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.
Just as was the case with the iPhone 5, the fifth-generation iPod touch has a larger footprint than its predecessor, yet is lighter and thinner. Released in 2010, the fourth-generation iPod touch measured 4.4” tall by 2.32” by 0.28” deep, with a weight of 3.56 ounces—relative to the third-generation model, a very slight elongation with commensurately small reductions in width and depth. The fifth-generation iPod touch has jumped to 4.86” in height, while preserving a nearly identical 2.31” width, and falling a little in depth to 0.24”, now weighing 3.1 ounces. Laid on a flat surface, the only obvious differences are the new model’s added height and slightly different shape; held in the hand, they feel virtually the same in weight, but different in texture and distribution. The prior iPod touch felt substantial and slick; the new one feels like a large metal candy bar, somewhat more practically shaped and a little less dense.
The differences are largely attributable to Apple’s first-ever shift from a stainless steel rear shell to anodized aluminum, and from a instantly scratchable glossy finish to an almost entirely matte texture akin to iPads, MacBooks, and other iPod models. Gone is the slippery and sometimes oily sensation of holding past touches in your hand, replaced by a longer, more slab-like shape with less aggressively tapered corners. Apple’s switch to aluminum also enables it to offer the new iPod touch in six colors: a black glass and slate metal model is at least as monolithic as the black iPhone 5, while a white glass and silver metal model looks even more iPad-like than before. Unusually, the blue, green, pink, and red metal shells are not ultra-saturated—moreover, the red and pink are surprisingly similar—and each is paired with a white glass face. To our eyes, the colored versions don’t look quite right, but the black and silver versions are handsome; reasonable people may disagree.
Each of the new iPod touches has a soft, finely sandblasted texture, with chrome-like mirror finishing as edge accents. You’ll find shiny metal on the front surrounding the front glass, lining each of the three thin pill-shaped buttons, and also around the rear-facing camera, rear-facing microphone, and new LED flash. The Apple and iPod logos also shine, as does a ring around the new bottom Lightning connector on most models. On the colored iPod touches, the glossy metals vary from color-matched to silver, while the black iPod touch uses darker and less obvious mirroring, with no gloss whatsoever on the bottom.
The largest and most conspicuous ring is the one around the new iPod’s rear camera—a major departure from prior iPod industrial design trends. In the past, Apple has saddled iPods with decidedly mediocre cameras, pointing to the thinness of its devices as justifications for including terrible sensors. This time, as if to say “we’ll try it your way,” Apple’s rear camera noticeably juts out of the iPod touch’s back by roughly a millimeter, removing the uniformly smooth texture by placing a metal ring around the sapphire crystal lens, right in a spot where your finger might rest. Strictly speaking, not a single person outside of Apple would have minded if the rest of the touch’s body was as thick as the lens, particularly if it accommodated a slightly larger battery, but given how much better the new model’s photos are, we’d sooner see a lens protrude from the iPod than go back to the smaller, all but worthless camera system found on its predecessor.
Several elements found on each iPod touch don’t have chromed edges, and they’re each noteworthy for different reasons. After finding a way in 2010 to dispense with the pill-shaped rear antenna covers of past iPod touches, the old plastic compartment is back again on this model, and it’s black regardless of the iPod touch body color you select. A line of five dots on the bottom ventilate the new iPod’s built-in speaker, and like the bottom-mounted headphone port, they have no luster. Also lacking shine is the headphone port, which Apple has shifted for the first time to the touch’s left side, matching its new position on the iPhone 5. Each white-faced iPod touch has a white-lined headphone port, while the black iPod’s lining is black.
The last unchromed piece is a design element that’s so unusual by iPod standards that it’s hard to conceive as having come from Apple’s notoriously minimalist designers: a tiny swirled metal circle is found on the bottom left hand corner when viewed from the back. Left alone, this circle sits nearly flush with the rest of the touch’s back, but when it’s pressed inwards, it pops out to become an attachment for a new pack-in—an included, color-matched fabric wrist strap called the “iPod touch loop.” The edges of the circle feel ever-so-slightly sharp, but it’s so close to the device’s body that users are unlikely to cut themselves on it, providing just enough room to slide the wrist strap on and tensely keep it there. Between this and the protruding lens, the new iPod has two things that could get accidentally scraped off, though both feel solid rather than wobbly in any way.
