I have used my iPod touch second generation (2G) for just about everything. It's great for e-mail, instant messaging, Web surfing, streaming music and video, watching TV, controlling my Blu-ray player and media center PC, playing games, and much more. I even manage the iPhone Life Web servers with it. The "iTouch" is an undisputed powerhouse of mobile capability and one of the premier Apple products of all time. Needless to say, I was anxious to see the refinements and fantastic new features incorporated in the new iPod touch fourth generation (4G); as soon as it became available, I upgraded immediately.
Outwardly, the new 4G is similar to its predecessors. The Home button is centered below the touchscreen as expected, with volume buttons along the left side (from the front), similar to earlier versions. The power button is on the curved top edge of the device, on the opposite side from its location on the 2G. Along the bottom, the 4G sports the same 3.5mm audio jack and 30-pin cable connection ports. At 4.4 inches tall, and 2.3 inches wide, the new iTouch is slightly smaller than the 2G, but the screen appears to be the same size in both units. Finally, the outer casing is much the same as previous models (chrome on one-side, glossy black on the other).
There are some subtle but significant changes to the hardware. The 4G's glass-smooth, dark face has a more rounded and smooth appearance, but is slightly thinner than the 2G. In addition, the 4G has two cameras: a lower-resolution camera on the upper-right front to support FaceTime video conferencing and a HD camera in the upper-left corner of the back. Finally, the 4G's amazing 3.5-inch, 960 x 640 display is stunningly clear and bright.
Setup: Get the latest version of iTunes
When I first connected the 4G to my desktop computer, Windows 7 reported an error while trying to install the drivers (my computer was already set up to sync with my 2G). I followed the quick-tip instructions, downloaded the latest iTunes version, and rebooted. Then I disconnected the 4G, reconnected my 2G, and updated it to iOS 4.1. Finally, I disconnected the 2G, reconnected the 4G, and was able to connect and sync it to iTunes.
When iTunes first detected the new 4G, it gave me a choice to add it as a second iPod or restore the original iPod image to it. I selected to configure it as a second iPod option. The setup then prompted me to choose what info from iTunes to sync. iTunes added all my existing music and apps to the 4G.
Games that rely solely on tilt controls can be wonky at times on my 2G, but work much better on the 4G because it has not only an accelerometer but also a 3-axis gyro. The combination provides a noticeable improvement in precision and sensitivity. For example, Tilt-to-Live ($2.99, app2.me/2554) is a game that is controlled entirely by tilting the iPod touch. I installed it on both my 2G and 4G and ran its tilt calibration setup in a simple side-by-side test. On the 2G, the directional orientation kept flickering around and the icon drifted noticeably. On the 4G, the directional orientation barely moved when placed on a flat surface and exhibited a more gradual drift on a slight incline. However, the icon did not drift, indicating the new internal sensors are much more reliable and stable.
Touchscreen and user experience
Version 4 of iOS has an added feature that lets you change the background wallpaper for both the Home and Lock screens. However, you can only change the Lock screen wallpaper on the 2G. The default versions of both screens and the icons on them look much the same on the 4G as they do on the 2G.
What has changed is the clarity and graphic response of the new touchscreen, providing 24-bit color depth (326 pixels per inch—more than double the 2G's screen resolution). Animations are more lucid, and videos and 3-D games are sharper.
Improved specs and performance
The svelte 4G sports the new 1 GHz A4 CPU (same as the iPad) and has 256MB of RAM memory. The 2G has the older 533 MHz ARM processor and 128MB of RAM. In ad-hoc tests, the 4G did not greatly outperform my 2G, but there was a marked difference in some respects. For example, start up (after reset) was about 45 seconds faster on the 4G, and it loaded most games faster as well.
3-D games performed better on the 4G. For example, both Top Gun 2 ($1.99, app2.me/3134) and Real Racing ($4.99, app2.me/105) ran more smoothly on the 4G, whereas both games had occasional stutters and freezes on the 2G. In general, graphics were more clearly defined on the 4G's Retina display. As mentioned, the tilt controls performed better. All things considered, the 4G provides a noticeably better gaming experience.
To add to the fun, Apple has added Game Center to the 4.1 OS (available for 2G through 4G models), which is about the easiest way I have seen to conduct multi-player or collaborative gaming. One thing Apple does well is take the complexity out of almost anything, and in Game Center you can quickly login, find games, and add friends to play against.
Though I did not confirm Apple's claim that it provides 40 hours of music playback, the 4G never ran out of power during my tests. I did confirm that it can be charged quickly, up to an 80% charge in around 2 hours. Finally, I also noticed that the back of the unit felt warm rather quickly, especially when I was playing intense, highly active games.
The iOS 4.0 software upgrade included the much-requested multitasking capability, which allows you to leave apps running in the background and switch between them quickly. The iPod touch 4G and 3G support this feature; the 2G does not. In addition, individual apps must be upgraded by their developers to take advantage of multitasking.
I love this easy-to-use feature. Simply double press the Home button, and an app launcher appears on the bottom of the display. Tap on the desired icon to switch to the app. When I'm reviewing an app, I use the Notes app on my iPod touch to jot down impressions and comments. I leave Notes and the app I'm reviewing running on my 4G and use multitasking to switch between them quickly and easily.
