Apple's latest 2019 update is for a product some of us thought was just about to go the way of the dinosaur, the iPod touch. Though rumors have been circling for months, I for one, didn't put much stock in it because, well ... why?
Low and behold, on Tuesday, May 28, just a week after Apple updated the MacBook Pro, it added the iPod touch 7 to the 2019 roster. With nothing but a processor bump and larger storage capacity (Rene's minimalist review is: "Now with A10 and 256GB of storage), the real question becomes, who is this for?
After putting it through its paces, I can definitely say that Apple has made a smart move here, launching an updated, but still basic iPod touch that can serve as a dedicated device for those of us already in the Apple ecosystem and a gateway device for those who want to try out Apple's services but don't want to pay the premium for an iPhone or iPad.
For people who want
- AR support on an iPod touch
- A dedicated gaming device
- A dedicated music device
- An entertainment device for the kids
- A four-inch form factor
- To spend the least amount of money on a brand new Apple device
Not for people who want
- Face ID / Touch ID
- More than 256GB of storage
- Cellular connectivity
- Apple Watch connectivity
- 4K video recording
- A 12 MP camera
- Portrait Mode
Back in the day
A brief history of the iPod touch
The iPod touch first launched in 2007, the same year as the first iPhone. Back then, the iPod was Apple's most popular product and the iPod touch revolutionized the digital music industry (and subsequently put other MP3 players out of business). In October of 2012, the iPod touch received a design overhaul that gave us the overall look that we see today (sans the lanyard hook). That was the fifth-generation iPod touch.
Back in 2012, the iPhone and iPod touch were practically neck-in-neck in terms of specs. The iPhone always won out with a better camera and a more advanced processor chip (by one generation), but you could legitimately make side-by-side comparisons of the iPhone 5 and the fifth-generation iPod touch and it would make sense.
In 2015, when Apple updated the iPod touch again, things had changed significantly for Apple in terms of its iPhone lineup. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were Apple's flagship devices with Touch ID, a 12MP rear camera and a 5MP front camera, 4K video recording, and a lot of big improvements. The iPod touch didn't have any biometric login (still doesn't), didn't support 4K video (still doesn't), and had an 8MP rear camera and paltry 1.2MP front-facing camera (still does). You can see how the gap in technology grew over those three short years.
More and more, people were asking the question of why would someone want an iPod touch when they can get an iPhone? Even an iPad out performs an iPod touch, and has a much bigger screen.
Fast forward to 2019 (fast forwarding because nothing happened with the iPod touch in those four years) and we're looking at an iPod touch that is essentially the same design as the one from 2012 with nearly all the same specs as the one from 2015 with the only change being that it now has an A10 processor chip, so it supports augmented reality (AR) and you can get it in as much as 256GB storage. So we're again faced with the question of why would anyone want an iPod touch when they can get an iPhone?
This is what it's for
iPod touch 7 as a dedicated music player
When it comes to music listening, downloading or streaming, the iPod touch 7 is pretty much exactly the same as its predecessor. You're not getting a new or better listening experience. The Bluetooth connection is the same. The speakers are the same. If you have never owned an iPod touch, or like me, your last iPod touch is still running iOS 6 and doesn't even support Apple Music, a new iPod touch is a great investment.
My personal favorite use for the iPod touch is as a dedicated music player. I love loading up playlists and bringing them with me to parties, backyard BBQ, and camping trips. What I don't love is when my iPhone becomes the jukebox for the evening. It's especially bothersome when other people want to play songs on my iPhone. I love that they want to play different music. I don't love that my iPhone is the instrument. What about text messages? What about the various notifications I have set up? With a dedicated music player, I don't have to worry about any of that.
Most important; I don't have to worry about running out of battery life on my iPhone, which is much more important after the party is over and I'm trying to get a ride home, or when I'm camping and every ounce of juice is needed for mapping my return trip.
Using the iPod touch as a dedicated music player also means that I can share with my significant other. We have varying tastes in music and preferred services. I use Apple Music, he uses Spotify. I can stream my favorite playlists and albums on Apple Music and it won't affect his end of year song list in Spotify. He can create his perfect road trip playlist in Spotify and I won't get recommendations for genres I'm not interested in.