Apple’s iPod touch loops appear to be made from thin, bonded layers of microsuede and a neoprene-like material, with a sliding fabric O-ring that can tighten the strap, reducing the chance your iPod will fly off your wrist. The materials taper down to attach to the swirled metal circle by removing the microsuede lining at the connection point, and are relatively easy to attach or remove as needed. One color-matched loop is included in each package, and standalone boxes with two extras—a color of your choice, plus white—are sold for $9 each.
From our perspective, the loop is a real oddity: functionally, it makes sense for users who might want to carry the new iPod around like a pocket camera, but for aesthetic reasons, it’s the sort of feature that Apple would previously have wisely left to a case. Even if the texture choice was deliberate, the swirled metal sticks out like a sore thumb even on the silver iPod touch, and since the button’s silver on all of the colored models, it’s even more glaring on their non-silver backs. It only blends in with the black version, and then because it’s been colored black—not slate—to match the rear antenna compartment and camera lens. While it’s obviously not a show-stopper, it’s a real question mark of an addition.
Although less has changed on the new iPod touch’s front, there are a few differences. Most obviously, the screen has jumped from a 3.5” display with a 3:2 aspect ratio to a 4” display with a 16:9 aspect ratio, paralleling the same change from the iPhone 4 and 4S to the iPhone 5. It’s worth noting that while Apple has previously suggested, not entirely accurately, that the screens in its iPod touches were the “same” as the ones in its iPhones, the claim is actually true this year—at least on the units we’ve tested.
In addition to acquiring the 1136x640 screen resolution of the iPhone 5, the new iPod touch has also made a large jump in color accuracy and backlighting evenness, such that the screen looks a little brighter from edge to edge, noticeably more vivid, and better from off-angles than before. Apple has, however, removed the “Auto-Brightness” screen adjustment feature found in past iPod touches, an omission that doesn’t bother us at all but might matter to users who frequently need to switch between varied lighting conditions. And it needs to be said that Apple’s history of sourcing screens from multiple suppliers has led to some noticeable differences between production batches, so while the iPod touches we’ve tested look iPhone-quality, future customers might not be so lucky.
Two other differences are cosmetically minor. The Home Button is now inked with silver rather than gray, a truly small tweak that’s only apparent when you view the new iPod touch from certain angles. And the front FaceTime camera hole is noticeably smaller than before, despite major improvements to the sensor inside. We discuss all of the camera changes in the Cameras section below.
Several things have changed on the packaging and pack-in fronts. First, the new iPod touch comes in a larger box than its predecessor: taller and thicker but the same width, and with the same clear hard plastic and white cardboard lining design we’ve been seeing for years. It has switched to a cheaper-feeling paper for the small included Quick Start Guide, but continues to include a warranty pamphlet and two Apple logo stickers.
In addition to the aforementioned loop, Apple includes two other new accessories: a Lightning to USB Cable, and EarPods earphones. The Lightning to USB Cable replaces the Dock Connector to USB Cable that was packaged with every previous iPod touch, and enables this model to be charged and synchronized using any computer’s USB port. It can also be connected to a variety of accessories, including USB port-equipped wall chargers, speakers, and car audio systems; extra cables are sold by Apple for $19 each.
Notably, the EarPods are different from the ones included with the iPhone 5 or sold separately for $29: they lack an in-line remote control, microphone, and hard plastic carrying case. Instead, they’re held in place with an eco-friendly, disintegrating insert that’s a little larger than Apple’s EarPods carrying case—a sign that Apple could have fit the full-fledged model and its box in this package had it wanted to do so. Still, as noted in our full EarPods review, the stripped-down EarPods are considerably better than the Apple Earphones they replaced, so there’s not much room for complaint.