Which iPod is Right for You?
Don't want a phone and don't need the tablet-sized iPad? Apple offers a variety of iPod models to meet your needs. A great comparison page is available on Apple's website (apple.com/ipod/compare-ipod-models). This sidebar is my attempt to point you in the right direction based on seven iPod consumer categories I've developed:
The mobile geek: Hands down, the iPod touch is the device of choice for the mobile geek. These people need the best device around. Although the 32GB version would suffice, they should probably go with a 64GB version of the new iPod touch so they don't run out of room for photos, videos, movies, music, and games. If they work in an area that restricts cameras, they'll probably have to settle for an iPod classic.
The music lover: Music lovers would be satisfied with any iPod, but they should probably go with the Nano. As I see it, a music lover wants to be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want to. The Nano is small, can go anywhere, and even has an FM radio built into it.
The "movieholic": If you live for the cinematic arts and don't really care much about apps, HD cameras, and all that other stuff, the iPod classic model is probably the best fit. It's true that you can watch movies on your iPhone, but doing so will drain your battery quickly—no phone calls! Grab a 160GB iPod classic; it'll cover your flick binge for at least 6 hours.
The exercise freak: This category also covers rock climbers, mountain bikers, and other over-the-top outdoor types. A Nano would probably work, but they'd eventually break its touch screen. All things considered, the iPod shuffle is probably the best choice for them.
The bookworm: The iPod touch is the only choice for people who read eBooks, and the 8GB version will hold a lot of them. If you prefer audiobooks, the Nano, Shuffle or Classic will work.
The hipster: This is the person you see in silhouette in those Apple commercials, dancing around with iPods. Their major requirement is listening to music and looking cool while doing it. The Nano and Shuffle both come in assorted colors and can be clipped just about anywhere. It's a toss-up between those two iPods.
Average person: They probably don't have an extensive music or video collection. They don't want a data plan and they don't make a fetish out of style. Maybe they'll play a game now and then, or listen to the occasional podcast. They want to do a little of everything. Hands down, they should go for the 8GB or 32GB version of the iPod touch.
Like the iPhone 4, the iPod touch 4G has two cameras. However, the resolution of the rear-facing "HD" camera is less than its counterpart on the iPhone 4. The front-facing camera is suitable for real-time video and VGA-quality stills. The rear-facing camera is designed for higher definition video and stills.
The front-facing camera was included primarily to support FaceTime, which will allow you to video chat with other FaceTime users over a Wi-Fi connection. It's suitable for that and capturing lower resolution images that you can post on Facebook, etc. I was able to use it for a 20-minute chat with some of the iPhone Life masterminds one afternoon. While it was a bit jerky, it worked quite well.
I like the inclusion of the rear-facing camera even though it's not as high-def as the one found on the iPhone 4. It not only lets me shoot higher quality video, it makes it easy to post your video to YouTube. (To get a better idea of the video quality, check out the test video embedded towards the end of the blog version of this article posted on the iPhone Life website (iphonelife.com/blog/97/ipod-touch-4g-review-part-2).
Enhanced Wi-Fi/Bluetooth capabilities
The Wi-Fi on the 4G supports 802.11b/g/n (the 2G only b/g), and I was able to quickly set it up and get connected on my home network. The 4G was snappier by several seconds in opening Web sites, but in most cases not exceeding so (in comparison to my 2G). I could not test it on a wireless 802.11n network but would expect it to perform even better, especially when downloading apps, playing videos, and other high bandwidth activities.
My older 2G does not support the new Bluetooth HID profile included in iOS 4.0, but the iPod touch 4G does. This lets me use my iGo Stowaway keyboard, making text entry that much easier. Of course, both support using a BT stereo headset.
Should you buy an iPod touch?
In addition to the things I've already mentioned, there are many more compelling reasons to take the plunge and buy the new iPod touch. Hardcore gamers should take a look for its pocket-size and thousands of available games. YouTube and video addicts can get their fix with it as well. Parents can show off their kids to grandparents. Corporate types can video chat with colleagues via Wi-Fi along with all the other things I mentioned doing in the opening paragraph.
If you have an older version of the iPod touch, you can upgrade it to iOS 4 through iTunes. However, you won't be able to access some of new features because of hardware limitations on the older devices. (To learn more about upgrading your 2G iPod, check out my blog post (iphonelife.com/blog/97/should-you-upgrade-your-ipod-touch-2g). If you're considering your first purchase of an iOS device and not sure which one to get, check out the sidebar or the article in our Buyer's Guide titled, "Which iOS Device is Best for You" (iphonelife.com/issues/novemberdecember-2010-buyers-guide/WhichIOSDeviceIsRight).
Apple really did pack in a lot of bang for the buck in the new 4G so now might be a good time for a new device. The iPod touch 4G comes in three versions based on file storage capacity: 8GB for $229, 32GB for $299, and 64G for $399. You can learn more about the new iPod touch on Apple's Web site (apple.com/ipodtouch).