Review: Apple iPod touch (Fifth-Generation)
Pros: A substantially redesigned and much-improved version of the prior iPod touch, enhancing everything from screen quality to battery life and audio performance. In 32GB and 64GB models, both front and rear cameras are particularly big jumps over prior, poorly-equipped model, now rivaling recent iPhones; new 4” screen is taller and more color accurate than before. The 32GB and 64GB models are now offered in six different colors, including nice silver and black updates to prior models, while including a fabric loop for wrist carrying. Thinner and lighter than before. All models include new EarPods earphones.
Cons: Despite two-year gap since prior model’s release, most of the new features are a full step behind leading iPhone and iPad models, cementing the new iPod touch as a smaller, better-screened remake of the iPhone 4S rather than as an iPod that separately justifies its existence with at least one standout new feature; a challenge as very good $199-$299 tablets continue to grow in popularity. New colors are so-so, and rear shells of 32GB and 64GB models—including a loop connection button and protruding camera lens—are a little unusual by Apple design standards. A 2013-vintage 16GB model regrettably lacks the rear camera feature altogether, seriously reducing the value proposition relative to other models. Lightning Connector breaks compatibility with past Dock Connector accessories unless you separately purchase Apple’s $29-$39 adapters.
Apple has painted the iPod family into a corner. Having put its best resources into developing ever-improving iPhones and iPads, the company now routinely saves its most exciting new features for its phones and tablets, trickling them down to iPods only when they’ll fit in smaller, thinner enclosures. While this has been more or less the case since the first iPhone debuted in 2007, hitting the iPod classic particularly hard, there were glimmers of hope for the iPod touch line: initially clearly subordinate to the iPhone, Apple differentiated later models with slightly more capable processors, helping to position its best iPods as superior gaming devices - the embodiment of “fun.” Combined with $199-$229 entry prices, the “fun” pitch worked, and iPod touches became the most popular iPod model, eventually surpassing less expensive iPod nanos to account for the majority of iPod sales. Yet iPod sales have been falling every quarter for years, and while iPhone and iPads surged in popularity, Apple let 2010’s iPod models sit on shelves for two years.
That changed this year—somewhat. Alongside the revamped iPhone 5, Apple introduced the fifth-generation iPod touch ($299/32GB, $399/64GB), a substantially improved model that borrows the new iPhone’s screen, some of the new iPod nano’s colors, and internal hardware comparable to last year’s iPhone 4S. As has always been the case, the new model is the best iPod touch Apple’s released, but this time around, there are some major qualifiers to consider. [Updated X2: On June 3, 2013, Apple released a stripped-down 16GB iPod touch ($229), reviewed separately here. One year later, on June 26, 2014, Apple updated the stripped-down 16GB version to be virtually identical to the 32GB and 64GB models, dropping their prices to $199, $249, and $299 respectively. We discuss the new 16GB model and the family’s price-revised ratings inside.]
As was in the case in 2009, Apple has split the touch into two families, so users can’t buy a fifth-generation iPod touch for less than $299; instead, the fourth-generation model is being sold in 16GB ($199) and 32GB ($249) capacities—at a point when game developers are dropping support for its aging hardware—and the new model remains capped at prior 32GB and 64GB capacities. Complicating matters further, low-end tablets are eating away at iPod touch interest: while a 16GB iPad 2 can currently be had for $399, a smaller, less expensive iPad with a 7.85” screen is just around the corner, and rivals such as Amazon and Google are already selling very capable 7” tablets for $199.
Our comprehensive review of the fifth-generation iPod touch looks at the new device’s hardware, software, and accessories, but it also discusses a critical question: is there really still a place for a $299-$399 iPod touch with the features Apple has included in this year’s model, or has the company miscalculated, releasing another new iPod that won’t reverse the family’s continued declines? The answer isn’t as clear cut as it might initially seem, but in short, this is a very good piece of hardware that—due as much to pricing and competitive options as anything else—may wind up being lost in the pile. Read on for the details.