The fourth generation of Apple's iPod Touch offers nothing but improvements, including an HD camcorder, front-facing camera, integrated microphone, FaceTime video calling, Retina Display, gyroscope sensor, and a slimmer, lighter design.
The volume buttons are still located on the left edge of the Touch, though they're divided into two distinct buttons now instead of the single rocker switch design used on the two previous models. We took to the new volume button design without any hiccups, but we were thrown a little by Apple's decision to move the screen sleep/wake button from the left side of the top edge to the right. It's a win for lefties, we suppose, but it took a little adjusting to.
Unsurprisingly, the iPod Touch continues its neck-and-neck, spec-to-spec race with the iPhone. Features that made headlines when they made their iPhone 4 debuted have trickled over to the iPod Touch without much fanfare, but are no less impressive. You get the same A4 processor, same three-axis gyro sensor, and an identical Retina Display, sporting an impressive 960x640-pixel resolution at a dense 326 pixels per inch. You still can't make cell phone calls on the Touch, surf over a 3G connection, or receive a GPS signal, but the gap between the Touch and the iPhone is smaller than ever.
The back of the Touch now has a camera lens in the upper-left corner, along with a pinhole microphone. The camera placement is nearly identical to the iPhone 4's camera, though the cameras themselves differ. The camera used on the Touch is strictly designed for video recording, but it can be made to capture still frames, whereas the iPhone's camera pulls equal weight as both a photo camera (5-megapixel sensor, LED flash, HDR support) and an HD camcorder.
Core features, such as e-mail, the Safari Web browser, Maps, the YouTube viewer, photos, calendar, and notes, are still the heart of the device. The installed features are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the available capabilities. An iTunes App Store, accessible from the computer or directly from the iPod Touch, lets you download and install thousands of applications, including Internet radio players, games, voice recorders, social-networking tools, and much more.
Apple rates the battery life of the fourth-generation iPod touch at 40 hours of audio playback or 7 hours of video, which is an improvement over the previous generation's estimates of 30 hours of audio playback and 6 hours of video.