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.
After a rocky start with the first-generation iPod touch in 2007, Apple has taken decisive steps to improve subsequent versions, and the fourth-generation model is no exception: two new cameras, a superior screen, and better battery life are all reasons that holdouts should give serious consideration to jumping on board with this year’s edition. This is the first year that the $299 iPod touch was worthy of our A- rating and high recommendation—finally!—and though we’re a little less convinced of the value for the dollar offered by the base $229 model and the premium $399 version, we wouldn’t discourage users from buying either one if their capacities and prices are more personally appealing. We feel strongly that the 8GB touch has too little space at a higher price than last year’s version, and that the 64GB one has close to great capacity at a still not so great price. Even so, Apple has improved enough inside of each device that they’re both still worthy of our B+ ratings, and all three of these models are easier to broadly recommend than the current-generation iPod shuffle, iPod nano, or iPod classic. It’s hard to go wrong with the touch, if you have the money for it.
As has been the case in the past, however, the improvements to this year’s model feel as if they were strategically designed to leave gaps for both the current iPhone 4 and the eventual 2011 fifth-generation iPod touch to fill: serious digital camera fanatics will be frustrated by the weak still rear camera of this model, iPod classic owners looking to finally transition their collections to a touch will find none of these offerings to be more capacious than last year’s, and GPS fans might be better off with unlocked, used iPhone 3G or 3GS devices than a new iPod touch. The solution to two of these problems is simple—buy an iPhone under contract—but the other one, storage capacity, has remained unaddressed by Apple for too long.
It is to Apple’s great credit that the list of objections to iPod touch ownership has become so short, while the reasons for Click Wheel iPod owners to upgrade has continued to grow every year since 2008. The fourth-generation iPod touch mightn’t have been a revolutionary enough update to get people to stand in lines at Apple Stores on the date of release, but we’re confident that it will be one of Apple’s most popular products when the final sales numbers are in next year. It’s a very good to great iPod, held back only by its limited storage capacity at a time when there is so much fantastic video, gaming, and other application content to purchase. We continue to look forward to iPod touch models that surpass the iPod classic in every conceivable way. Updated October, 2011: We’ve updated these conclusions and added pictures of the new white fourth-generation iPod touch; the new details are on page 10 of this review. Our rating of the 8GB iPod touch increased from B+ to A- as a result of a $30 price drop.