iPod touch (2010) review

iPod touch (2010), the fourth generation of Apple's app-enabled, phone-disabled iOS platform brings with it everything we've been waiting for in a mini tablet, but nowhere near enough of it. But that's often the ecstasy and the agony of Apple.

Since we've already posted both our iPhone 4 review, which has similar hardware, and iOS 4.1 walkthrough, which covers much of the same software, we're going to encourage you to check both those articles for more on what's the same and focus here on what's different.

So is it a worthwhile upgrade from last year's iPod touch? A realistic alternative to iPhone 4 for those who prefer other phones? A more pocketable option to iPad?

Check out the iPod touch in 10 minutes video for the quick answer up top and keep on reading for the full review.

iPod touch 4 gallery

iPod touch (2010) hardware

This year's iPod touch is, of course, thinner than last year's. It's ridiculous at this point: 4.4 inches (111.0 mm) tall, 2.3 inches (58.9 mm) wide, 0.28 inch (7.2 mm) thin, and only 3.56 ounces (101 grams).

That's only slightly shorter and narrower than iPhone 4, but an incredible 0.17 inches (2.1mm) thinner and 1.4 ounces (26 grams) lighter.

Ridiculous. For a child it's might be perfect but for an adult with adult sized hands it feels almost as though you could fold it in two and crush it if you held it wrong. (You can't, it's glass and stainless steal, but it's just so skinny...)

Unlike iPhone 4, iPod touch 2010 keeps the same old volume rocker as previous years. The sleep/wake button has been moved though and is now in roughly the same position as iPhone. Due to the sharpness of the taper, however it can be hard to press.

The taper also makes it hard to plug in the dock cable, at least harder than last year's iPod touch. The angle is just not friendly. The dock is flanked by external speaker and, still on the bottom, 3.5mm headset jack.

Brand new to iPod touch 2010, there's -- finally! -- a camera along for the ride. Two, actually. A front facing, VGA camera sits above the 960x640 LED Retina Display, and a 720p HD video camera that can also capture 0.7mp stills on the back. There's no LED flash, though, but there is a mic, also at long last.

Retina Display

The new iPod touch gets almost the same 960x640 LED Retina Display as iPhone 4. Almost in that, unlike iPhone 4 and iPad, this panel doesn't use IPS (inter-plane switching). Technically that means it shouldn't have as wide a viewing angle as the iPhone or iPad but in practice I barely noticed. Especially if I cranked the brightness, the display remained clear enough from a wide enough angle that I didn't miss IPS at all.

It's still 326 ppi (pixels per inch) so icons look cleaner, text looks sharper, and graphics of all kind looks all kinds of awesome. You don't really notice it until you go back to a 2009 iPod touch with only 25% the number of pixels, but once you do you really appreciate the difference. Here's a capture of the video above showing iPod touch 2009 (left) and iPod touch 2010 (right).

Cameras

iPod touch 2010 does what iPod touch 2009 couldn't -- get Apple to include a camera. (It probably stole it from the iPod nano, shhhh!). In fact, it's gotten two cameras. The front camera is the same as iPhone 4. It's VGA quality for video and stills and that means it's pretty much constrained to FaceTime video calls and profile picture snap shots.

The rear camera can record 16:9 720p HD video, just like iPhone 4. Where iPhone 4 can also take 5mp stills with auto-focus and LED flash, however, iPod touch 2010 can only take 720p (960x720, they cut off the edges to make it 4:3) still captures (0.7mp). Disappointing. If Apple hadn't insisted it get thinner every year, maybe an iPhone 3GS style 3.2mp, auto-focusing camera could have fit into a thin-enough package.

You can tap to set white balance, though.

Here's a sample photo. Click/tap to see it full size.

Here's a sample HD video recorded with iPod touch (and uploaded to YouTube directly, see below). Set it to 720p to view it full resolution.

If you think about iPhone 4 as a great mobile still camera that also takes HD video, and iPod touch as a good mobile video camera that also captures frames you'll have your expectations set.

