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Review: iPod nano (2012)

Apple's new seventh generation iPod nano changes the model's direction from being a square, wearable, audio-only faux-iOS device to being a sort of mini iPod touch, but lacking any cameras, mic, WiFi or apps beyond the typical iPod features bundled with it.

Six generations of iPod nano

Since the iPod nano first appeared in 2005 as the replacement for the hard drive based iPod mini, Apple has frequently experimented with its design, trying to pin down how to best target the market for a device more sophisticated than the screen-free iPod shuffle, yet sufficiently differentiated from the high end flagship iPod: a compact, simple device with a functional display.

The first iPod nano was incredibly thin due to its use of flash memory, and delivered a (1.5 inch, 176x132) color screen the mini lacked. The second introduced an aluminum case in a range of colors. The third experimented with a smaller form factor with a nearly square shape that more closely associated it with the design of the classic iPod. However, it was not well received, despite delivering new video playback on its significantly larger and sharper (2 inch, 320×240) screen.

Apple replaced the "fat nano" with a taller fourth generation iPod nano that put the same display in portrait orientation, automatically flipping to landscape when playing video. The company subsequently enhanced it with an even taller display (2.2 inch, 240×376) paired with an FM tuner, VGA video recording camera, and built-in pedometer support for Nike+ workouts on the fifth generation iPod nano.

In 2010, Apple again experimented with the direction of the iPod nano, releasing a smaller (1.54 inch, 240×240), square touchscreen display that got rid of the physical click wheel and ditched not just the camera (and mic and speaker) but video playback as well.

This sixth nano resembled an iPod shuffle with a screen instead of a click wheel. Icons on the touchscreen appeared to be iOS apps, although the nano continued to use specialized software that was unable to run App Store titles. The company positioned the new device to be wearable as a watch when outfitted with a wristband, and last year offered a series of custom watch faces for it.

The new iPod nano 7

This year, the wearable iPod nano is gone, replaced with the largest, widest screen an iPod nano has ever had (2.5 inch, 240x432) and restored video playback

It retains a touchscreen, pairing it with an iPhone-like Home button that makes it look like a tiny iPhone (or iPod touch-nano). It even has a Lightning connector (so don't expect to use it with existing Docks without an adapter) as well as new Bluetooth 4.0 for pairing it to wireless speakers or headphones and 'hands free' car integration systems.

This repositioning makes sense because for years Apple has reported that half of the iPods it sells are the iPod touch. It now has what appears to be a new, very small iPod touch to offer at $149/16GB, priced just below last year's 16GB iPod touch and half the price of the cheapest $299/32GB new fifth generation iPod touch.

Apple is still selling out the remaining inventory of previous square iPod nanos, but will not continue to sell these like the 4G iPod touch. Inventory checks in San Francisco indicate that Apple has virtually sold out its entire 6th generation iPod namos, and has very constrained supplies of the new models in most colors. Other retailers still have some supplies of last year's models, and few had any of the new models yet.