How and why to use the iPod Nano. All features, including accessibility, VoiceOver and Nike+. Learn why Nano can be better then iPhone.

A Brief History in Nano

The revolutionary music player known as iPod was released 10 years ago in 2001 and has evolved a lot since then and also made the way for its siblings, iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano.

Before iPod Nano there was iPod Mini, a smaller version of the iPod (now known as iPod Classic). But in 2005 Apple decided to move forward with a new even smaller, lighter and most importantly flash memory based with no moving parts. This new device was named iPod Nano.

Every year since the first generation Nano, Apple has introduced a new version. Often again smaller and lighter. Until 2011 where the believed to be 7G version actually was the 6G with updated software that also came for the same one year old hardware.

The first version to support some kind of accessibility (except being able to change text size) was the 4G nano in 2008. It came with something called ”Spoken Menus”. What it did was that it took you synthetic voice on you computer and sampled recordings of some essential menus and all of the song titles.

The next year the 5G came out and supported both ”Spoken Menus” and had VoiceOver! Not exactly VoiceOver as on the Mac or iPhone but something called ”VoiceOver Kit” which was introduced 6 months earlier with the, button-less, third generation iPod Shuffle.

VO Kit made it possible to use the device without having any voices on you computer and in many languages. Still only accessible with some menus, but is probably the cheapest way to buy an accessible music player that got radio, video, video recored, speaker, 16GB of memory and physical buttons.

Touch Your Music

To bring you to present time, the new design that was introduced 2010 is an all multi-touch based and iOS like device. It is pretty much just a 1.5” inch, multi-touch screen and not much of a bezel or buttons.

The only physical buttons are the 2 volume buttons and a sleep button. But you can connect a headset via the 3.5 mm jack (placed opposite to the lock button) and use the cord buttons if you wish, or even plug it into most iPod accessories, like speakers or alarm clocks.

So maybe you wonder how to control the device without the classic scroll-wheel? It is easier then ever… you just do as Steve Jobs said when he introduced iPhone back in 2007 – ”You can touch your music”. So now you use your fingers to preform gestures like scrolling and selecting music.

How it Works in Practice

After syncing over music and media you want from iTunes and also made sure that your device software is up to date (current version is 1.2), you can detach the cable from your computer and start using it.

Now on the screen you will be on the so called ”Home Screen” and presented with a big ”Music” icon. You will also see a glimpse of another icon to the right, this means you can swipe to move between icons. When you swipe, pretend the screen surface is a piece of paper… so for example, when you drag/swipe your finger to the left the content will follow and move the icons on the right to the center of the screen.

You can do more then listen to music with this thing. When you swipe through the home screen you will find many apps.

If you want you can even re-arrange them in any order you like. To do this you can hold a finger on the app you want to move until it starts to shake, then drag it to the desired position (this is not yet available for VoiceOver users). Also if you want to have more overview you can, in the settings there’s an option for small icons if you uncheck this you will have 4 smaller icons per home screen page. You can also hide the apps you don’t need here.

Music App

Just as you might expect you will see a list of categories containing all your playable media. Sort by song, artist or album. Start one of your synced playlists. Or even listen to a podcast or an iTunes U class.

The same scrolling mechanism goes here but vertical. Swipe up to go further down the list. And just press the list or song you want to play. When the song start you will see the album cover and if you click on it the controls will appear.

Now if you want to go back you can do so by swiping to the right. Or if you want to go to the home screen you can simply press and hold for 1 second anywhere on the screen and you will be back. When music is playing there will be a new icon on the home screen that takes you back to the current playing song.

You can use Apple’s headset with mic and controls to change between songs and playlist and more, read full list of commands further down this article. But you can also allow to double click the lock button to act as pause/play or as next song. The latter is set to default, but can be changed in the settings.

Radio

This is the only Apple device with built-in FM radio. It works in many regions and can be changed in the settings.

