I'm a serial iPod buyer. I've owned every model of the ubiquitous music player since its birth on Oct. 23, 2001.
The first iPods cost $400 and introduced us to the idea of carrying around thousands of songs in our pocket. After a decade of improvements, Apple has added color screens, color casing, much larger capacity and much smaller footprints. It seems that whenever Apple introduces an iPod that anyone would enjoy, they find one more tweak that makes me yell, "I gotta have it."
The iPod Nano, $129 for 8GB and $149 for 16GB, brings the iPod back to its roots as a music player. It lacks the portable computer brains of the latest iPhones and iPod touches, but has enough bonus technology to make it a worthy holiday gift at a reasonable price.
Tiny Size, But Big Features
The Nano lives up to its diminutive name. It's a small package; a sturdy 1.5-by-1.6-inch cube shape with a skinny backside that weighs less than an ounce. The screen is very bright and sharp and looks beautiful when showing the cover art of the songs you are playing or the photos you have loaded from your computer. The casing comes in 7 colors and conveniently clips on to your clothes or a bag.
The Nano comes with a pair of white headphones and a standard 30 pin cable so you can sync your music or photos from your Mac or PC using the free iTunes software. This generation of the Nano cannot take photos, record or play videos, and will not load the add-on apps from Apple's app store for other devices.
Music, audio books and podcasts play smoothly on a battery that lasts over 24 hours of continuous play.
It has a touch screen, so volume and an on/off switch are the only physical controls. You can swipe, drag, and rotate your way through the screen and even shake it up to randomize the playlist. The performance is great.
I really enjoy the included Nike+ app that lets you chart a jog or count your steps with the built-in pedometer. (Doctors recommend a goal of 10,000 steps a day!)
The iPod Nano has a built in accelerometer. You don't need to connect any additional shoe sensor to track distance, pace or time. When you sync with your computer you can send the data to the Nike+ website to keep track of goals or challenge your friends.
There is a built in FM tuner for live audio that displays the track name and artist and even lets you pause or rewind programming 15 seconds.
The strangest breakout success of the Nano to me has been the 18 built-in digital watch faces. People seem to enjoy wearing the Nano on a wristband (sold separately) and choosing between the analog, digital and animated Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog faces. Tweet me and let me know your favorite watch.
The Nano is a retro iPod with no cloud or Wi-Fi to worry about. Any music lover or workout enthusiast will want one. The interface is easy to navigate, the included apps are useful and there are no expensive parts to replace.