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Review: iPod nano (2012)

iPod touch-nano

Beyond the clear family resemblance (below, the new iPod nano next to an iPhone 4S and the new iPod touch), however, the latest iPod nano is significantly differentiated from the iPod touch. Like last year's model, it doesn't run iOS apps. Rather than appearing like it might (or should), Apple has given it very differentiated round icons for the half dozen "apps" included on it. It also has a circle on its Home button, rather than the rounded square of standard iOS devices.

This leaves the newest iPod nano configured a bit like Apple TV: static features that might be updated by Apple, but which are currently limited to what you see (there is no App Store for nano apps). Those features are: Music, Videos, Fitness (Nike+), Podcasts, Photos, FM Radio (an iPod nano exclusive feature) and a Clock with stopwatch and timer features.

Along with a Lightning to USB cable, Apple only includes basic EarPod headphones in the box, but if you plug in iPhone-style headphones with an integrated mic, a seventh app appears: Voice Memos, for recording via the headphone's mic (there is no built in mic on the new iPod nano). Note that any audio playback automatically pauses when you begin recording, so you can't, for example, record yourself singing over a track.

Nano Physics

The new iPod nano, at first glance, looks like a small Nokia Lumia 800, but that's because the Lumia actually looks like a 2004 iPod mini with an iPhone's face attached to the front.

In addition to its Home button, the nano has On/Off/Sleep/Wake button on the top and a standard headphone jack and Lightning port on the bottom, on either side of what appears to be the plastic window for Bluetooth radio signals. Unlike some previous generations of the iPod nano, there's no camera, no mic and no speaker.

There's a physical "up/down/center" click control for volume and playback on the side of the device (unlike the iPhone and iPod touch, which only have volume buttons). The center button starts and stops playback, and when held, initiates Apple's excellent VoiceOver screenreader features. The physical playback control works just like the integrated mic/playback control on Apple's iPhone-style headphones.

Touchscreen playback controls work as flawlessly with the same light touch you'd expect of an iPhone. There are few opportunities to use its multitouch features, but you can, for example, pinch to zoom when looking at photos.

The 2.5 inch, 240x432 display is neither quite as bright nor as razor sharp as Apple's Retina Display (it is 202 ppi, vs 326 on iPhone 5), but is still very good for watching video and bright enough to serve as a flashlight for finding your way back to tent if you crank the screen up. Brightness is set at about 30 percent by default. The screen dims itself pretty quickly, about the same as an iOS device.

Apple rates battery life at 30 hours for audio, the longest of any iPod nano (most previous generations were rated for 24 hours of audio). Playing back video, however, Apple only gives you 3.5 hours on a full charge, the shortest span of any video-capable nano (earlier models were rated at 4-5, although Apple's standards on battery life estimates have gotten more stringent).

The 3 inch by 1.6 inch (77 x 40 mm) device is just 5.4 mm thick and weighs just over an ounce (31 grams). It feels sturdy and rigid. It doesn't feel fragile enough to need a case or particularly careful handling. The aluminum shell can probably be scratched with some effort, but looks to be harder to scuff and smear up than the mirrored finish back of previous iPods.

Press hard enough and you can temporarily discolor the screen (not recommended!), and if you press hard enough on either side of the Home button, you can activate it. This isn't really a big issue because music will continue to play; it's not likely to be knocked out of commission inadvertently. It does support "shake to shuffle," although this requires a very purposeful shake to initiate the feature (which can be turned off if it messes with your workout).

The new nano is a bit big to wear as a watch, but if you wanted to start a new fashion trend you certainly could, taking advantage of the several (albeit fewer than previously) clock faces available under settings (all you need is an small armband or a big wrist, or perhaps both). There's no clothing clip or bands from (or included by) Apple, so if you want to wear it in any fashion you'll have to go shopping around. Amazon offers various options starting around $15.