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.
A little more than a year after debuting the fourth-generation iPod touch, Apple on October 12, 2011 released a major software update called iOS 5.0, and a minor hardware update in the form of a white-faced version of the previously only black-faced device.
According to Apple, no other changes have been made to the fourth-generation iPod touch this year, and this is reflected on the device’s modestly updated packaging. While the front sticker has been conspicuously changed to include iOS 5 applications, the only other change can be found in small text on the back: the iPod touch now requires iTunes 10.5 for synchronization. This is a result of the addition of iOS 5.0 to the device; Apple ships all white iPod touches with iOS 5.0 (9A334), the same version that it distributed to developers on October 4.
The box contents haven’t changed dramatically. Apple’s Finger Tips mini-manual now includes references to iOS 5, but you still get the same two small Apple logo stickers and a warranty pamphlet, along with standard Apple Earphones minus the remote control and microphone, and a USB to Dock Connector cable.
Apple hasn’t made any obvious changes to the white iPod touch’s body besides the swap of the black-painted front glass for white-painted front glass. It has notably left the headphone and Dock Connector ports ringed with black plastic after sometimes switching even that tiny little detail on past color-shifted iPods and iPhones; the top and side buttons also remain black, and the polished steel back is unchanged. The proximity sensor is effectively invisible within the white front bezel, which now has a very thin layer of white plastic around the glass edge, rather than the black edging found on the front of the black iPod touch.
iOS 5.0-related changes are discussed extensively in our Instant Expert: Secrets + Features of iOS 5.0 article. In short, Apple has made major modifications to many of the applications previously available for the iPod touch, and added several new ones: Messages comes over from the iPhone and adds iPhone/iPad/iPod touch SMS/MMS-style messaging features, Reminders has time- and location-triggered alarms in a “To Do” style format, Newsstand provides a place to organize digital publication subscriptions, and the Notifications Center has been created to organize all push and other notifications—including e-mails, in-game reminders, and the like—in one easy to find place. It’s also noteworthy that the iPod touch no longer requires a computer for initial synchronization and set-up; thanks to iOS 5.0 prompts and Apple’s new iCloud Internet-based storage and synchronization service, you can handle most of the things you need to do without ever using iTunes, if you prefer. Again, all of these details are discussed in depth in our iOS 5.0 article.
There’s only one other change to announce: Apple dropped the price of the 8GB iPod touch to $199 while keeping the 32GB and 64GB prices at $299 and $399 respectively. As such, we’ve updated the rating of that model to the same high recommendation and A- as the 32GB model, which we previously viewed as the family’s sweet spot. The new price level makes the 8GB model a better—though still very capacity-cramped—entry-level iPod touch, and apart from signing up for a cellular contract, it’s the most affordable way to get a taste of iOS 5 with a high-resolution screen. Its comparative thinness, still impressive battery life, and ever-expanding collection of apps make it a great purchase—only the crazy price premium for the 64GB model holds it back a little from our perspective. That having been said, the iPod touch’s hardware limitations continue to keep it from being a true iPhone replacement: the lack of cellular voice or data service, the weak rear camera, and lack of GPS hardware keep it in its own category, and its lack of any major CPU or GPU hardware updates for 2011-2012 may bother some iOS gamers, as well. It’s clear what Apple needs to do at this point to evolve the iPod touch for the coming year; the only questions are when and how far they’ll evolve this otherwise strong 2010 product to make it even better.