Despite dropping the “Classic” line of iPods, Apple won’t let its iconic brand die. In fact, they’ve probably just designed the best iPod ever — but is it enough to get you to buy one?
Now in its sixth generation, the iPod Touch has always played second fiddle to the iPhone — retaining the same OS and software ecosystem, while foregoing cellular connectivity, GPS navigation and other flagship features.
So, if you own an iPhone — or any smartphone for that matter — why should you buy an iPod in 2015?
Introducing the new iPod Touch
The iPod Touch is essentially an iPod that runs iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad. This revision brings the iPod’s essential innards in sync with Apple’s current range of iOS devices, sporting a speedy iPhone 6-equivalent A8 processor and M8 motion co-processor, 1GB of RAM and a new 8 megapixel iSight camera.
Today I’m taking a look at the gold 64GB model which retails for $299, with 16GB, 32GB and 128GB variants available for $199, $249 and $399 respectively.
The 4″ touchscreen is essentially identical to that of the iPhone 5s, running at 1136×640 with a pixel density of 326 pixels-per-inch — being able to see individual pixels on-screen is a thing of a past. The new iPod Touch is Apple’s first iOS device to come with the new Bluetooth 4.1 specification, promising more user friendliness and energy-efficiency in future interactions with external devices.
Despite launching alongside a new Nano and Shuffle, the iPod Touch is the only device in the iPod range that can be used with Apple’s new Music streaming service. The Nano and Shuffle are still purely personal music players, and lack the connectivity-focused approach of the iPod Touch. Apple did this to stop you being able to download gigabytes of music to your Nano, cancel your subscription and keep it forever.
The iPod is a media-focused device, though you’ll need to transfer your music using the archaic iTunes interface (or use a third party app like VLC) if you’re not using a streaming service like Apple Music or Spotify. In terms of local playback, the iPod Touch is compatible with: AAC (including Protected and HE-AAC), MP3 (including VBR formats), Audible (2, 3, 4, Enhanced, AAX and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV. Supported video codecs include H.264 and MPEG-4 (both in .M4V, .MP4 and .MOV files), and M-JPEG (.AVI).
It’s hard to ignore what the iPod Touch represents in terms of device convergence, and just how far we’ve come in the last decade or so. Trying to find a comparable device from a rival manufacturer is difficult — Samsung’s Android-powered Galaxy Players were the closest in terms of app compatibility and a focus on media consumption, but they’ve been discontinued.
Instead you’ll have to look into the realm of the “dumb” MP3 player or the emerging high resolution audio player market, both of which exist at roughly the same price point as the iPod Touch. Cowon’s poorly-rated X9 comes with 32GB capacity and a disappointing 480×272 resolution screen for around $160 on Amazon (with an RRP of around $230).
Sony has a range of “high resolution” audio players in the Walkman range which will scratch your 24bit itch and allow you to play FLAC, like the NWZ-A17 which retails for $298 and comes with a 50-hour battery and expandable memory, but doesn’t run anything comparable to iOS for communication or software compatibility. Similarly FiiO’s second-generation X3 looks like an iPod Classic and ticks the high resolution boxes, but also lacks a “proper” OS and retails for between $200 and $300.
The iPod Touch really is a unique device — there’s nothing quite like it.
The Lightest, Thinnest iOS Device Ever
If you thought the iPhone 5 and 5s were perfect in terms of size, the sixth generation iPod Touch may leave a bitter taste in your mouth. This is essentially what the iPhone 6 could have been, give or take a few millimetres extra thickness for a GPS receiver, NFC chip and cellular radio.
In the hand the iPod Touch looks and feels like someone put the iPhone 5S on a diet and sanded the the back down to shape. The device is perfectly weighted, coming in at just 88 grams (compared to the iPhone 6 at 129 grams) thanks to a textured, lightweight aluminium chassis. You’ll want to avoid dropping the iPod Touch without a case for this reason: aluminium is a soft metal that doesn’t bruise well, and is prone to denting and scratching.
