A nano deserving of its name

Xavier Verhoeven
24 September, 2010
View more articles fromthe author

iPod nano (sixth generation, late 2010)

Apple, apple.com/au/ipodnano


Tiny; touch-screen; easy to use; tiny; has a dock connector


Clip is awkward; no video; no apps

$199 (8GB); $229 (16GB)


Imagine I’m clenching my fists right now, asking you which hand contains the new iPod nano. It’s in my left, but there’s no way you can tell. In fact, I can barely tell. That’s how small this new iPod is.

This is the smallest iPod nano yet – even giving the iPod shuffle a run for its money in the tiny stakes. We’re not just talking an incremental drop of a millimetre here and there; no, the new nano is less than half the size of the one that came before it. In fact, cut the previous nano in half around its waist, and you come close to getting an iPod nano and a shuffle. But the sixth generation iPod nano is still smaller.

It’s is about the size of a watch face, and a small one at that. If you’re picturing a chunky digital watch from the 80s or a ‘my watch is bigger than my wrist’ Tag Heuer, you’re way off. This diminutive beauty is but four centimetres square. I mention its size relative to a watch because I think there are plenty of nerds like me waiting for the deluge of iPod wristbands that will come over the next few months as accessory makers hit their strides with the new models.

But aside from all this watch nonsense, the new iPod nano is a clear statement from Apple. It makes two kinds of devices now: tiny iPods that are almost exclusively for listening to music while exercising, and big iPods (or iPads or iPhones) that are designed first and foremost to run apps (oh, and music). Of course, that’s forgetting the ugly stepsister of the bunch – the iPod classic, but it’s pretty clear that’s only around because flash memory is still too dear to offer a 128GB+ iPod touch.

iPod nano + fitness

The iPod nano used to do it all: video, photos, radio, camera, and even a whole heap of functions I never discovered. The new nano, however, is all about the music. There’s photos on there just so we, the Apple customers, don’t freak out too much, there’s a clock, and there’s a Fitness ‘app’. I think key to understanding the omissions is actually this new Fitness icon – ready to make us fatties get out-and-about (or at least feel like we should get out-and-about) and buy an iPod that does far less than its only-$90-more Retina display-toting brother.

You see, Apple is aiming this iPod at everyone who wants to listen to their music on their morning jog, without having to take their iPhone or iPod touch along. Afterall, it’d be a tragedy for such an integral piece of technology to get ruined by dripping sweat or being flung onto a nearby rower after it hits the spinning conveyor of the treadmill. (RIP, my fourth-gen iPod with click wheel; you’ve been dearly missed.) The iPod nano, on the other hand, is so small that it’s, well, almost replaceable. Oh, hang on, it’s only $90 cheaper. Maybe I should get an iPod shuffle? Nah, they’re too cheap, only kids and students have them. I can afford an iPod nano, even if I do accidentally stand on it one day. See what I mean?

Now with touch

Navigating the nano’s menu is remarkably easy – especially if you’ve used an iPhone or iPod touch before. Of course, the screen is only a fraction of the size of these bigger siblings, so there are some aspects of the interface that couldn’t translate. For one, there’s no Home button; instead, to return to the main menu, you can swipe backwards repeatedly or press and hold anywhere on the screen. The latter option is clearly easiest for all those people using the iPod out-and-about – as I suspect Apple wants you to (even now, the white earphones are still helping sell more iDevices). Curiously, there’s no miniature slide-to-unlock screen. I suppose it’s less necessary on something this size, but every time I pressed the Sleep/Wake button, I felt like I needed to follow it with a swipe. My muscle-memory is obviously well trained.

Small but mighty

I’ve been using my nano with some Blackbox powered noise-cancelling headphones, and the sound has been nothing short of remarkable. I should be used to listening to music from such a tiny device, having had an earlier model iPod shuffle. But this just feels so different. The screen really makes it feel like something worth spending $200 on. Plus, the dock connector is making it possible to use these particular headphones (stay tuned for a review soon) – which wouldn’t be possible with the shuffle.

There’s always a compromise

One design flaw (and believe me, I’ve been looking for them) is the clip. When you attempt to use the clip – which I like to do so long as I clip it somewhere out of view – you’ll probably inadvertently fast forward or skip to the next track. There’s simply not enough space beside the screen to accommodate even the most petite of fingers. I would have thought given Apple got the need for ‘holding space’ so right with the iPad (one of the rare cases where usability won out over design), they might have thought of this one with the new nano. Obviously Steve Jobs’ love for all things square (G4 Cube, Mac mini and Apple TV to name a few) won out once again.

Of course, with the radical redesign, the nano also lost the ability to record video, and even to play it back. This is unsurprising if you see the nano as an ultraportable music player (which I think is how Apple wants you to see it). The iPod touch and iPhone are designed to do video – and frankly, it looks pretty cramped on their screens. I can’t imagine all that many people actually watching video on their previous-gen nanos. But Apple didn’t do away with other media entirely; the nano can display your photos with its built-in Photos mini-app. It can even do Ken Burns effect slideshows. Those multi-touch-savvy users might be confused that they can’t pinch to zoom their miniature photos, though. It seems when Apple refers to the nano as ‘multi-touch’, it basically means you can rotate the screen’s orientation: zooming in on photos is strictly a tap-and-pan affair.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the iPod nano cannot actually be turned off. Pressing the Sleep/Wake button will indeed put it to sleep, but beyond that, the only way to stop it drawing power is to leave it in sleep mode for 36 hours. I figured this out on a recent flight, and was a little disconcerted, given that we’re always told to switch off all electronic devices. Suffice to say the plane didn’t fall out of the sky, so it might not be the biggest issue in the world.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice

If you run, ride, walk, jog, or a vast range of other exercises, and like to listen to music at the same time, the iPod nano is for you. It’s beyond portable, and you can have it everywhere you go. If you can’t afford the nano, but want the same portability, the iPod shuffle is for you. If you don’t exercise, and generally wear pants with pockets, spend a bit more and get an iPod touch. As amazing and tiny as the new nano is, it is ‘nano’ and you’ve got to take the good with the bad.

One Comment

One person was compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Zamil says:

    Well here’s my argument: I am a sport savvy person, and I love to take my morning jogs and I love my music with me when I’m running. But I still won’t buy the nano..why? Touch screen is not a necessity for a daily jogger. In fact, quite the opposite, I rather feel buttons when I’m focussing on my run. I don’t really have the time or need to navigate through music when I’m actually aiming to cover the distance. In this case, iPod shuffle + a good preparation of playlist prior to my run wins. Secondly, PRICE! Apple has yet to justify why does it cost AS MUCH as their predecessors, but does LESS THAN half the things the 5th generation nano could do?! Not playing video–whether worthwhile on a nano or not, should be a consumer’s decision…not Apple’s. I was stoked when my 4th generation nano could play videos..although it was small, it meant that I didn’t need to buy an expensive iPod touch. I love Apple products, but I think they’re going backwards with the Nano development.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us