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.
The primary differentiator between the iPod touch and iPhone families is the touch’s more limited set of wireless capabilities—the original iPhone shipped with cellular, Bluetooth, and 802.11b/g Wi-Fi capabilities, while the iPod touch received only Wi-Fi. Though we generally had positive experiences using the old model for web browsing, e-mail, and other Internet purposes at home, some first-generation touch users complained of flaky Wi-Fi connections. Apple eventually issued a fix, but the issue has cropped up again unpredictably with iOS updates to subsequent models, generally requiring software patches that take some time for the company to release. More than any other issue affecting iPod touch performance, this one remains a wildcard that may or may not manifest itself again in this version of the device.
On a more positive note, the fourth-generation iPod touch has received some welcome improvements in the wireless department this year. The Wi-Fi has been upgraded from 802.11b/g to a limited version of the newer, faster 802.11n standard, with support solely for 2.4GHz networks rather than 5GHz ones—the same capability and restrictions as the iPhone 4. Notably, the third-generation iPod touch included an 802.11n-capable chip, but Apple never unlocked the feature in software; the fourth-generation model immediately gets some benefits from n-class performance.
In practice, the benefits might not be obvious. Testing an 802.11g-only iPod touch 3G alongside the 802.11n-capable iPod touch 4G on the same 802.11g/n network saw the newer iPod achieve only modest and intermittent Internet speed gains. Safari web pages tended to load a little faster on the new iPod touch than on the iPhone 4, and generally loaded faster than on the third-generation iPod touch while displaying better-looking graphics and text. On the other hand, the new touch repeatedly fell a bit behind the earlier model on Speedtest.net download speeds—roughly 10Mbps versus 13Mbps—while both devices had the same nearly 1Mbps upload speeds. To the extent that the new iPod touch is given a pure 802.11n 2.4GHz network to operate on, it may eke out some signal and performance gains.
Though the original iPod touch didn’t support Bluetooth of any flavor, the latest iPod touch includes Bluetooth version 2.1 + EDR—the same as prior-generation iPod touches and the iPhone 4. This near-field wireless technology enables the iPod touch to broadcast stereo music to Bluetooth wireless devices, such as certain speakers and headphones, as well as making wireless connections for multi-player games and multi-user applications within a stated 33-foot distance. The fourth-generation iPod touch continues to support Apple and Nike’s wireless Nike + iPod Sensor, as well, with a dedicated, built-in Nike + application that is hidden on the iPod touch by default, but activated within its Settings menu. When used with the $19 Nike + iPod Sensor and a compatible pair of Nike sneakers, the iPod touch can record your running and walking performance, then synchronize it with a Nikeplus.com tracking server for comparative or competitive purposes if you so desire. The Nike + iPod application on the iPod touch 4G is cosmetically unchanged from its most recent predecessor version.