Well, I haven't posted a product review for a while, so I think it's about time to take another gadget through its paces. Today's subject? The elusive and controversial iPod Nano Watch. It's an iPod Nano that attaches to one of hundreds of aftermarket watch bands, and the two items have been the subject of a lot of nerd rage lately.
New to the iPod Nano? Well, it's one of Apple's latest MP3 players, much in the same vein as the iPod Shuffle. It's squarish, small, light, comes in a myriad of colors and has all the capabilities of the Shuffle, only it includes a 1.54-inch diagonal TFT touchscreen display on its front. Yes, a touchscreen. Trust me, with Apple's genius-laced touch implementation, it's very easy to use.
I have yet to see somebody strolling along with one of these creatures on. Sure, you'll see a plethora of DKNY and Rolex wristwatches whilst perusing the local mall, but the idea of taking an MP3 player, in this case the 6th generation iPod Nano, and using it as one still isn't mainstream. So why is putting a Nano on a watch band "controversial?" Well, I've read several reviews lately from some big blogs here and here, and it seems that there are enough nitpicks the authors have with using an iPod Nano as a watch that keep them from using it as such full-time. Some opinions range from the Nano being too big for a watch to it not having enough watch-like features to be a full-time replacement. But, there are hundreds of companies now manufacturing bands to allow use of the Nano as a watch, so that counts for something, right?
So, how does it stack up to this particular tech nerd? Here's my experience...
First of all, I am always impressed when I take an Apple product out of the box. The design thought that goes into the packaging is sometimes just as impressive as the product itself. The Nano isn't an exception. After I carefully unwrapped the plastic safety contraptions and removed the unit from the box, I was immediately greeted with yet another wonderfully-manufactured product. I purchased the "Graphite" colored Nano, which puts the finish color on-par with the substance that's been in the center of our #2 pencils for decades. The tactile feel of the unit is smooth, yet a bit matte due to the brushed nature of the aluminum Apple uses. This is definitely not something that I'd be afraid to brandish around while exercising (hey, it's Winter...I WILL start walking and hiking again when it gets warm!) or rolling around town with.
Once I unwrapped the cabling that comes with the Nano (standard iPod USB cable and basic Apple headphones), I plugged it into my MacBook Pro to synchronize with iTunes. It only took a few minutes to get all of my required playlists synchronized with the Nano, and since the unit was almost fully charged right out of the box, I was ready to rock. Since my ultimate goal was to use the Nano as a watch and an MP3/audiobook player equally, I had researched and pre-ordered an iWatchz watch band, which is manufactured specifically to fit an iPod Nano 6th gen onboard. My Nano had to sit around as a regular music player for a couple of days until the band arrived, but that gave me time to make sure I had all the touch controls down-pat.
Once the iWatchz band arrived, I opened that box and promptly married the Nano and watch band via an extremely simple plastic baseplate made to accommodate the Nano perfectly. The design of the band is such that you can add and remove the Nano in just a few seconds, depending on what situation you plan on participating in. One thing was immediately apparent once the two were together: I would absolutely NOT be ashamed to wear this watch in public. In fact, the graphite Nano complimented the black iWatchz band perfectly, and looked rather dapper, I must say. Seriously, it appeared as though the two were manufactured by the same company.
The watch band is made with the industry standard silicone materials and appears as though it is as durable as any other band of its type. The buckle assembly looks to be stainless steel, and overall, the band has a very nice smooth and sporty look.
What about the actual functionality of the watch? Well, I can honestly say that I like the fact that the watch face is black when I'm not using it, but it's instantly a watch when I want it to be. You see, it's just like an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad in that it will be "asleep" until you want to do something with it. There are only three buttons along one side of the Nano (along the right side in this particular watch band): the sleep/wake button and the volume up and volume down buttons. Normally, if the screen is black and you press the sleep/wake button, the face would show your "home" screen, which is like a 4x4-icon iPhone screen. You can swipe through screens of icons (4 icons per "page") and choose functions such as playlists, artists, radio (in conjunction with the supplied earbuds as the antenna), photos (yes, you can add your own photos for slideshows via iTunes and iPhoto or through disk use on a Windows PC), fitness (works with Nike Sport Kit products) and last but not least, the "clock" app. This is the main app that provides us with the ability to use the Nano as a watch.
So, as I said, normally the Nano will wake up to a homescreen of icons. However, there is a setting that allows you to set the clock as the visible item any time you wake up the Nano with the sleep/wake button. The downside? You have to press the button to display the watch when you want the time. Is this really a palpable problem? Not for me. The Nano watch looks very futuristic with a black face, and honestly, there's not much effort involved with reaching less than a foot and lightly pressing one button to check the time. The normal watch functions of stopwatch and timer are present as well by swiping the clock face to the left.
I do have a couple of suggestions for Apple, however, seeing as the software version for the Nano currently stands at 1.0. I think that there should be a viable app ecosystem to include the iPod Nano as well as the iPhone, iTouch and iPad. For fitness folks, those who hike and bike and quite a few other groups, having an expanded choice in apps would be HUGE for both Apple and app developers. We've already seen how the app store for all the previously mentioned items is flourishing, and the Nano would add yet another layer of cash to those willing to step into the ring. It's really a win/win situation. Another addition that would make this device that much further ahead of the curve would be to add Bluetooth capability. Right now, some of the accessories for the Nano (like the Nike Sport Kit) utilize an add-on adapter that plugs into the bottom of the Nano's connection port to communicate with a carried receiver to perform tasks such as GPS tracking for long runs. If Bluetooth was built into the Nano unit itself, peripheral accessories such as Bluetooth headphones could be comfortably worn like they can with an iPhone. I think the possibilities are endless as to what you could do with a device profile like the Nano if you have the right software mix.
Overall, I'm very pleased with this combination. The watch is very comfortable, it doesn't sit up high on my wrist like some watches (Casio G-Shocks have been particularly bad about this on my dainty wrists over the years), and the overall size of the watch is no bigger than a dozen others I've owned. I can plug in my earbuds (which protrude from the left side of the watch as it sits on your left wrist) while wearing the watch, and if I really wanted, I could even plug in the USB cable to synchronize the Nano as I wore it. A bonus to having this watch with me has been that it also works on the iPod compatible stereo system in my vehicle. I just plug and play no matter whether I've got my iPhone, iPod Nano or iPad plugged in.
The iPod Nano retails for $149USD and the iWatchz band retails for $24.95 making this watch more affordable than several of the watches I've purchased over the years (which have had less functionality, in my opinion).