It works and works well for casual video and the kind of quick, camera-you-have-with-you shots typically associated with feature phones.

Speaker and mics

Yes, iPod touch 2010 finally has a mic. It's for FaceTime and for FaceTime is works well. It's not a phone mic, and it's position on the back of the device should tell you that, but it works well enough for speaker-phone type situations and apps.

Likewise the speaker won't win any sound prizes from the golden ears but for FaceTime conversations, casual gaming, and listening to podcasts or audio books sans headset it's perfectly fine.

Internals

Apple's A4 chipset -- the custom combo of ARM Cortex A8 CPU and PowerVR SGX GPU -- goes for the threepeat with iPod touch. Unlike iPad where Apple proudly proclaimed the A4 was firing at 1GHz, they're treating iPod touch more like iPhone 4 and not mentioning the specs at all. It could be clocked down, it could be dynamic -- we don't know. I do know it throws Epic Citadel level games and graphics around with reckless abandon and sips power while doing so with the best of them.

256MB, same as last year's model and half what iPhone 4 has, however, is noticeable and annoying. Apple hasn't confirmed this either but independent tests and tear downs suggest it. Where I can keep 6-8 Safari pages cached in memory on iPhone 4, iPod touch 2010 starts to reload at 3. Where iPhone 4 multitasks smoothly from high intensity game to video to anything else, iPod touch feels like it slows for a few seconds as apps save state before it ramps it up again.

Unlike previous years, the NAND Flash storage didn't got up either. We get the same storage options we got before -- 8GB (?!), 32GB, and 64GB. No 128GB. With the new Apple TV being no-storage, stream-only, maybe Apple doesn't think 128GB is necessary? Those who still buy iPod classic, however, would likely beg to differ.

The battery life is also less, 10 hours video for iPad and iPhone 4 but only 7 hours for iPod touch. Again, I blame Apple's obsession with thinness. If they hadn't shaved off that extra millimeter and change, a beefier battery probably could have been fit into the package.

Also inside is a new, 802.11n compatible Wi-Fi radio (2.4GHz only), and a six-axis gyroscope. Both are welcome additions. The first lets you download everything from apps to web pages, and send emails and pictures faster, the other gives you far greater, more visceral-feeling control over games.

There remains no GPS, though Apple has only ever included GPS in 2G/3G capable devices so it could use aGPS for speedier location services.

Accessory compatibility

Once again, new form factor means new cases. Cables, Bluetooth, and anything that plugs in to iPod touch should be fine. Anything that needs to fit its specific shape will have to be bought again.

Worst of the best

No doubt about it, Apple added excellent, long anticipated features to iPod touch 2010 -- Retina Display, A4 chipset, cameras. But at the same time each of those things is worse than iPhone 4's version of the same -- no IPS panel, no 512MB of RAM, no decent still sensor.

But iPod touch is never meant to be comparable to the same year's iPhone. It's meant to be a low barrier of entry to the iOS, an inexpensive, contract free way to get into the App Store. To make it cheap Apple has to keep the costs down. No 3G radio, no 128GB, no spec parity with iPhone. iPod touch has always been as much about the compromises as it is the features.

Software

iPod touch 4 comes stock with iOS 4.1, the first point release to Apple's fourth generation mobile software platform. Again, since we've already covered iOS 4.1 extensively, including how it works on iPhone 4 (above), we're going to focus here on how the key new features feel on iPod touch 2010.

But first, lets just take a look at how the 2010 home screen compares the the original one from 2007...

Filled out a bit, hasn't it?

FaceTime

FaceTime on iPhone 4 connects via telephone number. Since that can't work on the telephone-less iPod touch, iOS 4.1 introduces the ability to use Apple ID associated email addresses for FaceTime. (That means, if you want to call someone with an iPhone 4, they have to have updated to iOS 4.1).

Once it's set up it works the same -- that is, simply and elegantly. It reminds me once again that while Apple certainly didn't invent video calling they've made it incredibly accessible to the mainstream.

