Pros: A8 processor and 1GB of RAM make for a faster iPod. M8 motion coprocessor allows for fitness and health tracking. Front and back cameras have been improved. The price is still reasonable, and the 128GB model is much-welcomed, particularly by certain iTunes diehards. New colors are sharp-looking. The first iOS device with Bluetooth 4.1. Improved Wi-Fi, as wireless 802.11ac is now supported. Comes preloaded with iOS 8.4 and Apple Music.

Size remains the same, which feels stagnant — or feels like a setback to users accustomed to larger smartphones. No Touch ID. Video recording is grainy and noisy compared to iPhone 6 — the camera lags slightly behind that found in the iPhone 6. Surprisingly, some graphically demanding games may be a bit slow or choppy at times. The 16GB offers too little available space, and is a weak entry model. Still feels like a limited option compared to other iOS devices.

For years, the iPod has been the forgotten iOS device. Though the iPod touch received a very minor update last year, its fifth-generation device originally debuted back in September 2012 — nearly three years ago. iPod nano hasn’t been updated since 2012, either, and iPod shuffle hasn’t seen a revamp since 2010. iPod Classic was discontinued entirely — the old warhorse was unceremoniously dropped from Apple’s lineup last September. With iPod’s abilities and features being duplicated and surpassed by iPhones and iPads, many have declared the iPod as dying, if not outright dead. For iPod fans, the only reason many had to expect an update was, “Well, they’ve got to update it at some point … don’t they?”

Though there were a few rumors in the past couple of weeks, the update has arrived, still mostly out of the blue. Apple quietly announced the new iPod touch — the sixth-generation of the device — and released it in a rare mid-July product launch. iPod nano and iPod shuffle didn’t get any new features or internal updates, but did gain a few new colors (iPod touch received those new colors, as well).

iPod touch hasn’t exactly leapt into the future with this new update, and it certainly hasn’t caught up to Apple’s newest iPhones or iPads. No one would have expected that. But it’s closer, now — close enough to at least see the lead pack in the distance. The prices haven’t changed, either. The 16GB model is $199, with the 32GB and 64GB models following at $249 and $299, respectively. And at last, Apple has released a 128GB iPod touch model — a $399 option that will appeal to users with bigger iTunes libraries.

In the next few pages, we’ll take a look at the new features and upgrades in the sixth-generation iPod touch. Of course, we’ll still try to figure out the iPod touch’s role in the Appleverse, while also pondering the device’s still shaky future. But for now, iPod fans can rejoice — a true new iPod touch is here.

iPod touch 6G: Familiar Body, Small Changes

An initial glance at the sixth-generation iPod touch may yield one prevailing thought: what’s changed? The exterior on the new iPod touch remains virtually the same — it’s the same exact size as the fifth-generation iPod touch — 4.4” x 2.32” x 0.28”, and despite some internal changes, it still weighs 3.1 ounces. The screen remains 4” with a 1136 x 640 resolution. And though the cameras have been upgraded here (we’ll get to that later), you can’t really tell by looking at the devices. Other than the new colors, there’s one obvious difference — Apple has gotten rid of the metal circle in the bottom left-hand corner of the device. That circle, which was found on most fifth-generation iPod touch models, was used to accommodate an included wrist strap called the iPod touch loop. The loop, which came packed in with the fifth-gen touch, is obviously gone now, too. The metal circle was a weird touch that didn’t really fit Apple’s design standards, and we’re guessing most users won’t miss it.

The only other exterior addition(s) worth noting are the new colors introduced to the sixth-gen iPod touch. A new pink iPod touch is a bolder pink than the fifth-gen pink — it’s more pure pink than the previous somewhat-salmon pink. A muted blue has been dumped in favor of a darker, more true blue. And of course, Apple can’t refresh a product line now without bringing in its gold color option. We find the pink and blue to be improvements over the past generation, and if you like the gold on other Apple iOS devices, you’ll like this. It’s the same gold. As one might expect, the iPod touch ships with a Lightning to USB cable and a pair of EarPods earphones (sans remote and mic). The new pink is shown below on the iPod shuffle.



It’s easy to look at the new iPod touch and notice what’s missing, considering the leaps iPhone and iPad have taken in the past year. Most obviously, the iPod touch still has a 4” screen, while the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are 4.7” and 5.5”, respectively. That may not bother some users, but those who’ve become accustomed to the newest iPhones — or those who use a larger Android phone and an iPod — will likely feel that using this iPod touch is a step down in some ways. That’s only exacerbated by the lack of Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint reader that has made its way into its new iPhones and iPads. Touch ID is a great feature that may not seem like much to the uninitiated, but is sorely missing, as is NFC — no Apple Pay here. Compared to the other iOS devices, the iPod touch is generally unimpressive, and that won’t allow it to shake off its “forgotten” feel in the minds of many.

