iPod touch 4th Generation £189
9th Dec 2011 | 14:28
The iPod touch looks even better in white
Overview and features
The most amazing thing about Apple's latest iPod touch is its colour.
It's available in both black and white. No, we're not being glib - we mean it!
Apart from the colour change there's no difference here between the specs of the iPod touch 4th Generation from 2010, and this latest refresh. This is certainly not the iPod touch 5th Generation that you may be looking for...
When the iPhone got a bump in specs with the release of the iPhone 4S last October we expected the specs for the iPod touch to get a bump too, but so far they have remained... untouched.
So, it's still available in 8GB, 32GB and 64GB models, the camera still takes 960x720 sill photos and 720p video and has an Apple A4 processor inside. In fact, the only other change, apart from the colour, is that it now ships with the iOS 5 software pre-installed.
So what's it like in white? Well, we could wax lyrical about how its beautiful milky exterior makes it look like a stray ice crystal prized from Superman's Fortress of Solitude, or how it's so thin and light that it feels like you're holding a delicate slice of the Internet in your hand. But, well, unsurprisingly it's startlingly similar to what it was like to use in black.
Saying that it does look good in white, and we wouldn't be surprised if the new colour means there are more iPod touches languishing under Christmas trees this year than there would be otherwise.
The iPod touch range starts at £169 for the 8GB model, but we've found that's simply not enough storage to be practical, especially when you consider that some video-heavy apps from the App Store can weigh in at around 1GB each in size. The 32GB model that we're reviewing here costs £249 and there's also a 64GB iPod touch at £329.
If you haven't looked at an iPod touch in a while because you've got an iPhone then we recommend a trip to your local Apple Store try one out because at just 7.2mm in depth it feels noticeably thinner than an iPhone 4.
At 101 grams, compared to the iPhone 4S' 140 grams it's also noticeably lighter. The other big difference in appearance is its steel back. With its slight curve it fits better in your hand than the iPhone's flat, glass back, but has the downside that it's incredibly receptive to fingerprints, and scratches.
The only other difference in appearance compared with its more expensive sibling is that it lacks the iPhone's mute/lock switch and the screen. While it shares the Retna display of the iPhone 4 and 4S (960x640-pixel resolution at 326 pixels per inch) it doesn't use IPS (inter plane switching) which reduces the viewing angle slightly and makes it look slightly darker than the iPhone when you put them side by side.
On the front of the iPod touch you'll find the same VGA camera for FaceTime chats and there are two volume buttons on the side and a sleep/wake button at the top.
So, while Apple has chosen not to update the hardware of the iPod touch this time around, the release of iOS 5 means its not short of new features. Amongst the 200 that Apple claim, iOS 5 brings iMessage, Game Centre, Notification Centre and Wi-Fi syncing.
The most exciting of these new features for iPod touch owners is iMessage, which brings texting to the device for the first time. Provided you have a Wi-Fi connection you can send text messages, photos, videos to other people with iOS 5 devices, or you can use it to carry on a conversation you're having on, say, your iPhone with somebody else. The group chat feature is also impressive.
And then there's iCloud - sign in with your Apple ID and you get access to iTunes in the Cloud (the ability to get your music purchases downloaded to all your devices automatically), Photo Stream (every photo you take on your iPod touch will now be uploaded to the cloud and appear almost instantly on your your iCloud-connected devices) and Documents in the Cloud which keeps documents in iCloud-enabled apps up to date on all your devices.
Then there's also wireless backups and calendar, email and contacts syncing.
There's certainly no lack of features here. And let's not forget AirPlay either which, when combined with an Apple TV box, enables you to stream all your media from your iPod touch to watch on your HD TV or direct to AirPlay enabled speakers in your house. You can even use your iPod touch as a remote control for your Apple TV.
Of course, iOS 5 is a free upgrade for existing iPod touch owners too, rather than a feature of the very latest iPod touch, and it runs fantastically well on 4th generation iPod touch models. Apps feel snappy and we experienced no slow downs or software crashes.
