The iPod touch has been the best portable media champ for a long time, enabling people to access the same games, apps and iTunes content as iPhone owners without the monthly fee. And Apple isn't about to give up its wide lead. The 2012 version brings a super slim and light design available in multiple colors and iOS 6 to let you do things such as take panoramic photos and share all sorts of stuff via Facebook. But with the premium iPod touch experience comes a premium price tag: models start at $299 for 32GB model and go to $399 for 64GB. Is this touch worth the splurge?
The iPod touch isn't just thinner and lighter than any portable media player with this size screen; it has more personality than the iPhone 5. The five fun colors (slate, silver, pink, yellow and blue) are bonded right into the aluminum. A separate (PRODUCT) RED version is also available, with a portion of the proceeds going to fight AIDS in Africa.
Measuring only 0.24 inches thick and weighing 3.1 ounces, the new touch is amazingly portable, but it's by no means flimsy. The aluminum backing and glass front make this device a pleasure to handle. If the plastic Galaxy Player 4.2 was a Dodge Neon, the new iPod touch feels like a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
The device measures 4.86 x 2.31 inches and the front houses a 4-inch display and a single home button. On the left are two buttons for volume up and down, and the top edge features the lock button. On the bottom of the device is a 3.5mm headphone jack, the new Lightning port and the speaker. Having the headphone jack on the bottom can get in the way when using the iPod touch with one hand, but we got used to it.
On the back of the touch is the camera, which sticks out slightly against the device's body. The lower left corner houses a pretty nifty surprise: A small chrome circle pops up with a push for connecting the included iPod touch loop. This handy color-matched wrist strap will keep the iPod touch by your side while you shoot photos or just keep it safe if you're not wearing pants with pockets.
Apple has fitted the iPod touch with the same 4-inch display as the iPhone 5, which has remained the same width as previous generations, but has additional length. This screen is filled with 1136 x 640 pixels, providing Retina resolution and supporting a new row of app icons on the home screen. All of Apple's own apps have been redesigned to use this extra space, allowing, for example, more emails to be shown in Mail and more appointments in Calendar.
Many third-party apps are still working to transition to the new screen size. "The Amazing Spider-Man" has made the switch and gameplay fills the entire screen. Games and apps that aren't yet optimized for the new screen size are displayed with black letterboxes to make up the size difference. These apps still work as usual, but don't look as good framed by black bars.
The pixel density on the iPod touch's display is gorgeous and easily outshines the Galaxy Player 5.0's 5-inch screen (800 x 480 pixels). The touch's screen isn't just bigger and sharper, but there has been a big boost in color saturation, making photos, games and apps look stunning. Apple has also make the display thinner, so the pixels are closer to the surface of the display, giving images the appearance of being painted on the glass.
The iPod touch's display measured 515 lux on our light meter, trumping both the Galaxy Player 4.2's 497 lux and the Galaxy Player 5.0's 333 lux.
We watched the first episode of "Elementary" and the video was the perfect aspect ratio to fill the entire screen, leaving no black areas. The images were crisp and clear, in both darker indoor scenes and bright outdoor shots.
Unfortunately, matching the iPod touch's thin design is thin-sounding audio. The speaker, located on the bottom of the device next to the Lightning port, produced decent volume. However, songs lacked roundness and sounded slightly off. When we listened to Sleigh Bells' "Rill Rill," the high notes were tinny and the bass was weak.
iOS 6 and Interface
The iPod touch ships with the iOS 6, Apple's latest operating system. While the general user interface feels the same as iOS 5, iOS 6 brings some great new features such as Facebook integration, an updated App Store, and features like Shared Photo Streams and VIP Mail.
Also included with iOS 6 is Apple's new Maps application, replacing the beloved Google Maps app. Since the iPod touch doesn't have 3G or 4G connectivity, there are some notable differences between the Maps application for the touch and the iPhone. Turn-by-turn navigation, a new feature for iOS 6, takes the form of swipeable written directions rather than the Siri-narrated real-time driving instructions. This is fine for routing a map while connected to Wi-Fi, then taking to the streets.
Overall, the Maps app still feels unfinished. You need to use third-party apps to get mass transit directions, and the 3D Flyover feature continues to show warped buildings and other landmarks.
For a more in-depth look at iOS 6, check out our complete Apple iOS 6 review.
Apple has brought Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant, to the iPod touch. You can interact with Siri by holding down the home button and speaking directly to the device. Like the iPhone 5, Siri can perform tasks such as answering questions about the weather, scheduling appointments and sending text messages. Also included are the new Siri features introduced in iOS 6, such as the ability to check sports scores and book restaurant reservations.
Siri on the iPod touch, however, is more limited than on the iPhone 5, as she relies on Internet connectivity for answers. If Wi-Fi is disabled or you're out of range, you'll get a "Siri not available" alert.
Just like the iPhone 5, the new iPod touch has ditched the 30-pin adaptor in favor of Apple's new Lightning cable. This new port is 80 percent smaller than the previous plug and has the added benefit of being reversible, so there's no more looking for a label before charging.
Unfortunately, users who want to use older accessories with this new iPod touch will need to purchase a $30 adapter. This price is steep, especially for those who already have separate 30-pin chargers in key locations, like in a car, at work and at home.
The lightning cable still only transfers at rates matching USB 2.0, rather than matching speeds of the new USB 3.0 standard or the Thunderbolt ports on Apple's latest Macs.
Specs and Performance
While the fourth-generation iPod touch's performance shined at its release, it became quickly outdated as applications and games became more demanding over the past two years. The new iPod touch delivers a long-awaited performance upgrade, bundling Apple's A5 system on a chip with an ARM Cortex-A9 CPU core. iPod touch owners can now play all the latest iOS games smoothly once again.
