Editors' note: On October 12, 2011, Apple provided a free software update for the iPod Touch bringing new apps and several refinements to existing features. Visit CNET's iPhone Atlas for an in-depth look at these changes.
Portions of this review are taken from CNET's review of the 2010 iPod Touch.
Apple's latest version of the iPod Touch hasn't changed dramatically from the model first introduced in 2007, but the rest of the tech world has. It's now the age of the "app," the iPad, and smartphones both big and small. The iPod Touch shouldn't apologize for being Apple's "iPhone without a phone" anymore; it's just as valid to call it an iPad that fits in your pocket.
Available in either white or black and priced at $199 (8GB), $299 (32GB), and $399 (64GB), Apple's iPod Touch maintains all of the core essential features that have made the iPod great over the years, such as music playback, photos, video, podcasts, audiobooks, and games. Many of the new marquee features found in the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 are also here, including iMessages, iCloud support, an HD camcorder and FaceTime video calls, and more.
And while the iPod Touch is lagging slightly behind the iPad and iPhone in terms of its technology (slower processor, no GPS, no 3G capability), it offers the least expensive entry point into Apple's iOS ecosystem, bringing with it a world of entertainment that is unmatched at this price.
The only visual difference between the iPod Touch launched in 2009 and the one launched in 2010 is the availability of a white model. Beyond that, the hardware is entirely unchanged. The software has been overhauled, but we'll get to that in a minute.
The back of the Touch has a camera lens in the upper-left corner, along with a pinhole microphone. The camera placement is nearly identical to the iPhone 4's camera, though the cameras themselves differ. The camera used on the Touch is strictly designed for video recording, but it can be made to capture still frames, whereas the iPhone's camera pulls equal weight as both a photo camera (5-megapixel sensor, LED flash, HDR support) and an HD camcorder.
The iPod's front-facing camera is placed above the screen and behind the glass, where the earpiece would normally be found on a mobile phone. An integrated speaker is also included on the Touch, located behind a tiny speaker grille on the bottom edge of the device, along with a standard dock connection and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
The rest is just as you'd expect. There's a Home button below the capacitive touch screen, which still measures 3.5 inches diagonally. At 3.56 ounces, this is the lightest iOS device money can buy, feeling practically invisible in your pocket. Score one for the skinny jeans.
Unsurprisingly, the iPod Touch continues its neck-and-neck, spec-to-spec race with the iPhone. Features that made headlines when they made their iPhone 4 debut have trickled over to the iPod Touch without much fanfare, but are no less impressive. You get the same A4 processor, same three-axis gyro sensor, and a Retina Display that uses an impressive 960x640-pixel resolution at a dense 326 pixels per inch. You still can't make cell phone calls on the Touch, surf over a 3G connection, or receive a GPS signal, but the gap between the Touch and the iPhone is smaller than ever.
One basic iPhone feature Touch users have missed out on for some time now is an integrated microphone. The fourth-gen Touch solves the problem with a mono microphone on the back that picks up sound equally in every direction (i.e., omnidirectional). The addition of the microphone is ostensibly there for the adjacent camcorder and FaceTime video-calling feature (see below), but also works with features such as the Voice Memos app and third-party VoIP and audio-recording apps that previously required a compatible headset or microphone accessory.
The camera on the back supports HD video recording up to 720p at 30 frames per second. The resulting video file is h.264 QuickTime MP4, which can be edited directly on the device using the basic trim feature or the more advanced iMovie editor (available for $4.99). You can sync your recordings back to your computer using the included USB cable, or send the results directly from the Touch using e-mail, or an upload to YouTube. We also have to give points to the Touch for being able to embed roughly estimated geotag information to your photos and videos, provided you keep the Wi-Fi antenna on.
The front-facing camera is convenient for self-portraits and video calling, but its VGA resolution (640x480 pixels) can't compete with the HD camera on the back. A toggle button on the touch screen allows you to seamlessly toggle between the two cameras.
Both cameras are capable of taking still shots as well, but the results don't hold up to the 5-megapixel camera (with LED flash) found on the iPhone 4. Essentially, these photos are simply video stills, which equate to a 960x720-pixel resolution using the camera on the back, or 640x480 pixels using the self-portrait cam. You get the same tap-to-focus capabilities found on the iPhone 4, but the shots won't make your digital camera jealous.
Overall, the iPod Touch works well as a pocket camcorder, though we still prefer a dedicated pocket camcorder when it comes to video quality, audio quality, and plug-and-play flexibility. That said, you can't browse the Web, download apps, or e-mail your friends from a Flip, so keep that in mind.
Gaming is a big part of the iPod Touch's appeal, due in part to the improved display, additional three-axis gyro sensor, and A4 processor performance boost that arrived in 2009. The breadth of game selection available through the integrated App Store is exhaustive. Beyond the expected selection of fun, addictive casual games, such as Angry Birds, Scrabble, and Plants vs. Zombies, there's a growing number of console-quality titles, such as Mirror's Edge, Assassin's Creed, and Madden NFL 11.
It's worth noting that many of the more intense games take a big toll on the iPod's battery life. In our initial, casual testing, a new game like Mirror's Edge drained the battery to 20 percent in an hour or so of play. If gaming is going to be your primary use for an iPod Touch, it's probably worth investing in an external backup battery pack.
Another gaming feature introduced with the fourth-generation iPod Touch is an Apple-developed app named Game Center, which comes preinstalled. The Game Center app acts as a leaderboard that collects your progress and achievements for all the games installed on your iPod. It also displays the top scores and game rankings of your friends and facilitates wireless, multiplayer gameplay between your friends, or will automatch you with a random player. If you've grown tired of playing Scrabble or racing games against the computer, Game Center is Apple's way of making its game offerings more social.
Music and video
True to the iPod's legacy as a media playback device, the iPod Touch delivers just about every music and video experience you can think of. Putting aside third-party apps, such as Pandora Radio, Rhapsody music subscriptions, or Netflix video streaming, the core music and video playback capabilities are impressive in their own right. Using Apple's free iTunes software on your computer, you can sync your music collection, podcasts, audiobooks, music videos, movies, TV shows, and free educational lectures and videos from iTunes U.