There is one devil’s advocate position for the iPod touch staying the same size — if you’re already carrying around a larger smartphone, you may not want to keep two devices of that size on your person. That is, if you think there’s a reason to carry around an iPod touch when you already have an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or large Android smartphone with you. This argument doesn’t really excuse Apple, but we’d like to think it’s not without merit.

iPod touch 6G: What’s Inside

One of the biggest bumps seen in the sixth-generation iPod touch as compared to the previous models is in the device’s speed. Whereas the last iPod touch had an A5 processor and 512MB of RAM, the iPod touch 6G makes the leap to an A8 64-bit processor and 1GB of RAM. The difference is obvious from the get-go, even in something as simple as opening apps — some of the same apps open a second or two faster on the sixth-gen iPod touch. That may not sound like much to some, but when running both iPod touch models side-by-side — and when using either device for an extended period of time — it matters.

Compared to the iPhone 6, things aren’t so cut-and-dry. Geekbench 3 found a new iPod touch running iOS 8.4 earned a 1381 single-core score and 2447 multi-core score, running at 1.09 GHz per core. Compared to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, it’s a few steps behind — those devices scored in the 1600 and 2900 range, for single-core and multi-core, respectively, despite using the same A8 processor. (The iPhone 6 clocks in at about 1.39 GHz per core.) It’s likely the processor is under-clocked to offer better battery life with the iPod touch’s smaller battery.

That being said, users won’t notice much difference in speed between the new iPod touch and those iPhones. Opening apps takes about the same amount of time on both devices — it’s quite quick — and there are few differences when working within iOS 8 or apps, either. iPod touch utilizes Apple’s Metal framework for gaming. Unfortunately, the device showed a bit of lag at times when dealing with a game like the demanding Asphalt 8: Airborne. It’s just not as smooth as playing the same game on an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, to say nothing of the smaller screen. Less-involved games and apps we used showed no issues.

Back to the battery. An iFixit teardown found it was ever-so-slightly larger than the iPod touch 5G battery. Whereas the former battery checked in at 3.7V/3.8 Wh/1030 mAh, the new iPod touch has a 3.83V/3.99 Wh/1043 mAh battery. It’s a minimal difference — in fact, Apple makes the same battery life claims as before: up to 40 hours of music playback, and up to 8 hours of video playback. It’s even possible that the battery might offer less overall life, considering the more demanding processors.

We did a test for video playback at 50 percent brightness and volume, as in the past, and saw the iPod touch run out of power after 6 hours and 48 minutes. This seems quite low to us, especially considering the previous generation’s iPod touch reached 8 hours and 53 minutes. We’ll do another test to double check, but based on this initial test — and compared to the iPod touch 5G’s numbers —Apple’s claims of 40 hours for music playback should be somewhere in the right ballpark.

In addition to the A8, the presence of the M8 motion coprocessor here isn’t a surprise, but it’s still welcome, as iPod touch can now offer the same health tracking features found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. It’s also worth noting that the sixth-gen iPod touch has received a Wi-Fi upgrade, as well. The new iPod touch supports more Wi-Fi standards — it’s now 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible.

iPod touch 6G: New Cameras + Audio

Outside of the iPod touch 6G’s speed leaps, the most obvious reason to upgrade is the new cameras found here. The sixth-gen iPod touch makes the jump to an 8MP iSight camera, up from a 5MP camera in the iPod touch 5G. The front-facing FaceTime HD camera also received modest upgrades though the specs are generally the same as before — 1.2MP with f/2.2 aperture and 720p HD video recording. The iPod touch also catches up with the iPhone 5s camera in terms of features, such as burst mode and auto HDR.

Compared to the iPod touch 5G camera, the newest iPod touch cameras are clearly superior. The new FaceTime HD camera offers a slight improvement, but the iSight bump is much more obvious. Compare the two photos of the model car, below — first is the sixth-generation iPod touch, followed by the fifth-gen iPod touch. The sixth-gen camera has better color accuracy, less noise, and more detail — note the overall improvements in sharpness.