The iPod touch scored 624 on the Geekbench benchmark test, which is almost as high as last year's iPhone 4S, which scored a 629, but not even close to the blazing speed of the 1590-scoring iPhone 5. On the Linpack Multithread, the iPod touch clocked 120.2, also falling just short of the 132 score of the iPhone 4S and well behind the iPhone 5, which scored 558.
During everyday usage, flipping from screen to screen and scrolling through text felt natural and smooth. Graphics-intensive games, like "Infinity Blade" and "The Amazing Spider-Man," never skipped or dropped frames.
Our iPod touch came with 32GB of storage, but there is also a 64GB version available for $100 more at $399. 32GB is plenty of room if gaming is the main intent, but can quickly fill up with the addition of music, movies and TV shows.
Camera and Camcorder
The 5-MP camera on the new iPod touch offers 7 times the resolution of the last generation touch's 960 x 720 photos. This camera lags behind the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5's 8-MP cameras, but still provides high-quality pictures. The optics powering the camera are nearly identical to the iPhone 5, despite the lower pixel density, so low-light performance and sharpness are still enhanced.
We stepped outside and took a picture of the Empire State Building in the distance. The touch captured very true colors and the building was crisp. Zooming in produced minimal noise. Closer buildings, shrouded in shade, were darker, but details could still be seen.
We then aimed the camera at our local hot dog vendor, and the brightness immediately adjusted to the new levels. Images were crisp and colors accurate.
Panoramic picture capture also comes to the iPod touch as an integrated part of the native Camera app. This is the coolest new feature of the camera, making panoramic picture-taking as easy as a slow sweep of the wrist. A steady hand is required, but an on-screen arrow easily guides the entire process.
The iPod touch records 1080p HD video at 30 frames per second. We stood on our street corner and recorded passing traffic. The video looks sharp and smooth. Color, like the image captures, looked accurate.
The front-facing FaceTime camera has also been upgraded from VGA to a 1.2-MP capture resolution and 720p video recording. Video chat through FaceTime was simple to set up using our existing Apple ID, and the video quality was clear and smooth. Although the FaceTime camera is capable of HD video chatting, the quality is automatically adjusted based on signal strength.
The iPod touch has full access to the Apple App Store, making more than 700,000 apps available for this device. It's worth noting that many of these apps require Internet connectivity, so you'll still need to connect to a Wi-Fi network to check your Facebook feed or post a photo to Instagram.
Most of the games in the Apple App Store, however, don't require an Internet connection, making the iPod touch a great portable gaming device. You will need Wi-Fi, however, to access Game Center rankings and enjoy multiplayer action.
We played "The Amazing Spider-Man" and were impressed by the crisp, clear images and smooth gameplay that filled the entire 4-inch display. We could easily make out individual pebbles forming the sidewalk as we ran down the street to stop a bank robbery.
Separate from the App Store is the iTunes Store, bringing music and video purchases and movie rentals directly to the iPod touch. The Music landing page features new albums this week, recent singles, best sellers and sale items.
Apple also offers a vast section of television shows, with hit TV shows, season premieres, new and noteworthy shows, and kids programming. Most episodes cost $1.99 each, but there are a few series pilots that are free to download.
The Movie section of the iTunes Store offers the biggest perks, with numerous digital early releases and the option to rent as well as buy. There are also limited time offers for 99 cent rentals, a big discount from the usual price of $4.99.
Music, movies and TV shows can be purchased with the click of a button and downloaded directly to the device, just like apps in the App Store. We loved being able to circumvent the desktop iTunes application and get content directly onto the touch.
Browsing the Web is better than ever on the new iPod touch and iOS 6. We particularly like the new full-screen browsing mode in landscape mode. Full-screen mode hides the navigation bar, allowing websites to fill the entire screen.
As with the iPhone 5, iOS 6 brings new sharing features to Safari, allowing direct Twitter and Facebook sharing as well as the options to email a link, add to home screen, print, copy, bookmark or add to Reading List for offline viewing.
Websites loaded quickly, with most displaying in less than 10 seconds. More intensive websites, such as NYTimes.com and CNN.com took a little longer, up to 20 or 25 seconds. Pinch-to-zoom and swiping gestures felt natural and worked smoothly.
Apple promises that the touch will last up to 40 hours of continuous music playback or up to 8 hours of video playback from a full change.
The results of our battery test are still pending, but our real-world testing supported the claim of long battery life. We spent most of the day using the iPod touch on and off, playing games, browsing the Web and watching videos, and the battery only dropped to around 60 percent.
Apple has included a wrist strap for the iPod touch, referred to as the iPod touch loop. This attachment hooks onto a small pop-out button on the back left corner of the device. When the loop isn't attached, this button can be pushed back into the body of the device, so it rests flat against the surface, unnoticeable except for the chrome color.
The iPod touch also comes with Apple's new EarPods, a welcome replacement to the previous stock headphones bundled with previous Apple devices. The EarPods feature a new ergonomic shape designed to better fit in the ear and improve sound quality. For more details about Apple's EarPods, check out ourfull review.
If you're wondering whether the new iPod touch is a good nonphone alternative to the iPhone 5, the answer is yes. The iPod touch offers the same crisp display as the iPhone 5 in a lighter and more colorful design. Plus, you get fast performance for playing the latest games and an iSight camera that can easily double as your point-and-shoot.
Is all of this worth $299 when you can get a 7-inch tablet like the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 for $100 less? That's a harder question to answer. It depends on how much of a premium you place on pocketability. The touch's high up-front cost will cause some shoppers to pick up a $199 iPhone 5 instead--despite the added data fees. But if you want phonelike portability without the carrier commitment, there's simply no other portable entertainment device that approaches the design, app selection and performance offered by the new iPod touch.