- Big, appealing screen
- Improved cameras, with panoramic support
- Siri support
- Thinner, lighter
- Included Loop holder
- EarPods don't include inline remote/mic
32GB - $299
64GB - $399
Besides the iPhone 5, the 5th generation iPod touch is the best handheld entertainment and Internet device I've ever used. It is, in every way, excellent. From its large screen to its light weight, from its much-improved cameras to an expanded feature set in iOS 6, the 5th gen. touch is a remarkably versatile and high-quality device. If you don't want or need the always-on Internet, and monthly costs, of an iPhone, there's no better pocket-sized gadget you can buy.
New Screen, New Size
The latest touch takes everything that was good about previous models--and there was a lot--and improves on it in a few major ways. First, like the iPhone 5, it sports a 4-inch, 1136 x 640 Retina Display screen. At its large size and high resolution, the screen is gorgeous and makes playing games, watching videos, and using apps a joy.
Despite the substantially larger screen, though, the touch itself isn't a lot bigger than its predecessor. That's because rather than making the screen taller and wider, Apple has only made it taller, leaving the touch's width at the same easy-to-hold, palm-friendly size users have always enjoyed. As a result, you can still easily use the touch with one hand and its portability and usability aren't diminished.
This is quite an engineering accomplishment, made even more impressive by the fact that Apple has also made the 5th touch thinner and lighter than the last version. While the 4th generation was 0.28 inches thick, the 5th generation is 0.24 inches thick. The 4th gen. model weighed in at 3.56 ounces, while the new edition is just 3.10 ounces. These changes may sound like tiny fractions of the whole, and thus not likely to make much of a difference, but they do. It's hard to fathom just how light and thin the new touch is, while still feeling solid, reliable, and high quality.
Beyond the improved screen and body, the touch's internals are improved, too, thanks to its inclusion of a new processor and new Wi-Fi hardware. This model uses the Apple A5 processor, the same as the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, which is a substantial upgrade over the A4 chip in the last generation. The Wi-Fi chips have also been upgraded to support both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies (the last model supported only 2.4 GHz), making the touch more able to connect to high-speed networks.
Much Improved Cameras
The other major internal component improved in the 5th generation iPod touch are its cameras. The 4th generation model added two cameras to enable FaceTime video chats, but neither camera was terrifically high-quality: the back camera topped out at just under 1 megapixel resolution. That was fine for taking low-res video or video chats, but the still photos weren't great. That's changed quite a bit with this generation.
While this model still supports FaceTime, the back camera now offers 5 megapixel resolution, camera flash, and the ability to capture 1080p HD video (up from 720p HD). The user-facing camera packs 1.2 megapixel resolution and 720p HD recording. And, thanks to iOS 6, the new touch supports panoramic photos, too. While the previous touch's cameras made it a solid device for video chats but not photography, the upgraded cameras in the 5th generation touch take the device beyond video chatting and into being a serious tool for capturing high-quality stills and videos.
iOS 6--Better Than the Headlines
Besides hardware changes, the 5th touch come pre-loaded with iOS 6 and the many improvements it brings to the platform. While the majority of the headlines about iOS 6 have gone to the problems with the Maps app (and the removal of the YouTube app)--and those are real issues that will affect many users--those stories overshadow the many benefits of iOS 6. Perhaps the flashiest and most obvious improvement 5th gen. touch users will see is the ability to use Siri, Apple's voice-activated digital assistant. Siri was not available on the previous model (presumably because the processor couldn't handle the task), but users of this model will get to enjoy dictating emails and texts, asking Siri for information, and finding restaurants, shops, and movies by voice.
While many of the other features of iOS 6 aren't quite as obvious as Siri, the OS adds tons of useful features, fixes bugs, improves performance and generally adds polish to an already great device.
The Loop and The Headphones
One major new introduction with the 5th generation iPod touch is The Loop. This is a wrist strap (a la Nintendo's Wiimote) that lets you tether the touch to your arm for carrying and to make sure you don't drop your new device. The Loop is secured to the bottom back corner of the touch. There's a small button there that, when clicked, pops up a nub that you wrap The Loop around. Slip the other end over your hand and you're good to go.
In my testing, The Loop was impressively sturdy. I tried flailing my arm, whipping it (though somewhat gently, I admit; I didn't want to send the touch across the living room!), and otherwise doing things that could cause The Loop to slip off either my hand or the touch. In all instances, it remained securely anchored to my wrist.
I wish the same high marks could be given to the earbuds included with the touch, Apple's new EarPods. The EarPods update the iPod's trademark earbuds with a new, ear-canal-friendly shape and improved speakers. And all that's been said about them is correct: the fit is night and day improved over the old models, and these earbuds don't feel like they'll fall out at any minute. Sound is improved, too. The problem, though, is that the EarPods included with the touch aren't as full-featured as those that come with the iPhone. The iPhone version includes an inline remote to control volume, songs, and other features; this is missing from the ones that come with the touch. To get that version, you'll have to shell out an extra $30. That seems a bit nickel-and-dime for a device that runs nearly $300 for the entry-level model.
The Bottom Line
Despite that quibble, the 5th generation iPod touch is, without a doubt, the best, most complete handheld portable media and Internet device I've ever used. If you don't need the always-on Internet and phone features of the iPhone, or the larger screen of the iPad, this is the device you should get. Even at the relatively steep price, the features it offers--Internet access, email, messaging, apps, games, music, video--are so compelling, so polished that it will seem like a bargain.