If the iPod touch isn't being used for anything but music, I can also pair it with whichever speaker I want and never have to unpair it to use a different speaker or headphones. I can set it up in one place in the house (or backyard) and never have to change that setup.
Similarly, I can do the same thing in the car. Download all the music, podcasts, and audiobooks I want while on Wi-Fi, and then drop my iPod touch in the car and I've got a world of entertainment at my fingertips. I don't have to reconnect my iPhone every time I get into the car. The iPod touch is always there. Plus, when I need my iPhone for navigation, I don't have to worry about it interrupting my listening experience.
The first mobile gaming console (not)
With iPod touch 7, Apple improved the processor chip to the A10, and thus improved the gaming experience significantly. Logically, you would think this means that gaming on the iPod touch is fantastic now.
Well ... not really.
It's better, to be sure. The A10 Fusion chip is much faster than the A8 chip of the iPod touch 6. According to Apple, up to 2x faster performance and up to 3x better graphics.
I tested the iPod touch 7 with a handful of different games intended to push it to its limits.
Fortnite, the game everyone wants to know whether it works on iPod touch 7, does, indeed work on iPod touch 7. It runs smooth, has no lag, and never drops connection. That being said, it really doesn't look as good as playing it on the iPhone XS. It's like there's a matte filter across the screen. Everything is just a little flatter and stripped down. AppleInsider did a more comprehensive test with Fortnite if you want to know a little more about it.
CSR Racing, a game that's known for its incredibly detailed realism in graphics, plays like its riding on rails on the iPod touch (did you get my Pretty Woman reference there?). How it looks, however, isn't quite so smooth. It's not bad or ugly, it's just not as good as the amazing graphics on the iPhone XS. It's like we stepped back in time, graphically, to about 2017.
As for AR, I installed Lego AR Playgrounds to see what the iPod touch could do. Once I was able to scan and find a flat surface (which took way longer than I think it should have), the game was afoot! Though the screen is a little small for AR, the overall device size is much better for AR games. It's lightweight and easy to move around with one hand. I don't know if you've ever seen anyone trying to play AR games on an iPad, but it's an awkward experience.
That being said, when Apple Arcade launches, graphics-intense games may not be an issue. There are hundreds and hundreds of beautiful mobile games, like Alto's Odyssey, Lumino City, Monument Vally (1 and 2), and more that look great on the iPod touch 7 and play great, too.
Even though Apple's biggest improvement to the iPod touch in 2019 is its processor performance, which is obviously geared toward gaming, the iPod touch fails to impress me as a dedicated gaming device.
What it all comes down to is, the iPod touch 7 is not the new mobile gaming console we've all been waiting for.
Surprisingly good experience
A tiny movie theater in your pocket
Movies, TV shows, documentaries, YouTube videos, you can watch it all on the iPod touch. For being such a small screen, it looks pretty fantastic. No, I'm not suggesting we all throw our 5K monitors in the garbage, but if you're stuck at a boring seminar, hiding from the family on Thanksgiving, or just want to show your buddy the latest Fail videos, the iPod touch is a nice little media player.
And, again, as a dedicated device, you can download all the movies and TV shows you can fit with the storage you have and go off the grid with it. Bring it to your hotel with a proper HDMI connector and you don't have to worry about whether the internet is going to work well enough to let you watch movies all night long.
When TV+ comes out later this fall, I would not turn my nose up at watching Apple's exclusive content on the iPod touch, even with such a small screen. It's not ideal, but it's totally doable.
Everyone can play
An iOS device for the non-Apple people
For anyone looking to get into the Apple ecosystem that doesn't already own an iPhone or iPad, the iPod touch 7 is a great first-timer's experience. It runs the latest iOS, supports all of Apple's services, and has all the same connection features that you need (like Bluetooth and AirPlay support).
