Oct. 12, 2012 at 3:09 PM ET
In a world full of feature-rich smartphones doubling as media players, the iPod Nano seems like a throwback to older days. But if you just want a tiny, well-designed stick of gum that plays your tunes and videos, it's your best bet.
Unlike the sixth-generation iPod Nano, the seventh-generation of Apple's itty-bitty media player isn't a square slab that doubles as a super-chunky watch. Instead it's a nod to the very first generation's design — tall and skinny. It has the biggest screen seen on an iPod Nano so far, one that Apple thinks is legit enough to watch movies and TV shows on. (It's 2.5 inches, so I beg to differ on that, but at least the video playback capability has returned to the Nano.)
While the Nano does have Bluetooth technology built in, it doesn't offer our most beloved wireless capability: Wi-Fi. You can't stream music straight from the cloud. You can't set it up without a computer. You can't randomly download songs on impulse as you walk down the street.
You're stuck tethering this thing to your computer whenever it needs a file refresh (even songs from iTunes in the Cloud) or a software update. But, hey — at least the new Lightning connector makes syncing a quicker task than ever.
The Nano's always been great for gym rats — and now it's even better. The FM capabilities mean that you can tune into a gym's funky ol' school TV system (and actually hear what's going on in the latest episode of "Girls") and its built-in pedometer and Nike+ support mean that you don't have to shell out an extra twenty bucks for a shoe sensor.
The Nano's featherlight anodized aluminum body will likely make you slide the device between your fingers, marveling at how something so aesthetically pleasing and dainty can possibly feel so solid. Perhaps this excellent physical design will even make you overlook the Nano's biggest drawback: Its old-school software.
Unlike its big brother, the iPod Touch, the Nano doesn't run a full-blown version of iOS. Instead it has its own, simple operating system. This means no extra apps or games. The Nano's interface does look and feel a lot like iOS at first touch swipe and tap though, but you'll quickly notice all the little missing details (like lengthy menus, consistent on-screen "back" buttons, and so on). You're basically getting a slightly slicker, breezier version of the interface seen on the square iPod Nano we've loved to hate in the prior two years.
By now you've noticed the pattern when it comes to the Nano: It does a couple of things well, but lacks any bells and whistles. That's really the takeaway. This thing's a great music player — the best one you'll encounter. For some, it might even be a great cheap little movie player (at least until the cost of buying and renting movies adds up). It has all the things you love about Apple's design without many extra thrills.
For $149, the Nano's a solid choice for folks who don't want to fuss around with a phone while in the gym or running around the city, for parents who want to pick up the equivalent of My First Media Player for their youngsters, and for those who just want to listen to some music.
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