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.
There’s thankfully mostly good news to report on the fifth-generation iPod touch’s audio, accessory, and battery performance—it did at least as well as expected in our testing, and generally at least a little better than its predecessor. However, like the iPhone 5, its accessory compatibility is markedly reduced by Apple’s shift from the classic 30-Pin Dock Connector to the new Lightning Connector, forcing users to consider wireless accessories, $29-$39 Lightning Adapters, and as-yet-unreleased new systems with Lightning plugs built in.
Headphone Port Audio. As was the case on the iPhone 5, Apple has continued to make subtle improvements to the iPod touch’s sound quality, which has been solid for years. This year, the headphone port audio is a little cleaner than it was with the prior model, further lowering the noise floor to nearly imperceptible levels. A very faint clicking can briefly be heard upon the initial connection of ultra-sensitive headphones—the iPod’s check for a remote and mic capsule—but even this is unobjectionable. The new iPod touch remains a great audio player.
Integrated Speaker. While the new iPod touch’s built-in speaker isn’t considerably more powerful than the fourth-generation version’s, it is a hair louder at its peak, and fuller-bodied, producing sound that’s a little less like an old radio—you’ll hear slightly richer low-end and less distortion in the mids. That said, if you’re expecting a night and day difference, you’ll be disappointed: this is still a thin iPod with a small monaural speaker, and Apple hasn’t worked miracles; it has merely boosted the quality a bit. The iPhone 5 is noticeably louder, fuller in frequencies, and less distorted. Like all of Apple’s devices, your best results will come from using headphones and wireless speakers for audio, but the new iPod touch speaker delivers enough volume and clarity for casual game playing, video viewing, and non-audiophile listening to music.
Docking Audio. Although Lightning-specific speakers are not yet available, and most likely won’t be for months, Apple’s $29-$39 Lightning to 30-Pin Adapters have just appeared in some stores, enabling the new iPod touch to connect with prior Dock Connector-based accessories. For audio purposes, the Lightning Adapter-equipped iPod touch continues to sound great when used with past speaker systems, and its light weight means that there’s no issue balancing the iPod with Apple’s smaller $29 extender atop earlier docks. While other types of accessories, notably wired video accessories, are not in any way supported by the Lightning Adapters, most of the audio-only systems out there will work fine if you’re willing to make this additional purchase. That said, Apple could have eased the transition by including one Adapter with the iPod touch, but unfortunately opted not to, and as of today, the Adapters are not available in all Apple Stores or all countries.
AirPlay and Bluetooth Audio. We had no problem getting the new iPod touch to wirelessly stream audio to the Apple TV over AirPlay, nor using it for the same purpose with Bluetooth speakers. Since it now supports Bluetooth 4, we tested it with SuperTooth’s Disco 2—the first Bluetooth 4 speaker we’re aware of—and found pairing and streaming audio to be just as reliable as with earlier iPod touches and iPhones. However, as noted earlier in this review, AirPlay Mirroring is somewhat of a different story: we did hear audio dropouts in songs during video streaming from the device, even when we were just mirroring the iPod touch’s own user interface. Again, we have every reason to believe that Apple will remedy this issue in an iOS or Apple TV software update, but nothing’s certain.
Battery and Transfer Speeds
We’re always happy to see Apple improve and increase the capacities of its batteries, even if that means slightly thickening its devices—something it previously all but refused to do. This year, the iPod touch has seen its lithium-ion battery jump from 930mAh to 1030mAh, a nearly 10% improvement in available power, while the device’s thickness and weight have both dropped. For most things, the new iPod touch will get at least as much run time as its predecessor, and in some cases, it’ll even squeeze out a little extra run time.
Video Playback: For the prior-generation iPod touch, Apple promised “up to 7 hours” of video playback, and surpassed it in our testing with an 8 hour and 18 minute run time. This year, Apple claimed “up to 8 hours” of continuous video playback time for the iPod touch, as before when the brightness and volume are set at 50%, and the touch is connected to a Wi-Fi router. The fifth-generation iPod touch again beat Apple’s number, coming in at 8 hours and 53 minutes of video playback with Wi-Fi on—not as much of a jump above expectations as the fourth-generation model, but still better overall. As was the case before, we’d expect the number to be even higher with Wi-Fi off.
Video Recording: Apple doesn’t make any claim regarding the new iPod touch’s longevity as a camcorder, but we were able to record continuously for 2 hours and 8 minutes before a fully-charged battery was depleted. This is slightly below the iPhone 5, which ran for 2 hours and 30 minutes on the same test, and the iPhone 4S, which achieved 2 hours and 20 minutes, each with a substantially larger battery.
FaceTime: We were able to continuously use FaceTime video calling for 2 hours and 48 minutes, up modestly from the prior model’s 2 hour and 35 minute run time; again, Apple doesn’t provide estimates for this feature. Notably, the video quality with FaceTime is markedly superior on this model, particularly in low light conditions, so achieving a longer run time with higher quality results is doubly impressive. Note that the iPhone 5 ran for 3 hours and 2 minutes with a similar FaceTime HD camera system and larger battery.
Audio Playback: Apple promises 40 hours of continuous audio playback with the iPod touch at 50% volume with headphones and Wi-Fi connected, but nothing else going on. Our test ran for 44 hours and 33 minutes before the battery gave out, beating Apple’s number by 10%. Notably, the fourth-generation iPod touch promised 40 hours and hit 39 hours and 23 minutes in our prior testing.
Transfer Speed: Using the Lightning to USB Cable, the new iPod touch was able to transfer 2GB of media from iTunes 10.7 in 1 minute, 21 seconds, versus 1 minute and 36 seconds for the fourth-generation iPod touch. Though we’ve continued to run transfer speed tests for iPod and iPhone models over the years, the shift to wireless synchronization is rapidly rendering these results less important; in any case, wired speeds are not appreciably different between generations, but slightly better on the newer iPod.