If Mac and Windows get FaceTime, if other mobile devices pick up and run with the FaceTime protocol, if it really becomes ubiquitous it will make iPod touch a very interesting VoIP handset.

HD YouTube uploads

To go along with the new 720p video camera on the iPod touch 4, iOS 4.1 lets you upload those HD videos directly to YouTube at full resolution.

To upload you simply pick the video, tap the action button, tap YouTube, login if you need to, then fill out the fields and choose HD. You need to be on Wi-Fi for HD to be enabled, but if you are uploads are fairly snappy and results fairly good. (You can see the sample video in the camera section above.) Once the upload is done you'll be given the option to see or share the video, though often it takes YouTube a while to actually process it and make it available.

My only gripe is that Apple only allows single word tags while YouTube itself allows multi-word tags. So, I can't enter "ipod touch" as a tag. Sigh.

Game Center

When I've previously looked at Game Center it was either in developer sandbox mode or just coming on line. Well, now it's here and more and more games are updating to support it every day.

Whether Apple initially expected it or not, iPod touch has inarguably become a hit mobile gaming platform. And now as Microsoft gets set to bring Xbox Live-ish to Windows Phone 7 and rumors swirl of a PSP phone built on Android 3.0, Apple becomes first to market with a first-party social gaming platform all their own.

Not that users have been lacking for this type of service before, with options from Open Feint to Plus+ network. How does Apple's compare?

To start off, you can create an account, update your status, and add friends.

Game Center limited to 500 friends?

You can also see a list of your games that support Game Center. Tapping on one gives you general info and the ability to hit Play and go straight to the game. Tapping on Leaderboards lets you see top scores for Today, This Week, and All Time.

Achievements shows everything you can earn for playing the game.

Games that support Game Center show a brief drop-down when they start.

What it doesn't do (at least so far) is what I like most about ngmoco's Plus+ network: keep my gaming sessions in sync across devices. I can go from playing on my iPad to iPhone to iPod touch and back and each time I resume right where I left off the last time. Game Center keeps my account scores and achievements, but as far as I can tell it doesn't let the game save my state to the Game Center cloud.

So, for now, it's powerful and integrated but limited in scope.

Hardcore software

Along with the other new features in iOS 4 and iOS 4.1, everything from multitasking to folders, unified inbox for email to wallpapers, from TV rentals to Ping social music network, iPod touch has become a far more compelling device than it was last year -- when it was very compelling.

Almost all of these features, for the first time, came as free upgrades to last year's iPod touch as well, absent those that depend on new hardware like the cameras, which also makes it strangely less compelling for those who have the 2009 version.

From a pure software perspective, exclusively new to iPod touch 2010 are FaceTime and Camera, but along with them come the ability to shoot and upload your own pictures and videos but more -- to use camera-related App Store apps for the first time -- which includes Augmented Reality. That was a category completely denied to the iPod touch previously and one still denied the iPad.

Pricing and availability

iPod touch is available now and comes in 3 models: 8GB for US$229, 32GB for US$299, and 64GB for $399.

Since $70 is the only difference between 8GB and 32GB, unless you're on a seriously tight budget, that's almost a no-brainer. Another $100 for 64GB is a little tougher to rationalize unless you're a serious high bitrate music lover or app hoarder.

Conclusion

iPod touch 2010 is a serious but not perfect update. It adds so many things it's impossible not to recommend it, but at the same time cuts enough corners that it's just as hard not to quietly curse about it at the same time.

When you figure that an unlocked iPhone 4 will cost you over $600 for 16GB, $300 for a 32GB iPod touch shows why those corners were cut but having a tricked out high end option for those who want a great camera and lots of RAM but no cell contract would have been ideal.

Still, $300 for 32GB and it's your pocket camera, mobile game platform, VoIP handset, mini internet tablet, and -- oh yeah -- media player.

Killer convergence at a killer price.

