Review: Apple iPod touch (Fourth-Generation)
Pros: A major update to Apple’s most versatile iPod, adding twin cameras, a high-resolution 960x640 screen, a microphone, a bigger and longer-lasting battery, and a 3-axis gyroscope, amongst other features. Now capable of video calling using FaceTime, high-definition video playback and storage, and recording of 720p movies with the rear camera. New body design is slimmer and lighter than before while remaining solid in the hand. Remains capable of great audio performance, including better speaker quality. As of October 2011, available in both original black and new white versions, both with stainless steel backs.
Cons: New screen and cameras fall noticeably short of iPhone 4 performance levels. Weak still camera performance is a particular issue on all models; lowest-end model remains stuck at an increasingly objectionable 8GB/6.5GB of storage capacity. New front design isn’t as comfortable around the edges as on prior models; glass continues to attract smudges at a brisk pace. Earphones no longer include integrated microphone and remote control features.
Apple’s iPod touch has come a long way since its debut in 2007, a year that saw the company take pains to describe the device as a stripped-down iPhone—the Wi-Fi-only touch was “training wheels” for Apple’s flagship product, as the company’s CEO once put it. The first-generation iPod touch was thinner and simpler than an iPhone, but lacked for enough hardware and software that customers were supposed to covet the more expensive product instead. Over the next two years, Apple reimagined the touch as a multifunction device for gamers, and a rehabilitated second-generation model made screen and processor improvements, added a speaker, volume controls, and most of the iPhone’s applications, and tweaked its body with sleeker curves. A third-generation version made only internal changes, though leaked prototypes suggested a rear camera was in the works, too. By mid-2010, the iPod touch had become a hit on its own merits as a media player and Internet device, as well as a legitimate challenger to dedicated portable gaming consoles from Nintendo and Sony.
But the iPhone has continued to evolve, too, and Apple has wrestled every year with how many of its features to bring to the iPod touch, then whether to use equivalent or less impressive components. With this year’s model, the iPod touch has officially settled into a comfortable position two steps behind the iPhone in hardware while coming as close as possible in software. The new fourth-generation iPod touch (8GB/$199*, 32GB/$299, 64GB/$399) has—sort of—gained the marquee features of the iPhone 4, including a 960x640-resolution Retina Display, front and rear video cameras, and a new Apple A4 processor, though once again, each of these features has been quietly hobbled to let the iPhone 4 stand out. By any measure, the new model offers marked upgrades over its popular 2009 predecessor, but whether you’ll be satisfied with them depends on whether you view any improvement as good enough, or expect a full iPhone 4-caliber device minus the phone for a lower, contract-free price.
As most of the fourth-generation iPod touch user experience remains unchanged from the models released over the past two years, our comprehensive review of the new device focuses primarily on differences between it and its predecessors. Read on for all of the details, and our buying advice, by selecting from the nine pages above and below. Updated October 12, 2011: We’ve updated our original September 9, 2010 review with a new tenth page discussing iOS 5.0, the new white fourth-generation iPod touch, and our update of the 8GB iPod touch rating from B+ to A- as a result of a $30 price drop. The original price was $229, and is now $199.