Rating: ★★★★★

Pros:

  • Best design yet, excellent screen and feel
  • Faster, thinner, lighter
  • Facetime and 720p video recording

Cons:

  • No FM radio, no numerical battery
  • Low resolution and low quality still photography

Product perfection is next to impossible. There’s no way to please everyone, and as we all know, the minute you buy something new, something new and better has just come out. In our everlong search for perfection in anything, gadget or otherwise, the iPod Touch aims for kingship. Does it take the throne?

With the iPhone 4, a huge makeover to the handset promised to reshape Apple’s media player, and it did. Including the iPhone 4’s A4 processor, Retina display and front-facing camera for Facetime, the 4th generation iPod Touch includes almost everything the tech giant’s latest phone introduced. It accomplishes all this while still thinning down and shedding weight, from the already absurdly-thin design.

The iPod Touch 4G makes older models look fat in comparison. The mirrored back surface still scratches easily, and rounds the glass off to an almost razor-thin edge. Past iPod’s had much larger, rounder edges – this iPod is by far the sleekest. The power/standby button has finally been moved over to the right side, as on the iPhone. The volume rocker has thicker, rounded buttons which are easy to press, though iOS4 on the iPod does not support quick mute like on the iPad.


The 2nd Gen iPod Touch left of the 4th Gen


4th Gen iPod Touch, Top, with it’s rounded, separated volume rocker above the 2nd Gen

Past iPod touch models had qualities that made them seem less professional, less clean. The Wi-Fi antenna showing, thick rounded edges, etc. The iPod Touch 4G, however, does not. It’s clean, crisp, and looks and feels great. The thinness of the design is excellent for holding in a pocket, though like the Nano, it’s easy to forget because it’s so light and thin. Yet with that miniscule frame, the iPod is still tough. Users can safely play a game of ball with the Touch in a pocket. I’ve on more than a few occasion forgot it was even there.

Performance is stellar. It seems silly that each new i-device is considered snappy and fast thanks to performance boosts, yet the same applies with this iPod Touch. There isn’t a faster mobile device on the market today.

Many have thus far been impressed by the Retina display, boasting a higher resolution 960×640 display and 326 pixels per inch. I’m not. Yes, it looks great, and yes, it is much clearer than older every other screen I’ve tested. But having switched back and forth between my iPhone 3GS and the iPod Touch 4G, it really isn’t that big a deal. Some journalists have openly stated that the upgraded screen makes the iPad useless, but I couldn’t disagree more. There is certainly a difference, but that’s not worth upgrading for alone.

What is more significant is the improved brightness and contrast. The difference in lights and darks has been significantly improved over previous models. It’s not as good as the Super AMOLED displays used on Samsung’s recent Galaxy S mobile phones, but it’s a significant step forward in LCD displays. That contrast is far more important than the picture clarity because the human eye is more sensitive to the differences in lights and darks than it is to anything else, except for motion. So unless you plan on spending inordinate amounts of time reading – for which the pixel density and higher resolutions do matter  – the update in contrast and brightness is most noteworthy.

For gaming, however, pixel density changes everything, or at least it can. Games with heavy graphics can look amazing on this screen, though few have helped flaunt the upgraded hardware thus far. More importantly, the upgrade in processing speed, screen quality and overall build, help to push the iPod ahead of mobile gaming competitors. This iPod is easily the most powerful gaming device, not to mention the smallest, most useful and most inexpensive (through cheaper downloadable games).

The addition of not just one, but two cameras is huge, but not as big as it could have been. The main camera in the back is capable of shooting 720p video. A few test videos I shot proved to be noisy and a little fuzzy, but picture quality was fine, above par for what we’ve come to expect with 720p-ready cellphone cameras. Reducing the size to 480p improves the quality.

The lack of a proper still camera is more frustrating. Both the rear and front (640×480) cameras can shoot stills, but only at low resolutions with mediocre quality. The rear camera is limited to about one megapixel. It was my biggest hope to see the iPod Touch become a competitive photographic device, but Apple’s obviously more intent on leaving that with the iPhone for now. Maybe next year…

Using Facetime has been a blast. Calling family and friends is gimmicky, but fun. It works perfectly, and the results of several dozen calls proved that the technology is solid. The bigger problem is how we communicate as a society. Conversation becomes awkward quickly – with Facetime, you can’t do anything besides for look at the person on the other end and speak. Your appearance matters. You can’t play with your hair or do something else. In a way, it puts more pressure on the conversationists. Facetime demands a person’s full attention, one which we as a society will need to adjust to.

FM radio, which made its way to the iPod Nano, is still missing for the Touch, though one could argue the point that with Wi-Fi and apps, an FM transceiver is unnecessary. I argue that Touch owners who plan on using the device to exercise won’t be carrying a Wi-Fi signal with them, and we all can’t live in Mountain View. There is also no numerical battery life indicator, which I always use instead of the graphic battery bar.

With this fourth iteration of the iPod Touch, Apple brings sweeping upgrades, but not sweeping changes to their acclaimed media device. Those upgrades are fantastic: a powerful processor, more memory, a vastly better screen, all while maintaining excellent battery life. The few changes – the inclusion of two cameras – are a start in the right direction, but not the leap we’ve seen Apple take so many times before. The company is quickly closing in on a perfect, do-everything device, but this isn’t it.  Still, the 4th generation iPod Touch is by far the best portable media player, and the closest one to perfection.










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.