Apple iPod Touch, the best gets better

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell weighs in with his first impressions of the fourth-generation Apple iPod Touch.

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As a portable media player/gaming device/minitablet computer, Apple's iPod Touch has been blowing us away since 2007. The only thing really to say about the fourth-generation model unveiled Wednesday is that it is predictably more awesome, yet still not quite a match for the capabilities of the iPhone 4.

The pricing is the same at the high end, with a 32GB model going for $299, and a 64GB version for $399. The 8GB entry model is $229, which is pricier than the $199 8GB version they kept around last year, but has the advantage of sharing all the same specs as its more expensive siblings. Curiously, a 16GB version isn't in the cards.

As far as design goes, the fourth-generation model is noticeably lighter and thinner than previous generations but still maintains a sturdy feel with curved, chromed steel backing. The curve is a bit less pronounced than the second- and third-generation models, allowing it to lay flat without wobbling, but it still maintains a slimmer taper at the edges than the first-generation version. The volume rocker is now split into two separate buttons, however, the profile of the buttons is the same as before. The screen lock button is still at the top, though located on the right as opposed to the left side (a win for lefties, maybe?). The black antenna window on the back is gone. Headphone and dock connections are on the bottom where they've always been, only now they're joined by a small speaker grille slit on the left side of the dock connection.

The big news about the new Touch is the addition of two video cameras--one facing the user and one facing out. The front-facing camera is meant for use with Apple's Facetime video chat app (first unveiled with iPhone 4), as well as any supported third-party apps. With Facetime on the Touch, users can place or receive video calls to both iPhones or other iPod Touch, using an e-mail address, as opposed to a phone number. In my brief demo using Facetime on the Touch, all of the features I've come to expect from the iPhone 4 were present, including the capability to call in portrait or landscape, switch camera views, and pause video transmission while maintaining a voice connection. The feature can be used with a plug-in headset (not included) or simply with the integrated speaker and microphone. For a device that isn't a phone and can be had for as little as $229, I think that Facetime on the iPod Touch is a unique and noteworthy feature.

The rear-facing camera on the Touch is capable of capturing still images and video up to 720p. It is not, however, identical to the camera on the iPhone 4. It uses a different sensor and there's no flash. It's also incapable of working with the new HDR camera feature being rolled out for the iPhone. Still, it's a welcome addition and opens the door to many more apps and uses.

Under the hood, you have a ton of features carried over from iPhone 4. The processor is the same A4 chip as the iPhone. There's an integrated gyroscope now for more fine-grain gaming control. The Wi-Fi antenna now supports 802.11n at 2.4GHz. And last, but not least, the LCD is the same 3.5-inch "retina" display used on the iPhone 4, sporting a 960x640 resolution.

All that screen resolution comes in handy with Apple's new 99-cent HD TV rentals, which are compatible with the Touch.

Stayed tuned for CNET's full review of the fourth-generation iPod Touch, next week.

 

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