iPod nano: Everything You Need to Know

7th Gen. iPod nano
image credit: Apple Inc.

Apple's iPod nano sits in the middle of the iPod line. It offers a combination of good performance and features and relatively low price.

It doesn't offer the big screen or big storage capacity like the iPod touch, but it's got more features than the Shuffle—and a screen. For people looking for a solid, no-frills music player, the iPod nano is a great choice.

The iPod nano has always been a lightweight, portable MP3 player, but has added features include video playback, video recording and an FM tuner over the years.

While this has made the nano much more like its competitors (which long used an FM tuner to differentiate themselves), it's still among the top portable music devices of its kind.

Read on to learn all about the iPod nano, its history, features, and how to buy and use it.

iPod nano Models

The iPod nano debuted in the Fall of 2005 and has been updated roughly every year since. The models are:

  • 1st Generation - The original model, which offered a small color screen and 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB capacity.
  • 2nd Generation - This update doubled capacity - 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB - and brought colors to the exterior of the nano line.
  • 3rd Generation - A big change to the nano, now with a squat form factor and video playback. Models offered 4GB and 8GB capacity.
  • 4th Generation - A return to the vertical form factor, capacity raised to 16GB at the high-end, and nine brightly colored models.
  • 5th Generation - The same form factor as the 4th generation model, but added a video camera and FM tuner to create a very versatile, capable iPod.
  • 6th Generation - A major redesign in shape and functionality. This model adds a multitouch screen, removes video playback and the video camera, and changes how you use the nano in a way some users didn't like.
  • 7th Generation - Another major redesign. The 7th gen. model adds a big touchscreen and a home button, making it look like a shrunken iPod touch. It also restores video playback and adds support for Bluetooth headphones and speakers.

    Hardware Features

    Over the years, iPod nano models have offered many different kinds of hardware. The current model sports the following hardware features:

    • Screen - A 2.5-inch multitouch screen, rectangular in shape.
    • Touchscreen - Like its predecessor, the most recent nano has a touchscreen for controlling it (no more Clickwheel on any nano models). Like the iPhone and iPad, it supports multitouch controls.
    • Memory - The iPod nano uses solid state Flash memory to store music and other data.
    • Accelerometer - Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh generation nanos include an accelerometer like in the iPhone and iPod touch that allows the display to automatically re-orient itself based on how the nano is held. 
    • FM Tuner - The Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh generation models also sport an FM tuner that allows users to listen to and record radio, as well as tag favorite songs for later purchase.
    • Bluetooth - Connecting to wireless headphones and speakers is supported on the Seventh generation model using this close-range wireless technology.
    • Lightning Dock Connector - The Seventh generation nano uses Apple's Lightning dock connector for syncing with computers, the same small port used on the iPhone 5. All previous nano models used Apple's Dock Connector port.

      Buying an iPod nano

      The many useful features of the iPod nano add up to a compelling package. If it's compelling enough to you that you're considering buying an iPod nano, read these articles:

      To help you in your buying decision, check out these reviews:

      Setup and Use

      Once you've bought your new iPod nano, you need to set it up before you can start using it.

      The set-up process is pretty easy and quick, and once you've completed it, you can move on to the good stuff, like:

      If you bought an iPod nano to upgrade from another iPod or MP3 player, there may be music on your old device that you want to transfer to your computer before setting up your nano. There are a few ways to do this, but the easiest is probably by using third-party software.

      iPod nano Help

      The iPod nano is a pretty simple device to use. You may run into a few instances in which you need troubleshooting tips, such as:

      You’ll also want to take precautions with your nano and yourself, such as avoiding hearing loss or theft, and how to save your nano if it gets very wet.

      After a year or two, you may start to notice some degradation of the nano's battery life. When that time comes, you’ll need to decide whether to buy a new MP3 player or look into battery replacement services.

      How Does the iPod Clickwheel Work?

      While it's not present on the current generations, earlier models of the iPod nano used the famous iPod Clickwheel for clicking and scrolling. Learning how the Clickwheel works will help you appreciate what a great bit of engineering it is.

      Using the Clickwheel for basic clicking simply involves buttons. The wheel has icons at its four sides, one each for menu, play/pause, and back and forward. It also has a center button. Beneath each of these icons is a sensor that, when pressed, sends the appropriate signal to the iPod.

      Pretty simple, eh? Scrolling's a bit more complicated.

      The Clickwheel uses a technology similar to that used in touchpad mice on laptops (while Apple now uses a Clickwheel that it developed, the original Clickwheels used on iPods were made by Synaptics, a company that makes touchpads), called capacitive sensing.

      When it comes to scrolling, you first need to know that the iPod Clickwheel is composed of a couple of layers. On top is the plastic cover used for scrolling and clicking. Beneath that is a membrane that conducts electrical charges. The membrane is attached to a cable that send signals to the iPod.

      The membrane has conductors built into it called channels. Each at place where channels cross each other, an address point is created.

      The iPod is always sending electricity through this membrane. When a conductor—in this case, your finger; remember, the human body conducts and contains electricity—touches the clickwheel, the membrane tries to complete the circuit by sending electricity to your finger. But, since people probably wouldn't like getting shocks from their iPods, the plastic cover of the touch wheel blocks the current from going to your finger. Instead, the channels in the membrane detect what address point the charge is at, which tells the iPod what kind of command you're sending to it via the Clickwheel.