It's easy to understand why Microsoft's ill-fated Zune HD was the only competition for the last gen iPod touch, and why the only competition for this one are upcoming 7" Android tablet attempts. It's also easy to see why everything from the Flip to the PSP are in trouble. iPod touch brings so much together, at such a relatively cheap price, with such a huge platform base, unless you hate simply dislike Apple products it's the absolute best deal for the best device on the market.

It's kept a notch below iPhone and iPad, but its leaps and bounds ahead of anything else on the market and that doesn't look to be changing any time soon.

Compared to other iOS devices, Apple makes the choice simple. If you want 3G always-on internet and don't mind a data plan, get an iPhone. If you want a much larger screen, get an iPad. If you just want a highly portable way to get onto the internet and into the App Store, that's the iPod touch.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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iPod touch (2010) review

36 Comments

Good review but I think you've got a typo when you talk about white balance adjustment for the camera. Should be 'can't' adjust white balance right? Unless there is a new feature I didn't know about :)

Nice review.
Want to point out one thing though: Augmented reality apps require GPS AND compass, not just a camera. That's why they didn't work on iPhone 3G (no compass) but on 3GS. So there's no reason why they would work on iPod Touch 2010 either.

Oh you're so right Luke. Can you send me a link to your reviews so I can see the same fine content that you create albeit earlier than this site? K thx.

Good review Rene, we're gonna get a couple of iPod Touch for development at the office. It's gonna be cheaper than buying more iPhones.

@Imran:
Different types of data/images can be overlaid in Augmented Reality. You couldn't do a location layer without GPS (well, I guess you could try using Wi-Fi triangulation but I don't think it would be as effective). However, games with live camera view elements could work.

Your quote
My only gripe is that Apple only allows single word tags while YouTube itself allows multi-word tags. So, I can’t enter “ipod touch” as a tag. Sigh. end quote
What I do is simply CAPITALIZE the NEXT WORD, and it does pick up on Google Searches, as for example:
"IpodToich". sometimes I go three or four "tag" words and it still works.

Is it really necessary to be making it thinner & thinner every year? Like we get Apple! You have the thinnest products in the world. All we're asking is for 2 megapixels. But hey, atleast there's a camera now.. Right?

I have last year's iPod Touch and use it like a mini iPad. I'd say the new Touch is worth it if you don't already have one or if you have a 1st or 2nd gen. But not worth upgrading from my last year's model. Maybe if they add a better camera next year.

I love the side-by-side 2007/2010 springboards. I had forgotten the original iPod Touch didn't even have the Notes app, and the App Store wasn't even invented yet! (and great review)

Great and overall review.
Well, I love my iPod touch. It's a phone, without the phone, with a new Retina Display, the A4 CPU, two cameras which allow for FaceTime calling and 720p video recording, just magical!
What's more, with the 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen, Retina Display, which means it had equal resolution (960 x 640) and pixel density (326 ppi) as the iPhone 4, all make watching video entertainment an utterly new experience on it, U know Im a totally movies fans, now apple's iMovie upgrade adds the support for 4 generation, sounds maybe I don't need to use iFunia iPod video Converter to do the converting, at least sometimes much trouble was saved.
Besides, FaceTime calls and Game Center, can't wait to get one and experience!
Aha, overall, have to say Apple is the best. They have the ability to change the momentum of the market with great products. I like it!!

@Schnooky/Rene, Copy and paste does in fact solve the issue of one-word tags in youtube! Hope this helps!

Unbelievable that you recommend this. 0.7mp? Seriously? You think that qualifies for the addition of a camera? They may as well just have supplied with with a paintbrush and a box of paints... the quality would be the same. 256 MB RAM? What a joke! Apple's starvation of various products in its lineup so that they don't compete with other products in their lineup is getting really really annoying. Why isn't the iPod Touch identical to the iPhone 4 but without a GSM radio? There is simply no excuse. Saying 'oh it's to make it cheaper' is ridiculous. If people want to buy cheap things, they're not going to go to Apple. The only reason the iPod Touch has downgraded hardware is to force those with the cash to flash to buy iPhone 4 to get the real experience, not to cater to those without cash to flash. And you know what, that wouldn't even be so bad if you could buy an iPhone 4 unlocked on any carrier you wish... I have been a huge Apple fan in the past, but they are getting greedier and greedier. I was hoping for hardware parity with iPhone 4. I'll keep dreaming and avoid this ridiculously thin and poorly executed mess of a media device. Rant over.

