Update

Review: Fifth-generation iPod touch is faster, finer than predecessors

At a Glance
  • Apple 32GB iPod touch (fifth generation, late 2012)

    Macworld Rating
  • Apple 64GB iPod touch (fifth generation, late 2012)

    Macworld Rating

There’s a new iPod touch on the block and, in many of the ways that most matter, it’s a doozy. While it’s tempting to compare it to a phone-less iPhone 5—particularly given its similar height, weight, thickness, and Lightning connector—the iPod touch is a device intended for a different audience. An audience that skews younger than the iPhone’s and one that desires a cool media and game player that can stand on its own rather than feel like an iPhone’s hobbled sibling. And for this reason, a comparison to the fourth-generation (4G) iPod touch is more apt.

That said, there’s really no comparison. The latest touch—in 32GB (4.5 of 5 rating) and 64GB (4.5 of 5 rating) flavors—is umpteen times better.

Playing outside

To help define exactly what I mean by umpteen, let’s begin with the outside. Like the iPhone 5, the latest iPod touch is taller than the previous model—measuring 4.86 inches  versus the 4G iPod touch’s 4.4 inches. It’s also quite thin at just 0.24 inches thick. And, like the iPhone 5, it’s surprisingly light when you first pick it up. (Though taller than the previous model, it’s almost half an ounce lighter.) A couple of family members picked mine up unbidden and their first remarks were “Wow, it’s taller… and lighter!” So yes, you can feel the difference.

The last iPod touch had severely beveled edges. With those edges, I found it clumsy to feel around for the On/Off and Volume buttons. They invariably seemed a little too far back on the case, which caused me to lift up the left side of the iPod to adjust volume. The edges of the new touch still curve around to the back, but not at such a steep angle. In this case, the buttons feel like they’re perfectly placed. I hit them every time without having to shift the iPod around or look at it. Similarly, with the less-angled bottom edge, the headphone port feels easier to access. With the 4G iPod touch, I felt like I should be inserting the headphone jack diagonally rather than straight in.

And then there’s the Lightning connector (a Lightning-to-USB cable is included in the box). When fumbling with the old-style Dock connector in an ill-lit room on my old iPod touch, I’d try to jack it in the wrong way round at least half the time. Having the new Lightning connector, which goes in regardless of which way the plug’s turned, is a welcome change.

The new iPod touch looks different in another way. Available in gray, silver, pink, yellow, blue, and Product Red, this is the first colorful iPod touch line. Each features a white face save the gray model, which offers the black front that we’re accustomed to on previous models. Colors cover the back and wrap around to the sides. The colors lean toward pastel rather than bold, but they give these iPods a fresh, more playful countenance than their somewhat antiseptic looking predecessors.

Height matters

The iPod’s height makes a difference in a variety of ways. That extra screen space, like with the iPhone 5, allows an additional row of icons on the Home screen, which may mean paging through fewer screens to find your apps.

Apps that have been built to take advantage of the taller screen are just as nice. With the Photos app, for example, you can see six rows of thumbnails instead of four and a half. Pull up the Settings screen and you will find 10 entries on a single screen rather than eight. And then there are the apps written for the larger display that provide more elbow room.

Fire up the Videos app and watch a widescreen movie on both this and the previous iPod touch and you will discover that when viewing a movie in the non-widescreen mode, you actually see more of the image on the new touch—less material is taken away from either side when the top and bottom of the video is expanded to fill the iPod’s screen. Switch back to the widescreen mode and both models show the entire width of the movie, but the new iPod touch’s black bars above and below the video are narrower as the display was designed with widescreen video in mind.

The new iPod touch (left) shows more movie when not displayed in widescreen.

I also found picture taking more comfortable on this taller iPod when snapping shots in landscape orientation. With the older iPod, my hands felt too close together and, invariably, a finger would stray in front of the lens when holding the iPod with the Volume buttons facing up. I didn't have that problem with the new iPod. My hands spread out a bit more and either because of the weight, the iPod’s dimensions, or a combination of the two, it felt easier to hold the camera and snap the shutter with the Volume Up button.

Some iPhone 5 users may dispute the Apple commercial that claims the average thumb can perfectly traverse the iPhone’s display from top to bottom. I fall into the group that finds comfortably accessing the entire display requires you to edge the device out on your fingers a bit more than previously and angle the device in. It’s not uncomfortable to do this, but one-hand operation does change because of the taller display.

Performance improvements

This fifth-generation iPod touch uses the dual-core A5 processor found in last year’s iPhone. The 4G iPod touch has the older and slower A4 processor. While you will feel no discernible difference between the new iPod’s performance and an iPhone 4S’s, there’s a dramatic difference between this iPod and the last one in regard to snappiness. For instance, starting each iPod from a complete shutdown, the new iPod did so in 21.1 seconds. The 4G model took 32.5 seconds to perform the same task. Apps open more quickly on the new iPod than they do with the older model—GarageBand, for example, loaded noticeably faster on the 5G iPod touch. Graphics performance in games is also improved. And this isn’t simply a matter of stop watches and charts. This is a difference you can feel. Where the old iPod would hiccup, the new one marches on.

The new iPod’s display is also noticeably brighter at its highest setting. Place it side by side with the 4G iPod touch, crank up the brightness on each, and the 4G iPod looks bluer and gloomier in comparison. Unlike with the previous iPod touch, the new one has no auto-brightness switch. I don’t find this to be a loss, as I found the old iPod too dim when auto-brightness was engaged.

At a Glance
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