Apple has refreshed its iPod line right on schedule, with some fairly major updates to all models, except to the nearly-forgotten iPod Classic. It’s fairly obvious that the Touch is now Apple’s mainstream and most capable iPod offering, giving customers all the multimedia capabilities and touch-friendly applications associated with the insanely popular iPhone, minus the cost and dependence on an official mobile service provider. The new 4th-generation iPod Touch has therefore inherited all the headlining features of the iPhone 4, including the A4 CPU, gyro sensor, high-res Retina Display, and the ability to run pretty much any iPhone application.
Compared to the previous generation, the refreshed iPod Touch is noticeably thinner and narrower with the metal back more sharply tapered. Externally, the biggest difference is the addition of front and rear cameras (which had been left out of last year’s refresh, to the disappointment of many). In addition, the hold switch is placed on the top right instead of the top left (and a bit too deeply recessed for comfort), the volume buttons are slightly redesigned, and there’s actually a tiny speaker grille on the bottom. The built-in speaker is still soft and tinny, but it’s an improvement over the previous generation’s concealed one.
Capable of many feats
It’s quite awful when listening to music and videos, but decent enough for sound effects in games and general notifications. The device’s rear is still all metal (and still phenomenally easy to scratch), but now with no black plastic antenna patch as with previous models. Disappointingly, the package contents have reduced: you get only the earphones, USB cable and a simple printed manual. There’s no screen cleaning cloth, and curiously also, no iPod dock adapter to help it work with accessories such as speaker docks.
Turning it on, the first thing you notice will be the beautiful Retina Display. All around the OS, icons are more detailed and text is smooth and crisp, with near-perfect curves and spacing. Text-heavy screens such as email messages, ebooks, and websites open in Safari look particularly good. Apps and games that have been updated to take advantage of the 960 x 640 pixels are quite stunning when seen side by side with their equivalents running on the older Touch or even an iPhone 3GS. That said, the screen is clearly not as eye-popping as the one on the iPhone 4.
It should be all about the music
On the other hand, the camera is quite a letdown. You can record video in HD, which translates to the bare minimum spec of 720p—enough to make single-purpose devices like the Creative Vado seem rather pointless. However still photos are also limited to 960 x 720, which is quite pitiful! It seems that Apple has in fact limited the Touch’s capabilities in order to maintain the iPhone’s superiority, which is seriously frustrating. There’s also no autofocus, which will limit the device’s ability to run apps such as business card and barcode scanners. The front-facing camera is even more dismal at 640 x 480, though the low resolution is probably better for streaming during video chats.
It's all fun and games
The Touch runs iOS version 4.1, the most current version. This brings support for Game Center, Apple’s own take on social scoring and competition. Players can find each other through their iTunes account email addresses, display achievements, and keep track of scores across multiple games. iOS 4.1’s other headlining features are upgrades to the iTunes store, which isn’t available in India anyway. We’d love to enjoy TV show rentals and the Ping social network, but the powers that be at Apple aren’t smiling on us at the moment. Performance is smooth and slick throughout, even in action games, though this is probably more due to the new A4 CPU.
More importantly, the iPod Touch can now take advantage of the multitude of apps that require a built-in microphone and/or camera. The mic is inconveniently placed right next to the rear camera, but at least you no longer have to plug in a separate headset accessory to use voice chat apps or record notes—which was also an added expense, since for some reason the headphones Apple includes in the box don’t have an inline mic.
Not much of a change in the overall design
The most important of these apps is FaceTime, Apple’s new video chat tool that debuted with the iPhone 4 and is now available for any Mac with a webcam as well. FaceTime is designed to be the quickest and simplest way to video chat. It works by associating with your iTunes account, so all you have to do is fire it up, choose a contact from your phonebook (assuming their email address is the same one used for their iTunes account), and place the call. There’s no “contact list” like Skype and other instant messengers have, so you’ll need to update your contacts. The only inconvenience is it’s not very clear which contacts in your phonebook (and which of their numbers and email addresses) are connected to FaceTime. Still, FaceTime could easily become a killer app for people to use for video conferences with friends and family elsewhere in the world.
Another important app (but one that’s not included and costs US$ 4.99 to download) is iMovie. Editing recorded video clips right on the phone feels amazing, and you can add some seriously high-quality effects including transitions, themes with music, and titles.
A handy app to have
Battery life is rated at up to 40 hours of music playback or 7 hours of video. We didn’t get to test this claim, but found the device didn’t need charging even after two days of moderate use of music, gaming and Web surfing over the Wi-Fi connection.
In conclusion, the new and evolved iPod touch is definitely the fullest-featured one yet and also the closest in terms of features to its cousin, the iPhone. If you prefer a cheaper or more business-minded phone, or are simply not willing to switch carriers (or deal with jailbreaking and SIM unlocking), the iPod touch lets you have nearly all the goodness of an iPhone at a fraction of the price. Those who already own last year’s model or any of the ones before it might not find much benefit in the upgrade, but anyone who wants a superb music player, Web tablet and portable gaming machine should definitely pick one of these up.