The iPod touch's cameras are a bit like the proverbial buses – we waited years for one to appear, and now two have come along at once.
There's a VGA front-facing camera for FaceTime video chat, and a rear-facing one for taking snaps.
Both are welcome additions, even though the latter isn't anywhere near as good as the iPhone 4S's when it comes to taking still photos. At just 960x720 pixels (0.69 megapixels), there were compact cameras a decade ago that were capable of more.
Colour reproduction is slightly colder and less realistic than the iPhone 4, and the angle of view is narrower.
Furthermore, there's no HDR, and the lens is fixed-focus – tapping the screen merely alters the exposure. So while this could take a quick snap of your day out to share on Twitter or Facebook, its uses are limited as a stills camera.
Certainly when compared to the iPhone 4, it's chalk and cheese, and you can see a marked difference between the two photos below, taken from exactly the same position using an iPod touch and an iPhone 4.
iPhone 4 photo...See full-res image
iPod touch 4th Generation photo...See full-res image
Where the camera does hold its own, however, is video recording. It shoots 30 frames per second at a resolution of 1280x720 for 720p HD, and does a decent job.
While colours still aren't as rich as those in iPhone 4 footage, the angle of view was wider and panning was smoother. We'd go so far as to say that we preferred the iPod touch for the sort of straightforward, point-and-shoot video that it's most likely to get used for.
That said, it's still no match for a dedicated camcorder or even a Flip-style pocket device.
Once you've recorded your footage, you can edit and publish it by buying iMovie for £4.99 from the App Store.
Apple has run a major advertising campaign for FaceTime, its video chat service that works over Wi-Fi.
It uses the front-facing camera to film your face as you talk to a friend, while at the same time, beaming their face to your device. Until now, it had been exclusive to the iPhone 4, and you had to make a regular mobile call first.
Now, you can use FaceTime on your iPod touch, and it works a treat. You sign up with your Apple ID (the same one you use for the App Store and iTunes Store) and then anyone with an iPod touch or iPhone 4 can call you, simply using your FaceTime email address.
The only glitch we had with it was when we tried calling a friend whose device wasn't connected to a Wi-Fi network at the time. Instead of getting an error message at our end, we got the regular ringing sound, as though nothing was wrong. The recipient did, however, get a notification of a missed call when we hung up.
We recorded three test videos with the new iPod touch. One outside the TechRadar office in the sunshine, one inside the office and one outside using the front-facing camera.
As with all iOS devices, you have to connect the iPod touch up to iTunes before you can use it.
You'll be guided through the setup process, and offered the chance to restore a previous backup to it –so if you've already got an iPod touch or iPhone, transferring all your apps and settings across is a breeze.
If you'd rather not load all your apps onto the iPod, you can simply uncheck the ones you'd rather leave on your computer and resync. Since the iPod touch we tested came with iOS 4.1 installed, we didn't have to wait around while iTunes downloaded any updates – we simply transferred our music across and were ready to go in minutes.
Any apps you buy on the iPod touch are synced to your computer when you next connect it up, although if you manage your music manually, things you buy on the iPod aren't copied across automatically.
While it's easy enough to do this yourself (by right-clicking the iPod's name in iTunes and selecting Transfer Purchases), it would be nice if this was automated.
We mentioned the A4 processor earlier, and boy does it make the iPod touch fly. It boots from cold to the Home screen in 31 seconds, five seconds faster than the iPhone 4. But in reality, there's rarely any need to switch the device off completely – just put it to sleep and you can wake it in an instant as soon as you want to use it.
General performance is identical to the iPhone 4. Swiping between screens is smooth, pop-up alerts appear without jittering and folders sweep open majestically. The whole user interface just oozes class and polish and is a joy to use, as is the on-screen keyboard.
The included headphones, as we mentioned earlier, don't have a clicker in the wire, and are much as you'd expect from Apple – solid but unspectacular.
Frequency response is between 20Hz and 20,000Hz, with an impedance of 32 ohms. It's worth playing around with the various EQ presets to get a bit more oomph out of them, but you'll never get huge depth or powerful bass.
