Nearly six years since Apple's first iPod touch hit the market, its core mission remains intact: It's an iPhone without the phone. The device is perfect if you don't want the high monthly costs of a cellular voice and data plan, but still want a top notch pocket-size music and movie machine that has the ability to run over 800,000 third-party apps.
There are now two versions of the iPod touch available. The older 4th-generation model has been on sale for a while; it's getting on in age, with a slower processor and much weaker camera, but it's still a great deal (£169 for 16GB) as a do-it-all music player and games machine.
The newer 5th-generation model is a bit more expensive (£249 for 32GB), but it's a stunner, with a beautifully slim aluminium design, a gorgeous 4in Retina screen, and a 5-megapixel camera. It also comes with Apple's new EarPods, which sound a lot better than Apple's older bundled earbuds.
Whichever one you get, the iPod touch runs almost all of the apps in the App Store, plays music, videos, games, records high-definition video, and handles web browsing, email, and other Internet-based tasks with aplomb when connected to a Wi-Fi network.
So what are the best apps to get right away? Here's a round-up of 10 great free programs that we consider must-haves. In this article, we'll pay particular attention to things an iPod touch owner might be interested in, such as Wi-Fi calling apps, and apps with plenty of offline functionality for those moments when you're nowhere near a wireless hotspot.
A few caveats: The iPod touch is a killer mobile gaming machine, but games cost money. Most of the best titles aren't exactly free, although many of them are available in no-cost "lite" versions that either offer just a few levels of gameplay, or are supported by adverts. We didn't include games here, but there are tens of thousands of them in Apple's App Store. Finally, to keep this list as useful as possible, we also left out some completely obvious apps that you probably already have, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Apple's iBooks.
So, without further ado, here's the list of 10 of our favourite free apps for the iPod touch.
Since all iPod touches now have cameras, you could use a good photo editing app. Adobe Photoshop Express does just about everything you'd want for quick fixes on the go. It has a clear interface, plenty of possible image adjustments, and some fun photo enhancements. You can also access integrated online galleries right from the app.
Perhaps the ideal iPod touch app for synchronising your documents and viewing them offline, Dropbox lets you access file versions that are always up to date. You get 2GB of free online storage, which is plenty for just about any recent set of projects short of music and video editing. (You can also get more space via membership referrals). View, play, or share any of your files with a single button tap, even if you're nowhere near your desktop or laptop PC.
There are many recipe apps available for iOS, but Epicurious is the only really good one that's also free. For instant help in the kitchen, it offers access to over 30,000 recipes from such highly regarded sources as Bon Appetit, Self, and Gourmet, and many others. We have trouble just browsing through this app without immediately wanting to run to the kitchen and try something, as the photos alone are enough to set our stomachs rumbling.
Evernote has built up quite a following thanks to its all-in inclusion of text, audio, photos, and other notes. Anything you think of or find on the web can be simply "jotted down" by adding it to Evernote. The app also lets you configure which notebooks are available offline, and these are downloaded right onto your iPod touch. Once you reconnect to the web, the app will sync any changes you made on the iPod touch back to the online version. A great organisational app indeed.
It's the camera app that became a phenomenon. Instagram is a ton of fun, thanks to its online sharing platform and vast array of cool filters for prematurely aging your photos. You can also make them look like printed Polaroids, or add otherwise interesting and normally difficult to achieve effects. It's no accident, incidentally, that most of those filters will help disguise the iPod touch's less-than-stellar camera sensor. You can also share photos just as easily as with the iPhone, and view what other people are snapping pictures of as well.
Amazon continues to improve its popular eBook reading app, and it shines on the iPod touch. You can download any or all of your Kindle books, buy or download new ones straight from the app (with a Wi-Fi connection), and sync your current page, notes, and bookmarks across all apps and devices. As for buying books, don't forget Amazon lets you download dozens of free classics, and thousands more are available via Project Gutenberg and other online sources.
Let's say you're sitting at home, and a cool song comes on during the TV show you're watching. Fire up Shazam, hold up your iPod to the TV, and within a few seconds, you'll know exactly what it is, who recorded it, and what album it's on. The same goes for listening to music in a bar or cafe. The latest version of Shazam is faster than ever at deciphering each song, and it starts listening the moment the app launches. The free version even allows for unlimited song tagging now, which makes springing for the Encore version (£4.99, or £2.99 for one year) that much more unnecessary.
Why pay for landlines and office phones when you can use Skype, which is free? Skype's iOS app works perfectly on the iPod touch, and lets you make or receive calls whenever you have a Wi-Fi connection, even in the background as you run other apps – providing you have either a fourth-generation iPod touch, or a compatible headset and microphone for an earlier model. You'll need to pay in order to call landlines or mobile phones, but Skype to Skype calls are always free, anywhere in the world. With a fourth-generation iPod touch or later, you can also send and receive video, or receive video only on a third-generation iPod touch.
TripIt is like your personal travel concierge. It lets you check flight times, confirmation numbers, and lots of other travel-related information. The best part is that it saves that information locally. All you have to do is forward confirmation emails and related data to TripIt, at which point the app downloads and stores everything you need for offline access. Who needs a cellular connection or wireless hotspot at the airport when you can do this?
You'll definitely need a Wi-Fi connection for this one, but Wikipedia's app is one of the most useful things to have in your pocket. Look up almost anything on the go, and without having to stumble around on a mobile website – fire up the app, key in your search term, and get instant results. Think about how much less this weighs than that final 32 volume 2010 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica you were eyeing up!