You can change the radio frequency by dragging a slider or by pressing next or previous channel. When you find a channel you like you can save it to favorites by taping the star icon in the lower left hand corner. To access your bookmarked channels you can go into radio options by pressing the ”i”, then select favorites in the list.

A very handy feature is to live pause. If you, for example, listening to a a hockey game and gets a phone call; you can swipe left and press the pause button. When you later want to resume, you just hit play again. Or if you missed the good joke on the morning show, you can hit a button to jump back 30 seconds, then when you heard what you missed you can jump back live again. You can pause or go back up to 15 minutes in total and there is a bar to tell you how much after the live broadcast you are.

The radio also get song names sent to it so you know which song and artist playing right now. And if you want you can ”tag” the song, and when you sync with iTunes you can buy those songs faster.

Fitness and Nike+

The number 1 reason for buying an iPod Nano is because of its portability, and all of the fitness capabilities.

Not only is iPod Nano extremely small and compact, it also got a clip on its back which makes it possible for you to attach it on your sweater or on your wrist. Speaking of wrist… there are a lot of wrist band accessories out there, Apple has one and Nike has one that is customized for use with the Nike+ equipment. Or you can use a more stylish wrist band made for daily use to make your Nano act as a wrist watch. By using any of the above will make it effortless to wear when you’re out and about, walking or running.

When you are ready to start using the fitness features of iPod Nano it’s a good idea to activate the built-in pedometer, by open the Fitness app and go into Walking. You can see some stats here as well, such as burned calories and steps, but you can also see you steps on the status bar at the top of screen. If you don’t want to keep track of you walks and steps anymore you can always stop it in the Fitness app and if you wish resume it when you are ready again.

To push your limit further, you can set a goal of how many steps per day. And you can enter your weight and height, so the calories burned indicator is more accurate. This is done in the Settings app.

Pedometer on iPod Nano is actually the best and easiest way to track your steps if you are visually-impaired or blind, since this functionality is lacking on iPhone and iPod Touch. And as of now you can’t make an app for iOS devices that can do that in the background.

Another feature that is not yet on iPhone is the ability to run and keep track of distance and more… without the Nike+ Sensor and a pair of compatible shoes to go with it. But to be fair there are a lot of apps for iPhone that can do this with use of the GPS signal, like RunKeeper or Nike’s own Nike+ GPS. If you have an iPod Touch your only choice is to buy the shoes and sensor, since it doesn’t have a GPS chip.

To start the Run tracking do the same as with Walking, but now you have a few more choices… Run a set distance or time, and even run until you have burned a chosen number of calories. You can also run without any of these, and just run as much or long as you want.

After deciding what sort of training you want you can choose whether to shuffle songs, listen to a playlist, read an audio book, see what’s on the radio or don’t listen to anything at all.

Now you just hit start and begin your running workout. While you run you can see your stats - distance, time, pace and calories burned - on the screen or if you have a headset with buttons you can hold the middle button to hear the stats read by either a Male or Female voice (can be changed in Settings). The voice feedback also let you know your progress of the chosen style of training, for example if you choose to run 30 minutes the voice says when you have completed 5 minutes and tells you when it’s 1 minute left.

If you need to pause during a workout you can tap pause on the screen or press the headset middle button and the same again to resume. If you stand still to long it will automatically stop the workout along with the music and resume when you start running again.

When you’ve finished a run you also hear the voice to let you know you’ve reached the goal and you can choose to end the training or continue running without progress feedback. To stop you tap the stop button and a list of stats appear as the voice reads it to you loud.

To get even more accurate tracking you can attach a Nike+ Sensor to the iPod Nano and pair it with a sensor you put in compatible Nike+ shoes. The iPod only relays on the accelerometer but the Nike+ Sensor, which is co-developed with Apple, allows for more accuracy with more sensors reading your steps and speed.

The Nike+ Sensor also allow you to connect a compatible Heart Rate Monitor, like Polar WearLink+, so you can see and hear your current heart rate and see stats after your finished. This feature is also unique to iPod Nano and not yet on the iPhone or iPod touch.

