For our iPhone 3GS hardware review, we joked it was the same as last year, end of story. Thanks to Apple, we're left with pretty much the same opening line here: the iPod touch G3 is the same as last year.
Except, of course, like the iPhone 3GS, that outward assessment doesn't tell the inner story at all, and while Apple marketing didn't see fit to call this the iPod touch S, that inner story is again all about speed.
Note: You'll see a lot of "like the iPhone 3GS here" because, frankly, it is and we reviewed that member of Apple's mobile platform family first. That also means we'll focus on what differences there are, and we'll also take a look at whether the iPod touch G3 is a good choice for those who want in on Apple's iPod and App Store ecosystem, but don't want an iPhone or smartphone contract. (Yes, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm, Android, and feature-phone users want an "App for That" too...)
On the Outs
The shell is the same as last year's iPod touch. Indeed, the 8GB version IS last year's model. Regardless, they all share the insanely thin form factor, enhanced by the deep curves of the mirror-like chrome backing. For those who've never held one, it's noticeable slimmer, and not-quite-as-noticeably lighter than an iPhone 3GS. It's also smaller, roughly the height and width of an iPhone if you removed its silver bezel. The sleep and home buttons are of course in place, as are the volume rockers and external speaker(-ish) that snuck in during the second generation.
The 32GB, and the 64GB model iPod touch G3 we're looking at here get all new guts this year, the same glorious guts the iPhone 3GS got. Almost.
Turns out the iPod touch G3 has a slightly newer version of the same Samsung Cortex A8 processor -- S5L8922X as opposed to the iPhone 3GS S5L8920X. Last year's iPhone touch 2G was clocked faster than last year's iPhone 3G, and it's possible this year's is clocked faster than the iPhone 3GS as well, but we haven't seen any hard evidence of that yet. Likewise, iPod touch G3 seems to have the same PowerVR SGX graphics core as the iPhone 3GS, but since Apple never, not ever, speaks about specs, we'll have to wait until all the tear down data is in.
We do know, however, that the iPod touch G3 has a newer Broadcom BCM4329 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip that could, potentially, be unlocked to run at 802.11n speeds. The iPhone 3GS doesn't have that chip, or that potential. Whether Apple ever does unlock it, however, is anyone's guess.
Cut the Cameras, Kill the Mics
The biggest news following the release of the iPod touch G3 wasn't the speed, however, or any of the software functionality. It wasn't a feature at all. It was the lack of a widely rumored, universally anticipated feature -- a camera and mic with video recording and sharing capabilities.
We saw cases with cutouts for cameras. We saw prototypes with cameras. We even saw tear downs with holes for where the cameras could -- arguably should -- have been.
But the iPod touch G3 is here and the camera isn't. Apple doubtless stopped that signal.
We don't know for a fact why. Steve Jobs said it was to keep costs down and the focus on the App Store. Rumor said the cameras Apple planned to use were defective or otherwise didn't work out. Our guess is that an iPod nano G5-style VGA video-only camera was a deal-breaker for Apple when it came to their flagship iPod touch, and if Apple can't do something great, they tend not to do it at all.
Bottom line, maybe next year.
Home Sweet Home
While the iPod touch shares Apple's multitouch-centric mobile OS X with the iPhone, it obviously doesn't include the phone part (or any of the telephony, which means no SMS/MMS or tethering either -- nothing that uses a cellular network), and -- as mentioned -- it doesn't have a camera. That means it doesn't include the Phone, Messages, and Camera apps, and that means the home screen is slightly different. Under the iPhone 3.1 OS (or 3.1.1 as it quickly prompts you to update) that means the default set includes, in order: Mail (not in dock), Calendar, Photos, Contacts (on the first page), YouTube, Stocks, Maps (without GPS), Weather, Voice Memos, Notes, Clock, Calculator, Settings, iTunes, Music (in dock instead of Phone), Videos (in dock in place of Mail), Safari, and App Store (in dock).
Yes, iPod isn't there, and Music and Videos are broken out, though both Music and Videos provide access to video podcasts. (Music supports landscape and portrait mode videos, Videos only landscape mode). A tad confusing, even if it does help fill out the home screen.
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.