, the UI is reminiscent of any other iOS device but its not actually running iOS, says Apple. You won’t be able to add apps or games but the existing slew of shortcuts or apps can be moved around based on your preference. A series of dots at the bottom of the screen indicate how many pages there are and which page you are currently viewing whether you’re just navigating the menu system or within an app like Fitness or FM radio. Long pressing from any screen will shoot you back to the homescreen and swiping to the right within certain functions, like the Fitness app will bring you back to the previous screen.

Editing existing playlists is possible but you’ll have to scroll down within an existing playlist to see the hidden dialog. It doesn’t appear as though “On the Go” playlist creation is possible, though. The FM radio feature has been carried over and it still allows you to cache live streams. To access that particular functionality you have to launch the radio, pick your preferred channel and swipe to the next page to pause, play, fast forward or rewind the stream. The Fitness app can be synced with Nike+ and the pedometer keeps track of your steps. You can set daily goals and input your weight, as well. The built-in clock includes a stopwatch and timer and Apple allows you to set the clock as the default screen when you wake up the nano. A voice recorder app is also present on the nano but it won’t show up until you plug in a set of headphones that include a mic. (More on Techland: Ten Apps That Break Apple’s App Store Guidelines)

While the previous nano tried to do too much, the current generation nano is focused on one thing and one thing only – music. It may have lost a number of features but if you’re already deeply engrained in the world of Apple, the nano is a perfect addition to your arsenal of fruit products. And if you’re not, it’s a simple way to dip your toes into Apple’s touch-screen family of devices to test the waters. The 8GB and 16GB models are priced at $149 and $179, respectively, which isn’t the cheapest available option to replace should you lose it but its small stature and intuitive UI make it stand out from the rest.

More on Techland:

Two Minute Video: Are the New iPods and Apple TV Worth It?

Apple’s 4G iPods: The Specs Sheet