As far as I know Nano and Nike+ Heart Rate is the only accessible way to keep track of heart rate for visually-impaired.

You also buy a Nike+ wrist band controller and pair the sensor and Nano. With it you can wirelessly press buttons on your wrist to play and pause music, stop and resume workout and also to hear spoken feedback. The wrist controller is also compatible with iOS devices.

At some gyms there are Nike+ compatible workout machines such as treadmills and exercise bikes. You can then put in the iPod (or even iPhone) to a 30-pin-connector on the exercise machine and it start to feed data between the devices.

You can see all your runs and stats that you have done with the Nano in the App. But you can also upload it via iTunes to NikePlus.com to collect your runs. You can see graphs, set individual goals to meet, gain points to level up and compete with friends and others around the world. You can also share your runs on Twitter and Facebook via NikePlus.com

Your steps is saved on another Nike site, NikePlusActive.com where you can see stats and play with Nike Fuel points to travel and conquer cities and much more.

Pictures and Photos

Yes, you can actually show pictures with this tiny screen. But no video as you could with the last few generations of iPod Nanos. Also no camera this time.

Never the less, you can sync pictures from iTunes so you can have pictures of your loved ones. And with the resolution of 240x240 and pixel density of 220 pixels per inch, the screen actually make pictures look quiet good. If it’s to tiny you can always pinch with 2 fingers to zoom in and out on the viewed photo.

A quiet creative way to use this function is to put your company logo on it and attach the iPod Nano to your shirt or suit and walk around conferences with guaranteed attention. A really good ice breaker for perhaps important conversations.

Voice Memos

Yet again this Nano lacks features the previous generation had, this time it’s a built-in microphone. But with it’s compact format and ease of use we forgive it.

Even sans microphone you can use the Voice Memo app to record sounds with either a supported headset or a third-party manufactured mic that could be connected via the earphone jack or even the 30-pin jack.

Before you start your recording you can see a sound meeter so you know how to level your voice. Press start to begin recording, pause to pause and stop to finish and save it. With a headset you can use the middle button to start, pause and resume but have to use the screen button to stop and save it.

Once it’s saved you can listen to it by going into the list of all saved recordings. Or you can sync them over to your Mac or PC via iTunes.

A small disappointment with this app is when using VoiceOver screen reader to use it, the speaking voice to indicate a recording has started, paused or resumed is clearly heard by the headset mic and is recorded along the desired content. Fix this Apple.

The Clock

A big improvement since the previous generation Nano is the small size and the ability to show a clock over the whole screen.

The clocks appearance and look can be customized with 18 good looking clock faces to show the time in various ways and for different occasions. All from regular watch faces in different colors to digital watches and even some Disney themed ones like Mickey Mouse.

If you find the clock hard to see or just want to reverse the color of the chosen clock face, you can enable invert colors in the settings. This apply across the whole system and all menus.

If you find that the clock or any other screen on the Nano is rotated wrong according to you, then you can rotate the screen your self by putting two fingers on the screen and twist. No matter if you use it on your wrist, on your shirt or just looking at someone else's wrist you can just rotate it to see it so it’s right for you.

As I mentioned in the fitness section, there is a lot of cool accessories for the Nano. You can actually buy a wrist band, in many different colors, to turn your Nano into a good looking wrist watch. And use it like any other watch.

Speaking of different colors, you can choose between 7 different colors when you buy your iPod Nano. The colors are: Black, Blue, Green, Pink, Red, Silver and Yellow. The red one is exclusive to Apple Store and supports and donates money to Aids research.

The only negative about the Clock and iPod Nano is the lack of a speaker, so that visually-impaired wouldn’t have to use earphones to hear the time if they wish so.

Aside from the normal watch, there is a Timer function which is very easy to use with only one button to start and stop. To set time you just swipe up or down on the time until you see your preferred minutes. You can also choose which sound to play when time is up or to put iPod to sleep. This is very handy when you go to bed and want to read an audio book or listen to music without waling up on the last chapter or to Ozzy Osborn screaming as you wake up.

