In a world turning towards smartphones, the iPod touch abides. The touch is the definitive phone-less handheld computer: Part gaming device, part media player, part web browser, and all what you make of it with the apps you choose to download.
It's also the long-exhaling last gasp of what we used to call the PDA. Apple's new £199 16GB model should be the go-to gadget for anyone who wants to run basic iOS apps but is opting out of the smartphone revolution. Its better balance of price and performance grabs it our Best Buy award over the more expensive £249 model.
This iPod touch is still largely based on that £249 iPod touch (2012), so take a look at our review of that for more thoughts on this family of devices.
Where the £249 iPod touch sings and dances in a range of jaunty anodised colours, this new lower cost model looks purely functional with its black front and dull silver back. There's an oval-shaped black plastic antenna area near the corner of the iPod's back. Only a shiny chamfered edge adds a bit of levity. With no rear camera, this touch model is slightly lighter than the £249 unit (by 2 grams), although they're the same size at 58 x 6 x 123mm (WxDxH).
The stiff body slips easily into any pocket, although as with any device like this, I'd invest in a screen protector. I don't like the single bottom-ported speaker, which I covered with my finger way too often when playing games. But you'll probably use this handheld with headphones much more often, and the more expensive model has the same flaw. The lower cost iPod also loses the "loop" you'd attach a lanyard to, but you can easily find a case with a wrist strap.
The new iPod's innards bring it much closer to the current £249 unit than the old £169 budget model was. In iPhone terms, this is an iPhone 4S with the iPhone 5 screen, and it has an 800MHz dual-core A5 processor powering a 1,136 x 640 resolution 4in LCD. Both of those are important, because as the touch has become more of a games-and-apps device than a music-and-video player, it needs to keep up with the iPhone models game developers are writing their apps for.
Like other recent Apple products, the new touch runs the latest iOS 6.1.3 including popular features like Siri. From past experience, I anticipate that it'll also work with upcoming iOS 7 features, though probably not all the features included in 2014's iOS 8. On our Geekbench, GLBenchmark, and Browsermark benchmarks, the new touch scored about the same as the £249 touch and the iPhone 4S, although it was significantly behind the iPhone 5.
The new iPod also boasts faster Wi-Fi and better Bluetooth than the older £169 model. The dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, as I saw on the £249 model, dramatically boosts speeds when used with a 5GHz Wi-Fi router. I got more than double the speed on a 5GHz connection to an Apple Airport Extreme router than I achieved on 2.4GHz, which will make a big difference when it comes to large file downloads.
Bluetooth has been upgraded to 4.0, and the iPod touch can find its location based on nearby Wi-Fi networks, although it doesn't have GPS. That makes it acceptable to use for basic walking navigation in dense urban areas, although it would be useless as an in-car GPS.
The touch comes with a Lightning-to-USB cable and a pair of Apple's improved EarPods headphones. Remember that Lightning devices aren't compatible with old 30-pin accessories – although you can buy an adapter for £25. When we reviewed the EarPods last year, we found them to be some of the best budget earphones you can buy, and much better than the old Apple earbuds.
This iPod touch got 5 hours and 48 minutes of video playback at maximum brightness on one battery charge, which is better than the £249 model's five hours, and more in line with the 2011 version's 5 hours and 32 minutes.
Music, video, and apps
The £199 iPod touch runs all of the hundreds of thousands of iOS apps just as well as the £249 model does. I played Lili and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, both heavy games, without a problem. This is the lowest cost device you can run these apps on, and as such it's even attractive to Android, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry phone owners who want to run apps that aren't available on their platforms.
Two downgrades make this touch model £199 instead of £249, but only one should matter to you. The less important, to me, is the removal of the 5-megapixel rear camera. The camera on the back of the full-scale touch is just a middling smartphone camera, and it suffers greatly in low light when compared to any dedicated digital camera.
This touch still has a camera, anyway: The 1.2-megapixel shooter on the front, which takes adequate if frequently overexposed self-shots. Its 720p HD video is always smooth, ranging from 24 frames per second (fps) in low light to 30 fps in good light.
The £199 model's 16GB of storage is the more important issue. Over the past two years, the size of high-end games has risen dramatically. The Asphalt and Need for Speed driving games are now over 1GB each, as are other graphic-rich adventures like The Bard's Tale. Even Apple's iPhoto clocks in at 144MB.
Add in a few movies at 1.5 GB each, and you can fill up this iPod's 13.61GB of non-expandable storage quickly. Of course, that's all down to your usage pattern. If you prefer to stream movies on Netflix instead of buying them through iTunes, and your gaming habits tend more towards the 66MB Where's My Water? and 73MB Angry Birds Space, you won't feel too cramped. Also, remember that Apple stores all of your purchases on its servers, and you can swap games, songs, and movies in and out via Wi-Fi.
Music and video playback are as high quality as always. These are the core iPod virtues that have sustained the line for more than a decade, and nothing has changed here. Sound is still quite bright, a little weak on bass, but that's nothing new. The touch still syncs with iTunes (although now it'll do so wirelessly if you prefer) and still plays any MP3 or AAC music or MPEG4 video file, whether purchased from Apple or downloaded from elsewhere. (It's perfectly compatible with Amazon's MP3 store, for instance). The touch also plays Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV, but not FLAC or OGG files. There are even third-party apps to play video formats iTunes doesn't support, such as Xvid.
If you have a good smartphone, you probably don't need an iPod touch, and if you just want a music player, you can save £70 and go with the £129 iPod nano. This gadget's real purpose is as a gateway to thousands of iOS apps for people who can't otherwise run them.
There are still many people who don't have or don't want a good smartphone – and I'm including all of those people with cheaper, older smartphones featuring 320 x 240 screens. These people are also typically less technical, less intense (and sometimes younger) users than high-end smartphone buyers. The iPod touch is for them.
The iPod touch's real competitors nowadays are inexpensive, unlocked smartphones with no contract. These devices have real advantages, such as rear cameras, expandable memory, and of course they can turn into actual cell phones on demand. But obviously enough these cheap smartphones can’t run iOS apps or work with the iTunes store, if that matters to you.
For better or for worse, we still consider touchscreen MP3 players to be a separate category from smartphones, and I'm giving the new 16GB iPod touch the nod over the more expensive £249 fifth-gen iPod touch. This may sound a little counter-intuitive, considering my concerns over the limited memory here, but I think that with performance generally the same, the new iPod's £50 lower price outweighs its constrained memory to snag it a Best Buy award.
Manufacturer and Model
Apple iPod touch 16GB
58 x 6 x 123mm (WxDxH)
MPEG4, QuickTime, H.264
Music Playback Formats
AAC, Apple Lossless, MP3, Protected AAC