The sheer thinness of the device is enough to make it feel slightly flimsy — that’s not to say it is flimsy (Apple has surely learned its “bendgate” lesson by now), but the thickness has been reduced to such an extent that I’m now worried about snapping it in half. A few years of enjoyment from my iPad Air and (admittedly less time with the) iPhone 6 would suggest my fears are unfounded, however.
Compared to the fifth revision, this new iPod Touch only includes one major physical difference: there’s no longer a loop on the back for attaching a wrist strap or similar.
Not Quite an iPhone
While sharing the same OS as the iPhone, an iPod Touch is certainly no replacement for Apple’s best-selling gadget. Connectivity has been crippled as the iPod Touch lacks a cellular radio or GPS receiver, instead relying on Wi-Fi for its Internet and geo-location needs. Apple Maps is included, but it’s completely useless without a Wi-Fi connection.
One department where the iPod Touch triumphs over its better-connected relative is battery life, with a music playback runtime of 40 hours (or 8 hours of video). Under real-world use you can expect to get less than that, depending on whether you’re using Wi-Fi or playing Angry Birds, but the lack of a constant mobile data connection means less notifications and a more dependable battery life.
I charged the iPod Touch on Monday before loading it up with tracks from Apple Music, then I used it for three or four hours a day while working remotely on and off Wi-Fi. By Friday I was approaching 40% battery after using it purely as an audio player. Because of this I didn’t feel the compulsive need to charge the iPod all the time, like you would with an iPhone or iPad.
Unlike the iPhone, there’s no fingerprint scanner and thus no Touch ID, a smart move by Apple to keep the price down on a device that has little need for biometric security. On the back Apple has left out the true-tone flash used to balance skin tones on the iPhone 6, though raw picture quality is on-par under natural lighting.
The camera isn’t quite as technically impressive as its iPhone counterpart, shooting 8 megapixel still images but only managing 1080p video at 30 frames per second (the iPhone 6 can do this at 60 frames) and slow-motion 720p at 120 frames per second, compared to 240 frames on an iPhone.
Interestingly, the M8 motion co-processor means that the iPod Touch can track your movement and push statistics like total steps walked to your Health app. The only problem is that — unlike your iPhone — you probably won’t take your iPod everywhere you go. It does make for a nice expensive pedometer though.
The inclusion of iOS means access to the App Store, as well as handy apps like Calculator, Clock (for alarms and timers) and a highly capable (if a little squishy) web browser when you find a Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s also loaded up with a few “premium” Apple apps, like Keynote, Numbers and Pages; as well as the more predictable Podcasts app — all of which you can uninstall if you want to.
It’s true that the iPod Touch does a lot of what an iPhone does, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use it for such tasks. Apple has built a very capable device, but truth be told it’s probably overkill considering its intended real-world use.
Who is the iPod Touch 6G For?
And so we come to the biggest problem with the iPod Touch — just who is going to buy one? If you own an iPhone (or any smartphone for that matter) there seems to be little sense in spending more money on another device that lacks features you already have.
Children are an obvious choice. The iPod Touch provides parents with an opportunity to keep young ones entertained without providing unmitigated access to the Internet. It’s also easy to restrict certain iOS features, and link accounts together under Apple’s Family Sharing scheme.
Maybe you travel a lot and need a dedicated entertainment device to keep you occupied on long car journeys or flights. An iPod Touch would take the strain off your smartphone’s battery, but it’s something else to carry. Looking for a new point and shoot camera? The iPod Touch takes great photos, if you can live without optical zoom or removable storage.
Perhaps you’re a curious Android user who wants to dip your toes into the Apple ecosystem without jumping ship entirely. While the iPod Touch is a part of the iOS ecosystem, you’re still missing out on a large part of the core iPhone experience that “makes” iOS for many users.
Maybe you’re just sick of relying on your smartphone for your media consumption needs and want a capable, dedicated media player that can also keep your children entertained.
The Last iPod Ever?
It’s ironic — the best iPod ever could be the last iPod ever, purely because it’s been replaced as a device by do-everything smartphones and ultra thin tablets. If you can find a reason to buy one, you won’t be disappointed.
This is the best device of its kind, but the real question is: who needs one?