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4th generation iPod touch
 Handset: iPod touch 4th gen 
 Manufacturer: Apple 
by Rob Hearn
The first time I saw an iPod touch, I couldn't see the point. It was clearly an afterthought, cobbled together using the parts developed for the iPhone.

Media players were supposed to be small, not big. They were supposed to be sturdy, not made of glass. They needed good battery life, not a power-hungry capacitive touchscreen.

Apple had other ideas. By creating the App Store and supplying developers with a canvas on which to profitably innovate with games like Flight Control, Doodle Jump, and Flick Kick Football, Apple gave the iPod touch a reason to exist and flourish.

It still trails behind the iPhone, and it still looks a bit like an afterthought in a certain light, but that doesn't really matter. Like a billionaire's brother, it swans about in cast-offs that make most people's gear look like garbage.

Counting the ways

The fourth generation iPod touch's new physical features include a smaller form factor, two cameras, a gyroscope, a built-in microphone, Apple's A4 processor, and a display more than twice the resolution of the previous iPod touch model (960x640, up from 480x320 pixels).

In the hand the fourth generation iPod touch is noticably flatter and lighter than previous models - 14g lighter than the third generation model at 101g, and 1.27mm flatter at 7.1mm.

The screen is the same size as the third generation device -3.5 inches - but the stainless steel casing doesn't protrude as far from the sides of the glass. It's more of a rim than a bumper, creating sharper edges and a sleeker effect.

The cameras in the fourth generation iPod touch are a mixed bag. For straight photography, the camera at the back (the resolution of which Apple hasn't disclosed) is mediocre, producing grainy low-detail pictures and indifferent video, even if it is at 720p.

For the purposes of FaceTime calls, however – which work perfectly, using your email address in place of your phone number - the front-facing 640x480pixel camera is fine.

Fourth generation iPod touch camera

iPhone 4 camera

When it comes to displaying images, the fourth generation iPod touch fares better. As with the iPhone 4's, the display is crisp and bright, and the resolution is sufficiently high that it's impossible to discern jagged edges on text, however far in you zoom.

Games optimised for the iPhone 4's Retina display are as smooth-edged on iPod touch, though it's worth pointing out that the two devices' displays aren't identical. While the iPod displays at the same resolution as the iPhone, it doesn't boast the iPhone's 800:1 contrast ratio, meaning that it doesn't have the same range of viewing angles.

If you're expecting the screen to look exactly the same as an iPhone 4's, you'll be disappointed. Compared to previous iPod touch models, however, it's a dramatic improvement.

The second generation iPod touch (left) has a greyer screen and a thicker band of stainless steel around the edge

In terms of software, the fourth generation iPod touch runs iOS 4.1 and all that that brings, including Game Center, multi-tasking, and so on.

Previous iPod touch models are variously able to run most iOS 4 features, but many games are optimised for fourth generation devices, and a few (including ngmoco's Eliminate: GunRange) will only run on the latest hardware. In essence, the fourth generation iPod touch puts you close to the cutting edge.

Trouble in paradise

Close, but not quite there. In testing some of the more technically demanding games on the App Store we encountered problems. Eliminate: GunRange, for example, stutters on the iPod, while Cave's DoDonPachi Resurrection won't load at all.

This may be because the fourth generation iPod touch runs games that have been optimised for iPhone 4, which reportedly has twice as much RAM (512MB, rather than 256MB). If so, developers may need to curb their enthusiasm as the technical vanguard is forced to accommodate less powerful devices.

Epic Citadel

On the other hand, the iPhone 4-optimised Jet Car Stunts runs perfectly, and Epic Games's remarkable tech demo Epic Citadel is only slightly creakier on iPod touch than on iPhone, so power may not be the issue - simple bug-fix updates may solve the problem.

In any case, the iPod touch is an impressive device, connected to an equally impressive digital marketplace. You may be tempted, as I admittedly was, to compare it to the iPhone 4, in which case it inevitably comes up short. But the comparison is inapt. The iPhone operates in a separate marketplace, and it faces fierce competition.

In the portable media player marketplace however, there's no competition at all. The fourth generation iPod touch is utterly untouchable.

Reviewer photo
Rob Hearn 12 September 2010
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Specs Size111 mm (4.4 inches), 58.9 mm (2.3 inches), 7.2 mm (0.28 inches)
Weight101 grams (3.56 ounces)
BatteryLithium-ion, 40 hours
Screen3.5 inches
SoundAudio formats supported: AAC (8 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), HE-AAC, MP3 (8 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV
Controls/buttonsHome button, volume up, volume down, sleep
Input/Output30 pin connector, 3.5mm jack
Networking802.11b/g/n wi-fi (802.11n 2.4GHz only), Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR
MediaH.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats. MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5Mbps, 640x480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4 and .mov file formats Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35Mbps, 1280x720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format. Support for 1024x768 pixels with Dock Connector to VGA Adapter; 576p and 480p with Apple Component AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Composite AV Cable (cables sold separately)
Other featuresGyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, iOS 4.1, Game Center, FaceTime
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