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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The 2015 Apple iPod Touch offers great performance and an impressive camera in a tiny package.

The Bad The 4-inch display is far too small, and the battery life is middling. And it's largely redundant if you already have a smartphone or tablet.

The Bottom Line The updated iPod Touch remains a great portable media player and overall entertainment device, but its small screen feels like a throwback to an earlier era.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Camera 8.0
  • Battery 5.0

Apple released a new version of the iPod Touch without much fanfare back in July, refreshing the interior hardware to be in line with the guts of the iPhone 6. This means the latest iPod Touch has a much faster processor and an improved camera over the previous iPod Touch it replaces, which was released way back in 2012.

It's a welcome update that keeps the Touch competitive with the current generation of iPhone and iPad hardware -- this new Touch will play the latest games and be able to utilize the latest apps that were too taxing on the older hardware, and the new camera will take better snapshots to boot. And by keeping the starting price at $199 for the 16GB model (£159 in the UK, and AU$279 in Australia), Apple reestablishes an affordable entry point into iOS, the Touch's operating system and content universe that's also shared by iPhones, iPads and the Apple TV. (Step-up models range from 32GB and 64GB, up to 128GB, and are available for $399, £329 in the UK, and AU$579 in Australia.)

But while the iPod Touch was generally known as "the iPhone without the phone," this Wi-Fi-only model has no contract, but costs far less than the $449 to $649 that an iPhone will run you. That said, this updated iPod won't be confused for the latest iPhone model. Apple's updated the innards, but left the exterior alone, right down the the 4-inch screen. That means it lacks GPS, the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, touch-to-pay Apple Pay functionality, and -- most importantly -- the bigger 4.7-inch screen of the modern iPhone. Even more disappointing is the rather meager battery life, which was about 25 percent shorter than that of the 2012 model in our tests.

Ultimately, this is a decent spec upgrade to keep a capable handheld in the running for consideration as a kids' device or secondary media player, but feels like an increasingly niche device in a world of iPad Minis (which will run all of the same apps with four times the screen real estate) and Moto Gs (a full-service Android phone available for the same basic price).

Here's what's new

If you currently own a fifth-generation iPod Touch and are looking for a new iPod, you'll find a lot to like here. It's not very different on the outside: you're getting a 4-inch screen with a 1,136-by-640-pixel resolution. The display remains great, serving up crisp text and attractive images at a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch. But this is 2015, and a 4-inch display feels really cramped.

The 2015 iPod Touch still makes a great portable jukebox. Nate Ralph/CNET

The new iPod Touch gets Apple's 64-bit A8 chip, and the M8 motion coprocessor, so you can take advantage of the motion tracking and Apple's Health app. That motion coprocessor makes the iPod Touch and even better fitness companion: at 3.1 ounces (88 grams) it's lighter than to the iPhone 6, which weighs 4.55 ounces (129 grams). Runners will miss out on things like GPS connectivity for apps like Runkeeper or Runtastic, but you'll still have a phenomenally light partner for your next trip to the trails or the gym.

I can't get over how small iPod Touch is. I'm spoiled by my comically large Nexus 6, but even Apple has conceded the display size war and bumped the iPhone 6 up to 4.7 inches. I have no trouble navigating through apps like Apple Music or games like Angry Birds 2, but I've long since grown accustomed to devices that are offer a lot more real estate, and a smaller gadget feels like a step backward. But even my perennially unfit frame can appreciate the small size and lightness when I begrudgingly decide to go for a run.

Battery life from the iPod Touch's 1,043mAh battery is less impressive. On CNET's video playback battery drain test, the iPod Touch was consistently dead within about 6 hours and 6 minutes -- the fifth-generation iPod Touch held out for an average of 8 hours. Our test consists of setting the device to Airplane mode, dimming the display to 50 percent brightness, cutting the volume to 50 percent, and looping a 720p video until the device gives up the ghost. I also tested the battery while streaming video over Wi-Fi: here, the iPod Touch stuck around for an average of 4 hours and 51 minutes.

Things fared better in my anecdotal testing. I easily stretched the battery life for well over a day and a half with my use, but I stuck to playing music, keeping tabs on messages, and browsing the Web -- there's no way I'm watching video on a screen this tiny. And improved battery life is one of the pillars of Apple iOS 9 , with a Low Power Mode that promises to squeeze a few extra hours of life out of the device. We'll just have to wait and see -- I'll be revisiting these tests once the final version of iOS 9 is released later this year.

The 8-megapixel camera is surprisingly good. Nate Ralph/CNET

A spruced-up camera

The camera is the biggest leap, and the best argument for iPod Touch fans curious about the new model. The new iPod Touch packs an 8-megapixel iSight camera, and while its camera's f/2.4 aperture is technically a tad slower than the iPhone 6's f/2.2 aperture, the images proved to be rather nice in my testing.

Pretend I haven't labeled this, and spot the difference (100% crop). Nate Ralph/CNET
ipod-touch-cam-sample-2.jpg
This shot is noisier than I'd like, but color reproduction is accurate and all of the objects are clearly detailed. Nate Ralph/CNET
I'm not happy here: in strong sunlight, the whites are blown out, and the pinkish purples are oversaturated. Nate Ralph/CNET
Here's another side by side. In identical conditions, the iPhone 6 offers much richer colors. Nate Ralph/CNET

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