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IPod Nano Generation 6

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The sixth-generation iPod Nano is a brilliant bit of technology, and even more so if you don’t have to pay for it. Our Nanos began their lives as first-generation iPod Nanos, which Apple recently recalled after almost a decade of faithful service due to some concern about their batteries catching fire. The recall promised that these ancient players, once returned to Apple, would be replaced with equally ancient refurbished first-generation Nanos… having decidedly less infernal batteries.

One can only surmise that Apple seriously underestimated the number of first-generation iPod Nanos still lurking in the drawers and glove compartments of the known universe, because by the time our old Nanos trudged through the recall process, the supply of replacement first-generation iPods had clearly been exhausted. We received shiny – and apparently factory-fresh – sixth-generation iPod Nanos instead.

The sixth-generation iPod Nano is something of a departure from its ancestors. It’s about the size of a watch, and as will turn up in a moment, it can be worn in place of one. The traditional click wheel so long a fixture of iPod players – and some notable patent infringement suits – is history. Rather than having been pressed from sheet metal, the case of a sixth-generation Nano is milled from aluminum. That which transpires within it seriously rocks.

First among its better tricks, the sixth-generation iPod Nano is a superb music player. Its sound quality is exemplary, and plugged into Apple’s iTunes software, downloading music to a Nano is a seamless, intuitive undertaking. I should note that while the software that drives an iPod bears the same name as Apple’s lucrative on-line retail music store, you can sync an iPod with music from your own collection of CDs and MP3s. I’m proud of having never actually bought any music through iTunes.

The iPod Nano’s audio reproduction is said to span twenty hertz to twenty kilohertz, which is way better than the range of my ears. As an aside, it’s also way better than the range of the low-end ear buds that usually accompany iPods. I replaced these with a set of Sennheiser LX 70 headphones and the already impressive sound of a Nano grew more impressive still.

The sixth-generation iPod Nano supports almost any data format that can be used to store music, including AAC, MP3, Audible, AAX, AIFF and WAV.

Bereft of a click-wheel, all the interface options of a sixth-generation iPod Nano involve gestures – that is, moving your fingers over its display panel. This actually works way better than it seems like it should, and is decidedly intuitive. If you’ve had cause to interact with any sort of tablet device, your fingers will know all the appropriate dances even before you do.

The Touch

As with iPods of earlier epochs, the sixth-generation iPod Nano will allow you to organize your music into multiple playlists. It can play through a playlist, or shuffle though one, playing its contents in a random order. You can reshuffle the list through its user interface, as well as skipping backward or forward in the list, should its selection of tunes disagree with the state of your brain at the moment.

The sixth-generation iPod Nano includes an accelerometer, and while this will at first unquestionably seem like the result of an engineer in California with way too much free time, the device applies it to a number of its features quite cleverly. In the case of its music player, you can shake an iPod Nano to cause it to shuffle its songs. This feature can be disabled, should you plan to use your Nano while standing on a paint mixing machine.

In addition to playing your music, the sixth generation iPod Nano can be an FM radio, configured in software to receive signals in pretty much any country on Earth. It’s a singularly capable FM receiver, too, with enviable signal quality and impressive range. The latter was apparent at our location way, way north of civilization, where the only station available to lesser radios is something unspeakable called Moose FM.

Despite its diminutive personality – the sixth-generation Nano measures 1.48 by 1.61 by 0.35 inches, and weighs about three-quarters of an ounce – this iPod claims to have enough battery life to play music for 24 hours straight, without getting near an iPod dock. This proved to be more or less true, albeit only if its user interface wasn’t activated. Clearly its screen backlight is way more of a power glutton than its audio hardware.

The impressively beastly case of a sixth-generation iPod Nano has a spring-loaded clip out back. You can attach it to the edge of a pocket, clip it to your belt or affix it to a watch strap and wear it in place of a conventional watch. One of the ancillary features of the iPod is a simulated clock, with a variety of faces, allowing it to complete its disguise as a timepiece.

It can also be a fitness gadget. The aforementioned accelerometer in the iPod Nano will keep track of how far you’ve walked or run, and the iPod’s internal software will calculate the number of calories you’ve burned while you were at it, among other things. It can download your workout data to a Nike+-compatible terminal or exercise device, if you want to log your results or show off your technology to the other denizens of your gym.

The Nano can also serve as a repository of photographs – albeit photographs to be viewed on a fairly diminutive screen – and a Podcast player. It can be configured to verbally describe what’s on its screen, should you have difficulty seeing it.

The user interface of the sixth-generation iPod Nano is a masterpiece of design – perhaps having come to resent the volume of iPods it was being called upon to dispatch as a result of its recall, Apple delivered our iPod without a word of documentation. The entire feature set of the device proved to be pretty much self explanatory. There’s a user guide for the iPod Nano available from Apple’s web page, but we had the iPods pretty much surrounded by the time we found the link to download it.

While I confess to never having warmed to Apple’s computers or tablets, it does make the music players of the gods. The sixth-generation iPod Nano is unquestionably an achievement. Rumor has it that it might also be the last-generation iPod Nano – increasingly, former users of dedicated MP3 players are finding that their smart phones can be pressed into service as audio devices.

If it turns out, a decade hence, that our sixth-generation iPod Nanos also came with incendiary batteries, I believe I’ll take my chances with the ones we have. They won’t be getting these iPods back.