The more interesting comparisons are between the iPod touch 6G camera and the iPhone 6 camera. Though both share the same 8MP count, the cameras aren’t quite the same. The iFixit teardown referenced earlier noted the lack of a sapphire crystal lens cover and auto image stabilization in the iPod touch camera. Also, as noted by Apple, the iPod touch camera has a f/2.4 aperture, which doesn’t quite measure up to the iPhone 6’s f/2.2 aperture. (Apple’s “True Tone Flash” also still isn’t found in the iPod touch, making low light photos tougher.) We found this slight difference to prove true in testing. Below are two photos of the same street, the first taken with the iPod touch 6G, the second taken with the iPhone 6. Both photos are nice, but we slightly prefer the iPhone 6 shot — note the clarity on the lamppost.


Getting closer, the differences come into view a bit better. Below are two shots of a tree. Again, the first photo taken with the iPod touch 6G, the second with an iPhone 6. There’s a bit more clarity in the second shot — see the darker parts of the tree, which are more detailed on the iPhone 6.


One more below: an iPod touch 6G shot on the left, and the iPhone 6 on the right. The iPhone 6 flowers are a bit more vivid.

The difference in video recording is, unfortunately for the iPod touch 6G, more pronounced. In general, the iPod touch 6G gave us a noticeably fuzzier picture during video recording when compared to the iPhone 6. Recording in 120fps slo-mo only made the differences more obvious. Though video screenshots aren’t the best way of showing this difference, they do the trick here: observe the iPod touch 6G screenshot, followed by the iPhone 6 screenshot.


Audio on the integrated speaker itself still isn’t great, but it gets a good bit louder when compared to the previous iPod touch. That loudness comes with distortion, but again, you probably won’t be using the device’s speaker for extended music listening. You’ll most likely be plugging in — headphone port audio is still very good, and doesn’t have a truly perceptible difference compared to the last iPod touch — or connecting to a Bluetooth accessory. The iPod touch is Apple’s first Bluetooth 4.1 device. Few accessories and speakers have BT 4.1 at this point, so it’s hard to really say to much about these capabilities right now. But we tested a number of older and newer Bluetooth devices, and both connections and re-connections proved painless.

Conclusions

Speaking broadly, the sixth-generation iPod touch is a solid — though not stunning — iOS device. The speed and camera improvements are leaps and bounds above the previous model, and some users will be excited for those upgrades alone … especially those who have been waiting for something — anything — to change. But there’s no doubt that Apple’s decision to stick with the smaller screen will sting a bit. A 4.7” iPod touch would have been more appealing, and/or a new iPod touch with Touch ID — this is the first recent iOS device released without the fingerprint reader.

The question remains: who is the iPod touch for? Most observers point to kids who aren’t yet allowed to have iPhones. For that crowd, the iPod touch performs admirably, and the unchanged price is an appealing factor as well. A larger iPod touch with a few added features might have meant a higher price tag, and Apple wants to hold on to that “entry crowd.” (At least those crowd members who haven’t gotten a hand-me-down iPhone 5s or 5c without a data and calling plan to essentially “use as an iPod.”) The iPod is also still a fine secondary device for Android smartphone users for similar reasons.

With the addition of the M8 motion coprocessor, iPod touch has also quietly positioned itself as an affordable fitness tracker. It’s the smallest non-Watch device to include that feature, and at the lowest price available. It’s an excellent option for users who want a fitness tracker — and a way into Apple’s iOS ecosystem — but can’t or won’t get an iPhone.

And as an Apple Store employee recently told us, the iPod touch is also for the “diehards.” Some still have a reason for a dedicated music player, especially those who want to listen to their sizable iTunes collection at any time without having to rely on cloud services — our readership is still full of these longtime iPod users. On that note, it’s good to see Apple offer a 128GB iPod touch. Though it still lags behind the now-departed 160GB iPod Classic in capacity, at least Apple is now making an attempt to please that diehard crowd. We’d like to see even more of a push in that direction, especially with the debut of Apple Music. For instance, Apple Music exclusive promotions or membership discounts for iPod owners could be a nice touch that would remind everyone that Apple still has a device that can conceivably be music-centric.

iPod touch, and the entire iPod family, still face a somewhat uncertain future. Nothing truly sets the iPod apart. But even without a killer feature, the iPod touch is a reliable and fun device that delivers 80 to 90 percent of what Apple’s newest iPhones offer. For many, just the iOS ecosystem and App Store are still worth the price of admission, and here, that price is relatively low. The sixth-generation iPod touch earns our general recommendation.

Our Rating

B
Recommended

Company and Price

Company: Apple Inc.

Model: iPod touch (sixth-generation)

MSRP: $199 (16GB), $249 (32GB), $299 (64GB), $399 (128GB)