Review: Apple iPod touch (Fifth-Generation)
(as rated 6/2014)
(as rated 9/2012)
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.
In recent years, Apple hasn’t been plagued much by the “right device, wrong price” dilemma, as it has tended to replace its best already right-priced devices with new models every year, keeping competitors on their toes while constantly advancing the state of the art for small and thin electronics. Just consider what $499 bought in last year’s and this year’s iPads, and the same for $199 iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 models: the jumps have been huge—from one great device to the next—and consumers have responded by boosting year-over-year iPad and iPhone sales to unprecedented levels. In short, the Apple strategy’s been working incredibly well for those devices, and great new features at great prices has been the key.
With the iPod family, however, Apple’s in a different situation. The fifth-generation iPod touch is indeed a huge jump over its predecessor, but the fourth-generation model is now over two years old, and in certain critical ways, it wasn’t even cutting edge when it was introduced. Recent iPad to iPad and iPhone to iPhone jumps have introduced new processors and major new features, but the new iPod touch is largely rehashing the user experience of the year-old iPhone 4S, albeit with some non-trivial screen and camera improvements. Since the release of smaller iPads is looming, and there are undisputably good 7” Google and Amazon tablets right now selling for $199, the new iPod touch is by no means a slam dunk release for Apple; to the contrary, we’d expect it to have a rough time this holiday season, and it remains to be seen whether the aging $199 to $249 fourth-generation iPod touches will be able to maintain any momentum given other available options, and apparently waning interest from some leading game developers.
All of this is to say that the fifth-generation iPod touch is a good rather than great product—worthy of our B+ rating largely on the strength of its much-improved screen and cameras, but disappointing in pricing and storage capacity. Although it comes closer than ever before to the current flagship iPhone, the $299 starting price just seems unrealistic for the features Apple is offering compared with the latest crop of small tablets. While the hardware inside the shell is great for an iPod, Apple again passed on the opportunity to boost its storage capacity to a level that could replace the crusty old iPod classic, and made some industrial design decisions that fall short of the iPod family’s previously high standards. Parents who have previously considered the $199 iPod touch a viable holiday gift will most likely think twice before laying out the extra cash for this model, and start considering other options, perhaps including ones not developed in Cupertino.
If you were planning to rush out to the store to buy an iPod touch, our advice would be to hold off on a purchase until Apple officially reveals its smaller-sized iPad, which will likely deliver superior value at similar prices. However, there is a very legitimate difference between pocket-sized and tablet-sized devices that raw dollars and cents calculations won’t capture, and the question of what you really want to use and carry around every day should be paramount in your considerations. You can decide what’s better for your needs, but our suspicion is that this particular model will need to become less expensive and possibly more capacious in order to achieve the market penetration enjoyed by its predecessors—it’s a very good device, but unless you’re really enthusiastic about the new colors, it would be a stretch to call its improvements as exciting as the flagship iPhone and iPad releases have been this year.