Several weeks ago, I reviewed the new Apple iPod nano, which had been updated for 2011. Around that time, Apple released a “new” iPod touch, which, like the nano, saw changes to the user experience but not to the physical device. I was given a new iPod touch to review after having used a second-generation touch for a few years. My experience confirms that the iPod touch is the best portable media player I have ever used.
To be accurate, there was one physical change with the new iPod touch: it now comes in white as well as black. Over the years, Apple has cut away extraneous weight from the touch, and it now measures a sleek 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.3 inches and weighs under four ounces. Without a case, it easily slips into a pocket, especially since the mirrored back panel makes it very slick (and attracts fingerprints and scratches rather easily).
The front of the touch is dominated by the Retina display, which measures 3.5 diagonal inches and 960 x 640 pixels. On the left panel of the touch, you will find the up and down volume buttons, while the headphone jack, speaker and 30-pin connector for charging and syncing are on the bottom of the player. The power button is located on top of the device, and the home button resides below the display.
Above the display, at the top of the touch, is the forward-facing camera, and at the top left of the back of the touch is the rear-facing camera, as well as a mic.
The biggest disappointment with the iPod touch doesn’t have anything to do with the device itself. It is the abysmal earbuds that Apple ships with all of its devices. The first thing you need to do upon getting any iOS device is to get a new set of headphones, almost any of which will be more comfortable and sound better than the ones you will get from Apple. Check out the Gadget Corner archives for several reviews of high-quality headphones for differing budgets.
The iPod touch performs very well. Apps open quickly, and multi-tasking is easy. While the touch sports dual cameras, I would not rely on them for high-quality stills or video. While Apple can say that it offers photos and video, the company can’t go much further with that claim. There isn’t even a flash, which makes taking pictures in low-light conditions a fruitless endeavor. It is worth noting, however, that the camera and video controls are extremely intuitive. Toggling between still photos and video is as simple as a flip of your finger on the display. In both modes, the display serves as a viewfinder, and zooming in and out is done with an on-screen slider bar. While browsing your photo gallery, you can choose to email, message or Tweet a photo (Facebook is left out), and you can upload videos to YouTube.
The photo quality (or lack thereof) might not be such a big deal if there weren’t such a significant difference in quality relative to the iPhone 4S, which I also have. One can hope that, eventually, the touch’s camera performance will match its ease of use.
While the video the touch takes may not be that good, video viewed from iTunes, YouTube or Netflix appears clear and sharp on the Retina display. You can stream video over Wi-Fi and download from iTunes, since the touch is 802.11b/g/n-compatible.
The touch now has iOS 5, which includes the new iMessage service. This text messaging service allows you to send messages to other iOS devices using Wi-Fi instead of a cell carrier. Non-iOS devices will not work with iMessage.
Surfing the Web on the iPod touch is enjoyable, once you get to used to the small display. The lack of Flash support can make things a bit frustrating, depending on the sites you visit.
With the touch, you can also monitor multiple email accounts—AOL, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft Exchange and iCloud. With the new notifications in iOS 5, you receive on-screen alerts of new messages. You can also receive alerts from various apps, which you can control in the Settings menu.
According to Apple, the iPod touch will give you 40 hours of audio on a single charge or seven hours for video. I use my iPod touch every day on my commute to and from work and normally charge it once a week; even then, the battery is rarely below 50%.
Having owned numerous personal audio devices over the last several years, it is easy to say that the iPod touch is the best I have used. I view it, first and foremost, as an audio device. In that regard, it is unrivaled (after you get a proper set of headphones). While having photo-taking and video-capturing capabilities is nice, the quality is just slightly above-average.
Inevitably, the question becomes, why wouldn’t someone just buy an iPhone? Well, personally, I still view the two devices as serving two niches. The iPhone, for me, is a phone, email and texting platform, while the iPod touch is for music (and my iPad is for video and productivity functions, such as writing this review). If you are looking for an all-in-one solution, you may prefer the iPhone. Personally, however, I have no problems carrying around multiple devices. Luckily, they are all so small and lightweight that it isn’t that much of an inconvenience.
For everything the iPod touch offers—audio and video playback, digital photo and video capturing, Wi-Fi connectivity, a gorgeous display, and unparalleled ease of use—the beginning price of $199 isn’t that unreasonable, especially considering that an unlocked, contract-free iPhone 4S starts at $649.
Apple iPod touch (2011)
$199 (8G); $299 (32G) and $399 (64G) (8G model currently available for $184.99 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.