@Sam
Dude, consider the market that the Touch appeals to. They don't care about having 5 megapixels- they just want to film a quick video or have a FaceTime call. The people who buy it- college students, teenagers, people who hate AT&T, etc.- they care about price. A lot. Apple is a corporation- they exist to make money. So they need to keep costs down and margins high. And yeah, 256 MB of RAM is a letdown, but the iPhone 3GS has 256 MB of RAM and it seems to be doing just fine. Would I much rather have 512 MB of RAM? Yes. Am I pissed that Apple didn't just go with 512 MB of RAM? Yes. But it's not "worthless." Once again: Apple is a corporation. They exist to make money. Just like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Adobe, Amazon, and every other corporation in the world. Yeah, they want to make money. That's their job, get used to it.

From a new user…
About 3 weeks ago, my wife bought me a 3rd Gen ipod touch, to upgrade from my 7yr old dinosaur click wheel. I loved it. 32gig, smaller, lighter, nicer touch screen then my Droid, (easier keyboard for my meat hooks). Upgraded software, more functionality with apps etc. It was a huge difference.
And then my wife heard about the 4th gen two weeks after she bought the 3rd gen. She suggested taking it back and getting the 4th gen, with it’s added features like the retina display, cameras etc.. I dragged my feet (yes, I am stubborn) I have a Droid that does everything my ipod didn’t, so I didn’t need to upgrade. My wife ignored me and exchanged it for the 64gig 4th gen. Wow - MUCH better display. Something not mentioned in the above review, the internet comes up MUCH faster, in fact everything is faster. Since I got the 4th gen, I have been reaching for my ipod to look things up on the internet rather than firing up my laptop. Looking back and comparing, I’m glad I have the 4th gen. The display is better, it’s “noticeably faster” than the 3rd gen, and has a usable camera for on the go type pictures. So, IHO if you can upgrade it’s worth it. Some things I noticed… I didn’t think the size differences makes much difference. It’s small and thin, just like the last one. It is harder to plug it in. They removed the slider bar in the music player that let you go back to a point in a song. It’s a magnet for finger prints, and there’s no cases for it yet.

@RENE
ASAP Please!
I would like to see a review of the iPod Touch 4g being used as a phone with Line 2. I would also like a review and recommendations for a comfortable (no Apple earbuds) bluetooth cordless headset for making calls with the iPod Touch.

it's circulating all over that the new iPod has an obvious light leak near the volume controls, can anyone confirm?

Aha! Orchids! I saw orchids in the background of one of Georgia's iPhone case reviews. More evidence that Rene and Georgia are secretly married...

That review was really clear and not confusing for my small brain. You have convinced me to buy an ipod touch 2010 now! The video helped alot aswell. Good one!

I hope the 2011 iPOD Touch Gen5 has: At least a 5MP rear camera with flash and an HD front facing cam. HDMI out, DLNA/WIDI, MicroSD slot, Micro USB connector so you can conncet an external Hard drive or digital camera to transfer photos to post on fb, Blutooth 3.0, and a 4" display.

are there any apps that will allow you to use the IPod touch to process credit cards ? I need a way to do so, but do not want to get an Iphone....

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The iPod touch is a nice alternative if you can't swing a iPhone, but it's got a few trade offs which I couldn't go back to now that I do own a iPhone. But there are some great accessories out there that really help offset some of those trade offs. I've been looking into Morphcase recently http://bit.ly/LGlDdY

iPod Touch is a good option for someone who access little bit of internet mainly to access itunes and it has got decent features like Retina display, camera as good as iPhone and ofcourse the ability to listen to music that's it's forte ..love it