There is also a Stop Watch to time how fast you can solve a Rubix Cube or anything else you wish. You can also take lap times.

Accessibility

This iPod Nano and current firmware (1.2) supports 29 languages: Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Cantonese (Traditional Chinese), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Traditional Chinese, Turkish.

Along clear contrast and colors you can adjust brightness to see more clearly in sun light or lower it if you are light sensitive.

If you have hard of hearing on one ear or better hearing on on side, you can enable Mono Sound so all sounds sound equal in both ears. You can enable this in accessibility settings or via iTunes.

For changing the color and If you have trouble reading the black text on white, you can Invert colors to get white-on-black instead. This works system wide so that pictures, clock and all interfaces show the inverted color. You can enable this in accessibility settings or via iTunes.

Completely accessible with VoiceOver screen reader for blind and visually-impaired. Makes it possible to use all functionality that the iPod Nano brings. Touch a menu or item to hear what it is and double tap to open, activate or play it. You can enable this in accessibility settings or via iTunes.

Note: If you don’t see accessibility settings in iTunes you must upgrade the Nano to the latest firmware version. In version 1.0 If you had a scree reader activated on your computer the Nano automatically activated VoiceOver, without the ability to set it in iTunes.

Gestures and Buttons

Gestures

Gesture Action
Tap an item Activate or Opens it
Swipe Left Go to next page or screen
Swipe Right Go to previous screen or go back
Swipe Up/Down Scroll menus up or down or change input numbers
2 Finger Pinch Zoom in and out on pictures
2 Finger Twist Rotate Screen
Tap and hold Go back to home screen

iPod Buttons

Buttons Action
Volume Up/Down Change the volume respectively
Lock Lock and turn off the screen
Press Lock 2 times Shuffle song or go to next (set in Settings)
Hold Lock Turn off iPod
Hold Lock & Volume Down Force restart the device

Headset Buttons

Buttons Action
Top Button Volume up
Bottom Button Volume Down
Middle Button Start, Pause and Resume. Song, Workout, Voice Memo etc
Middle 2 times Next song, radio station etc
Middle 3 times Previous song, radio station etc
Short Hold middle Hear current playing song or workout stats
Long Hold middle Voice Menu, choose playlist, audiobook, etc. Browse with top/bottom buttons

VoiceOver Gestures

Gesture Action
Touch/Feel around Speaks and select item
Tap 2 times fast Activate, open, play item
Swipe left/right Go to previous/next item
Swipe up/down Scroll menus down/up
2 finger swipe left Go to next page/screen
2 Finger swipe right Go to previous page/screen or go back
Tap and hold Go to home screen

Note: You can’t Split-Tap, read word by word, or by character nor rotate screen or move Home Screen icons with VoiceOver

Conclusion

A compact, portable and wearable device that looks extremely good. It may lack some features that the previous Nano had, like watching movies, a video camera, speaker and microphone. It compete with great functions like doubling as a wrist watch, a more sophisticated workout device, multi-touch display and clip to attach it any where you wish. And also fully accessible for blind and visually-impaired.

Whit its new lower price point of 129$ for 8GB and 149$ for 16GB storage, it really compete and stands out in the world of MP3-players and even digital watches.

But as a new category of ”Smart Watches” rises and competition gets stronger, Apple has to improve the next generation quite a bit I believe. Now that doesn’t impact this 6th generation iPod Nano, but the lack of speaker and microphone will drag down the point some.

Overall it makes a fantastic product and I do recommend it for its workout features and clock. Even if you own an iPhone or iPod touch. And with battery life of continues song playback for 24 hours it makes a great companion to your smartphone.

Plus
  • Wearability and Workout features
  • Clock faces and accessories
  • Completely accessible with VoiceOver
Minus
  • Lack of speaker
  • No built-in microphone
  • Some things could work better with VoiceOver
Score 4 out of 5