It doesn't have cellular support, so you can't use your phone number to call people (unless you do have an iPhone, in which case, you can use it to make and receive calls when your iPhone and iPod touch are on the same Wi-Fi network using Continuity). You can, however, use the Messages app with your Apple ID to send and receive iMessages, including using tap backs, screen effects, and bubble effects. For Android users, this is a great way to participate in the phenomenon that is Messages without having to switch.
Using various social apps like Skype or WhatsApp, you can essentially use an iPod touch like a phone for all intents and purposes. You just have to be on a Wi-Fi network to do so. If you're tired of paying that high monthly cellular + data bill for your phone, maybe it's time to switch off and just use an iPod touch instead. It would take some working around and you'd be without an internet connection when you're on the road, but it's doable ... if you're willing to try.
Long live the four-inch form factor!
It's not secret that I'm a fan of the four-inch form factor. I love the iPhone SE. It's a perfect fit for my hands and my pocket.
The iPod touch is the exact same width and height, and is even thinner (nearly half the thickness) as the iPhone SE. So tiny. So cute.
I'll admit, after two years of the iPhone X and iPhone XS screen size, that four-inch screen does seem pretty small, though. If I'm playing games like Pokémon GO or checking my email on the road, I like the larger screen real estate that the iPhone XS provides.
Which is why I think a four-inch screen is the perfect size for the iPod touch. I want to stream music, podcasts, and audiobooks from it and don't need a big screen to do that.
What about the iPod touch 6?
If you already have the sixth-generation iPod touch, it's not likely that you're going to find the processor upgrade to be enough to buy a new one. The point of the faster processor is to play games that the iPod touch 6 can't handle, but I don't think they look that good on the iPod touch 7 compared to an iPhone XS, and so don't think the one major upgrade is worth moving from the sixth-generation to the seventh.
The only other significant change is that the iPod touch 7 storage capacity goes to 256GB, which is pretty darn big if the only thing you're using it for is media and entertainment. The iPhone XS, however, goes to 512GB, so you can double your storage and save half of it just for movies, music, and games if you wanted and have the better screen and graphics processor.
It just works
I wouldn't be properly reviewing a device if I didn't mention the overall performance, including the camera, battery life, and system speed.
Everything on the iPod touch 7 works as you'd expect it to. Apps and games load fast. A couple of apps crashed when I launched them, but that happened right after I got it, so it may have been due to the heavy processor use installing all that content on a new device. The battery lasts a decently long time. I didn't run it for 40 hours straight, but I did run it for about 8 hours straight, listening to music, and the battery percentage only dropped by about a quarter.
The camera isn't anything to get excited about. The rear-facing camera performs really well in natural sunlight. Clear, crisp images. In the dark, it's pretty noisy. The FaceTime camera is ... OK. It's a bit grainy, but not as bad as I thought it would be. You won't want to blow up your selfies for a billboard ad, but they're good enough for the soch meeds. It's interesting to go back to a selfie cam that doesn't smooth out your features at all. My face isn't as clear as I thought.
Who's this for?
For more than just Android users and kids
The most obvious reason to get an iPod touch is that it's is a great starter device for kids. Parents can invest a minimal amount of money to get what is essentially an iPhone without cellular capability (or a tiny iPad, if you prefer). The starting price of an iPod touch is $199, so it's less burdensome on the pocketbook than any other Apple device and it's brand new, so kids won't complain about outdated technology.
Your kids can load up whatever music they want (that you've approved), what ever games they like (that you've agreed to), and whatever streaming movie and TV service you're signed up with (after they've finished their homework). Thanks to Screen Time and improved parental controls, you can also lock down this iPod touch and monitor it from your iPhone. More freedom for the little ones, less annoyances for you ("Mom, can I play with your iPhone while we're out to dinner?").
Another obvious demographic is Android users. We all want to see if the grass is greener on the other side, and Apple wants to convince Android users to switch. An iPod touch lets Android users have a low-cost gadget that will allow them to play in the Apple playground without having to switch. I own an Android tablet that I bought specifically because it was inexpensive enough for me to feel OK buying, even though I knew it wouldn't be something I used every day ... or even every week.
