As a personal media player, the iPod Touch’s display resolution of 960 x 640 pixels stands above just about just about every competitor. Even much larger tablets like the Archos 70 offer only 800 x 480 resolution, allowing the iPod Touch to display more detail than devices with literally four times the display area.
Besides translating to clearer videos and photos, the extra resolution really pays off for reading and Web browsing, where more of a page not formatted for mobile screens can be packed in, minimizing scrolling. Text also remains readable down to the size of directions on a pill bottle — if you have good eyesight, anyway.
Although it lacks the IPS display found on the iPhone 4, the viewing angle for the iPod Touch remains quite good — certainly enough for two people to enjoy the same movie side by side on an airline flight. Tilt it a little further, though, and it begins to distort where the iPhone 4 would maintain a perfect image. At full brightness, the iPod Touch screen also appears slightly more washed out than the iPhone 4, but still ranks excellent beside other comparable players. Unless you own both Apple devices, you would be hard pressed to even tell the difference.
As slick as ever
Anyone who has ever toyed with a touch-based iDevice in the last three years will feel right at home on the iPod Touch, which uses the same iOS operating system that has secured Apple domination in portable devices.
Colorful icons, fluid motion and natural multitouch interaction characterize the iOS experience, which carries right over to multimedia access. Dedicated icons for music and video remain at the bottom of the menu at all times — a marked difference from the communication-centric iPhone, allowing quick access to media sorted by artists, songs, album and more. For large libraries, a flick to the left from the main menu also allows you to search the entire phone for media with a few quick taps of the easy-to-use on-screen keyboard. Breezing through content on the iPod Touch is almost as effortless as using a PC, minus the optional “folder view” that some other players provide — an impossibility on the iPod since Apple flattens folder structures in favor of tags.
Right out of the box, the iPod Touch includes features like a calendar, e-mail, photos, YouTube, stocks, maps, videoconferencing, weather, notes, and voice recording. But as any iOS user knows, these barely scratch the surface of the possibilities for the device, which can just as easily turn into a sonar ruler, level, bike computer, remote control, blood alcohol calculator and about a thousand other things, not to mention what is quickly becoming the world’s preeminent mobile gaming platform.
It is, in short, a fully functioning pocket computer, and a pretty damn quick one this year thanks to the addition of Apple’s latest A4 processor, the same silicon powering the iPad. While sticking to the installed apps rarely allowed previous iPods to butt up against the performance of their slower processors (music playback isn’t all that demanding), the A4 shows its prowess in effortlessly handling apps that take advantage of the higher resolution display without chugging, all the way up to 3D games like Epic Citadel that challenge gaming platforms like the PSP for life-like graphics.
Considering an iPhone 4 retails for $599 without contract and the iPod Touch starts at just $229, Apple clearly had to cut a few corners somewhere. And much of it seems to come from the iPod Touch’s prowess as an imaging device.
While both devices use identical VGA images on the front, the iPod Touch shoots only 960 x 720 stills with the rear camera, or 0.7 megapixels. The gap in resolution and quality clearly shows up in side by side comparisons, where the iPod Touch’s shots look smudgy, granulated and too dark. While they’re usable, they’re typical cellphone fare.
Video produces less of a marked difference. While iPod Touch videos are slightly fuzzier than iPhone 4 videos, the iPod actually seems to do a better job keeping focus and adjusting exposure on the fly, even if it seems to favor a slightly more washed-out look under ideal conditions. Bottom line: it’s hard to argue with 720p HD video from a media player.
The front-facing camera appears to be identical to the model on the iPhone 4. It does a fine job coping with odd lighting (like backlighting from windows and the sky) and VGA resolution proves perfectly adequate for videoconferencing with FaceTime, where bandwidth is frequently a bigger limitation than image quality.
Apple advertises 40 hours of audio playback and up to seven hours of video playback from the iPod Touch, gaining a whopping 10 hours of audio and one hour of video from last year. Anecdotally, both seem accurate, giving it surprising endurance. Just be warned: Like the iPhone, liberal use of Wi-Fi and games can chew your battery life into the red before you know it.
Apple was really the first to imagine that a personal media player could also be a pocket computer, and the iPod Touch remains one of most versatile pieces of hardware you can drop in your pocket for $229. The Victorinox of digital Swiss Army knives retains its well-deserved reputation. Though it faces increased competition from a growing pool of Android tablets like the Dell Streak and Archos 43 (not to mention the Zune HD if apps aren’t your thing), the iPod Touch’s proven form factor and the multimedia prowess of iOS have kept the latest version at the top of its game.
- Incredibly thin, sleek design
- High-resolution Retina display
- Solid Apple build quality
- iOS versatility and ease-of-use
- Long battery life for multimedia
- 720p HD video capture and videoconferencing
- Below-average file support
- Low-res rear camera
- No GPS
- Smudgy mirror finish