iPod nano review -- as a watch

iPod nano watchbands -- they're everywhere! Seriously, ever since Steve Jobs said that an unnamed Apple board member jokingly planned to wear the new nano as a watch, we've seen all shapes and sizes of wristbands designed to put the diminutive media player on your wrist, ranging from the super-basic to the super-silly to the super-amazing. But hold up -- yes, we thought the new nano was a great little media player when we first reviewed it, but why hasn't anyone talked about what it's like to wear one as your watch? Is replacing your current timepiece with the nano's 1.5-inch 240 x 240 multitouch display actually a good idea? We took the nerd-bullet for you and wore one for a week to find out -- read on!

First things first: you've got to get the nano on a band. That's actually pretty easy -- not only are there a million accessory manufacturers out there willing to sell you a nano-specific band, you can also clip it onto pretty much any bigger watchband you can find. Just make sure you can tighten things down so the nano doesn't slide around -- the white band we used didn't have any adjustments so the nano felt a bit precarious. We didn't have any problems, though -- the nano's clip is definitely strong enough to survive normal use. Of course, it's a bit huge -- we tend to favor large watches, so we didn't think it was a problem, but if you have dainty wrists it might look a little silly.

Next, head into Settings / Date & Time and turn on "Time On Wake," which pops open the clockface when you hit the wake button instead of dropping you right into the homescreen. Without this setting flipped on, you're just a dork with an iPod on your wrist. You also get a choice between white and black clock face backgrounds, and... that's about it. Turns out you're going to be a dork with an iPod on your wrist no matter what, because displaying the time when the wake switch is pressed is pretty much the only watch-type function you're going to find here beyond the stopwatch and timer. And here's the biggest problem: you can't just glance at your wrist and check the time! The screen is completely dark when it's asleep, so you have to reach over and hit the wake button with your other hand to see the time, and worst of all, hitting the wake button doesn't light the screen up instantly -- there's a significant and noticeable delay of over half a second before the clock is displayed. We'd love to see something like the Nokia N8's AMOLED screen tech that dimly self-illuminates with zero power draw to display a clock while asleep used here -- it feels like a perfect solution.

Of course, you can always plug in headphones and listen to music, but it turns out having a wire connecting your head to your wrist isn't as ideal as you might imagine. Not only do you have to make sure your headphone cord is long enough for your height to avoid yanking the buds right out of your ears, but you also have to be ever-vigilant that you're not tangling things with every move of your hands. Besides, if you're the type of person who's wearing an iPod nano as a watch, well, we're going to go out on a limb and say you have a smartphone, and that's almost certainly a better music playback experience than the nano.

None of these issues are the end of the world -- most regular watches don't do more than tell the time either, and the wake button delay isn't intolerable -- but you definitely start to wonder why you have a multitouch LCD on your wrist if all you're doing with it is looking at an analog clock face. Do we have ideas on how better to make use of it? Oh, do we have ideas.

  • At the bare minimum, Apple should offer multiple clock themes. Ship with a handful of classy standards -- digital, a couple analog styles, maybe an ironic calculator face -- and sell the rest for 99 cents in the iTunes store. Instant moneymaker.

  • There's Nike+ support in this thing, which means it's likely just a firmware update away from full-on Bluetooth, and that makes things very interesting. We'd love to see the nano connect to the iPhone and act as a secondary display for notifications -- how cool would it be to check your watch and quickly see who's calling, scan your text messages and triage email subject lines? You could even add in some basic control functionality for music and video playback, and we'd kill to be able to switch a phone to mute just by tapping on our watch. Apple's getting seriously beaten to the punch here by Android -- just check out the Sony Ericsson LiveView, which almost every Engadget editor is dying to own. (Update: We misread the spec sheet -- you need to add a dongle for Nike+ on the nano. All the more reason to add full-on Bluetooth!)

  • You've got eight to 16GB of flash storage on your wrist -- you should never think about needing a USB stick ever again. All you need is the ability to partition some of that space to show up as a mass storage device -- it's not like iPod cables are hard to find anywhere you go.

  • If you're connected to an iPhone, that means you have access to the GPS -- that's instant Foursquare / Facebook Places check-ins from your watch right there. Or hey, just tap your watch while you're out taking pictures to store a log of geotagging data that you can sync up to your photos later on.

  • Why limit connectivity to the iPhone? We'd love to be able to see new IMs and emails from our PC on our watch, and the idea of a simple, wearable Apple TV remote control seems remarkably intriguing.

Trust us -- we can go on. Putting a multitouch display on your wrist opens up an entire world of limitless wearable computing possibilities, and we're sure we haven't even scratched the surface of what could be done here. The problem is that none of these things are even close to reality -- as we said in our general iPod nano review, the new nano is all about listening to music and maybe looking at photos, and that's about it. That's a crying shame -- while the iPod nano is extremely competent at the tasks for which it was designed, it's obvious that it could be even better as a connected watch, and all of that potential is completely untapped at the moment. Here's hoping Apple's hard at work at a firmware update that makes all of these nano wristband accessories more than the amusing novelties they currently are -- until then, you'll find us in line for a LiveView.