With Apple's recent push to sell its services, this is an ideal way to shore up its user base for things like TV+, Apple Music, and Apple Arcade. The latter, I think, is the main reason Apple updated the iPod touch. The 2015 iPod touch specs were perfectly acceptable for streaming Apple Music or reading News+ (though it's a pretty small screen for those magazines to fit on). The A10 processor chip means it now supports AR apps and games, something Apple has been bullish on for the past few years. Apple is trying to sell its services and wants Android users. The iPod touch can make that possible.
But those aren't the only people that the iPod touch is for.
People with low or no vision have long been champions of the iPod touch because it's a low-cost screen reader. Thanks to the robust accessibility features, you can use VoiceOver to read the news, your favorite blog posts, and a lot more. With display accommodations, you can adjust the way things look on the screen, like inverting colors and setting filters for color blindness. The Zoom feature on iOS magnifies things up to 1500 percent, so you can read certain things without having to pinch-to-zoom the whole screen. The magnifier is another incredible feature that, when used in conjunction with display accommodations, provides an advanced magnifying reader that can help with non-digital reading. The iPod touch can do all of this and its much less expensive than buying an iPhone or iPad.
Coders can take advantage of the low price tag on the iPod touch. If you're looking for a developer device, but can't afford one of Apple's more expensive products, $199 starts to look really good. Schools can buy them in bulk and use them as learning tools for students for coding, too.
The iPod touch is worth buying, even if you already own an iPhone.
I've heard a lot of people say that the iPod touch is obsolete and isn't worth buying if you already have a smart phone. I used to think the same way. My most recent iPod touch is from 2010 and I haven't touched it since about 2012 (until today when I booted it up to see what it's like). With the iPod touch 7, I can see a whole list of possibilities, all of them based on the idea that this is a dedicated device, meaning you can use it for one thing and one thing only, if you so choose.
- Download a bunch of games you wouldn't have put on your iPhone for space-saving reasons. It's like a mobile game console.
- Stock up on downloaded music. This can be used at backyard barbecues where you can play music all night without worrying about running out of batteries on your iPhone.
- Leave it in the car. As a dedicated music player plus a device for gaming on the go, this things got it all and you don't have to keep it with you at all times like you might with your iPhone.
- Bring it on a jog or to the gym. You can leave your iPhone at home, or at least in your gym bag, and still have the use of your entertainment apps. This is especially nice for people that don't already own an Apple Watch.
- Download audio books and podcasts. If you're headed on a long road trip, this can be your one-stop shop for music, podcasts, and audio books and you don't have to deal with your navigation apps affecting your experience.
- Connect it to your speakers at work and pipe in your favorite tunes. Don't worry about taking it home at night. It's the work iPod!
- Want to set up a dedicated iMessage app so you can chat with grandma or the grandkids? You can sign in with a separate Apple ID from what you have on your iPhone and this becomes a special communications device.
iPod Touch 7 Conclusion
I am actually surprised at how much I connected with the iPod touch 7. I went into this thinking it'd be pointless because I already have an iPhone, iPad Pro, iPad mini, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. How could I possible find a use for another Apple device?
Turns out, there are plenty of things I can, and will, use the iPod touch for, specifically as a dedicated music device.
If you have an iPod touch 6, this is probably one to skip. The one major upgrade, the A10 Fusion chip, does make it possible to play games that you can't play on the iPod touch 6, but they don't look nearly as good as they do on an iPhone.
If you haven't had an iPod touch since 2012 (or earlier), this is a solid upgrade you might want to consider. It'll rekindle your love of the iPod. If you really don't think there's a reason for you to buy an iPod touch, you're probably right. It's an excess for anyone that already owns an iPhone, but that doesn't mean you won't love it, anyway.
If you're an android user and have been wondering what it's like to play in Apple's playground, you really should get an iPod touch 7. It's not the same as having an iPhone XS. But you're not looking for a new iPhone, are you? The iPod touch lets you jump into the Apple ecosystem without having to commit to anything.
I recommend the 128GB model if you can afford it. You're going to want to download a lot of music, movies, and games that you can use when you're not on Wi-Fi, so you don't want to run out of space too fast. The 128GB is the best value at $299.
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