Sound also starts to get a bit tinny if you turn the volume up very high. Certainly they're better than the ones that came with very early iPods, but if you like your music, it's worth investing a little extra in some specialist earphones.
The iPod supports a range of audio formats, including 8-320Kbps AAC (and the protected variant that you get from the iTunes Store). You can also play HE-AAC, regular and VBR MP3, AIFF, Apple Lossless, WAVE and Audible (2, 3, 4, Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+).
But it won't play FLAC, OGG or WMA files without converting them on your computer first. If you try to copy an incompatible file to your iPod touch, iTunes will warn you it won't work and will refuse to copy it.
Video-wise, the iPod touch plays a range of formats including up to 720p H.264-encoded formats such as .mp4, .mov and .m4v. It also likes MPEG-4-encoded .mp4, .mov and .m4v, as well as Motion JPEG .avi files. Again, there are free tools for Mac and PC to convert these, such as Videora.
Apple also sells Dock to VGA, Dock to component AV and Dock to Composite AV cables to output video from the iPod touch.
We've never been massive fans of the sound quality on Apple's iPods. It's certainly not awful, but compared to, say, Creative's Zen X-Fi, the sound of the iPod is noticeably lacking. This was true of last year's iPod touch, and not much has changed with the new model.
This weakness becomes more apparent if you use the touch with some more accomplished headphones. We test using some super-duper earphones from Shure, and even with a 320kbps MP3 file (you'll find no snobby audiophiles in the TechRadar office!) the music quality can sound a tad muddy compared to the Zen or even some of Sony's Walkman devices.
If we were Apple, we'd sling Creative some pocket money and stick some of that X-Fi technology into the touch and the iPad. Unfortunately, it's more likely that we'll see Steve Jobs landing on the moon next year than such a partnership ever being announced.
There's no doubt that the iPhone is where Apple's attention is right now, and perhaps rightly so, but the iPod changed the way we listen to music forever, and it's a little bit sad to see its star wane, eclipsed by the iPhone.
The latest iPod touch is under-specced compared to the iPhone 4S - we wish Apple had put Siri, the A5 chip or an upgraded camera into the iPod touch to bring it up to speed, rather than just bring out a new colour, but it's still a great product as it is, and the new iOS 5 features add so many more strings to its bow.
Let's not forget its strengths - as a portable media player it's still second to none. The iPod app is great - making it easy to find and play music on the device, and create great playlists.
It's also great as a little portable movie player for taking on journeys or killing time on the commute to work. And then there's the games angle - as a casual gaming device its second to none, mainly because of the thousands of low-priced or free 3rd party games available on the App Store.
And while the video camera is now looking a little long in the tooth it's still perfectly fine for shooting clips of friends and family to upload to YouTube.
You don't even need to get your PC or Mac involved - you can edit clips right on the device using the built in editing features or by taking things further with the iMovie app, and upload them to YouTube with a few taps. And thanks to iBooks it also works well as an eBook reader that fits in your pocket.
The white colour gives it a fresh new look. iOS 5 adds some great new features and iCloud connects it to all your other devices effortlessly. Integration with Apple TV is outstanding. It's lightweight, incredibly thin and (if it wasn't such an objectional term to apply to technology) we'd say it was 'sexier' than an iPhone. For playing music, browsing the Internet and casual gaming it's hard to beat.
We'd have liked a hardware refresh now that the iPhone 4S has raised the bar. Having to sync through the bloated iTunes software remains a bugbear for some, and restricts what file formats it can play. While the 8GB model is more affordable it's just not enough storage for all the apps you'll want to download and your music collection.
There was no way we had room in this review to mention everything the iPod touch does. We haven't even touched on features like Internet browsing, email, maps and the gazillions of apps that totally transform what it's capable of, for example.
We're really excited about a future 5th gen iPod touch, hopefully released at the same time as the iPhone 5 sometime in 2012, but for now the 4th gen is still well worth the money. In fact, it's such a versatile little device that it really does justify its high price tag, and it's not often you can say that with such certainty.