Three years after Apple stretched the definition of “personal media player” to new heights with its class-leading iPod Touch, other manufacturers are just starting to catch up with Android-powered mini tablets. Despite the added competition, the latest revision of the device stays true to its award-winning heritage while folding in even more trickle-down features from the latest iPhone, yet again securing it a place at the top of the MP3-player pyramid.
Since the birth of the iPod Touch in 2007, Apple has essentially pitched the device as an iPhone Lite — a touch screen computer without all the messy contracts of a telecom device. And the latest additions follow the same formula.
Like the iPhone 4, the fourth-generation iPod Touch gets a 3.5-inch Retina display, a forward-facing camera for videoconferencing, a rear camera that shoots 720p HD video, and it runs iOS on a hotrod A4 processor — all upgrades from the version available last year.
But a handful of spec omissions continue to separate the $229 (for a 8GB model) player from the $599 phone. Most notably, of course, it relies on 802.11n Wi-Fi for connectivity rather than AT&T 3G. It also lacks a GPS chip, the rear-facing camera shoots a scant 0.7 megapixels instead of 5.0 megapixels, and, the screen, though identical in resolution, is not an IPS display, which has some minor consequences for viewing angles.
The iPod Touch comes in four capacities: 8GB, 16GB and 64GB, priced at $229, $299 and $399, respectively.
As with features, the design of Apple’s iPod Touch has traditionally followed close behind the boot tracks of the iPhone, but the latest model actually puts a bigger gap between forerunner and follower. Rather than converting to the squared-off, slab-side design of the iPhone 4, this year’ iPod Touch sticks with the rounded edges of its predecessor, and measures only 0.28 inches thick.
One one hand, the tapered edges contribute to a super-slim design that make the iPod Touch feel downright futuristic. As one person put it, “this is how I want my iPhone to feel some day.” One the other hand… well, you might want to be careful with that other hand. The edges are so incredibly thin, it almost feels precarious to hold it by them, giving you very little solid surface to grab on to. We found ourselves palming it more we than do with the iPhone 4 to make sure it didn’t slip away. Like all things Apple, though, it feels built to tight tolerances and solid, but we’re still not convinced it would survive many trips to the floor.
Apple also passed on the flat glass back of the iPhone 4 in favor of the standard iPod mirror finish, which turns into a scratched up patchwork of grease smudges about two seconds after first picking it up. On the plus side, you can always use it as a mirror to see what you would look like through the window of a New York City subway car.
For both the reasons, a case is almost a must for heavy users.
Like the iPhone 4, the iPod Touch has a dock connector on the bottom for charging, a home button below the screen, and a power button up top, but the headphone jack has been moved from the top to the bottom, beside the dock jack. Attempting to build the buttons and jacks into the rounded-off profile leaves them awkward looking — especially the precariously shallow dock and headphone jacks that leave half the metal on their respective connectors exposed.
You’ll need to download iTunes and connect your iPod before you first use it, and register before you add any content. Through a series of wizards, Apple makes it possible either to automatically sync all your content as you add it to the various libraries managed by iTunes, or add it manually as you comb through your library. Unfortunately, all media management must be done through iTunes, as Apple doesn’t support the standard drag-and-drop management you might find with players like SanDisk’s Sansa line. We’re not particularly fond of the bloated-feeling software that has become as much a storefront for Apple as a useful utility for iPod owners, but a thick library of support documents and relatively intuitive operation make it easy enough for novices to pick up.
Apple keeps a bit of an iron fist on the iPod, which can prove frustrating if your library of consists of anything other than a $785 folder full of shiny files downloaded from the iTunes store. WMV and WMA files get the boot, as do audiophile-friendly FLAC and OGG files, all of which most Android players (and even cheapies like the $40 Sansa Clip+) will handle without complaint. On the visual side, the iPod supports only MPEG-4, H.264 and M-JPEG video, which means you’ll need to transcode from popular formats like DivX and Xvid. To be fair, the same video formats also trip up competing Android players, giving the iPod Tough relative parity in that regard.