Apple iPod Touch (fourth generation)CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell points the CNET product spotlight on the fourth generation Apple iPod Touch. With its new HD camera and video chat capabilities, along with bedrock features such as music, video, e-mail, and games--the Touch is arguably...
The Apple iPod Touch. Think of it as the iPhone's carefree cousin. I'm Donald Bell, I think this is the best iPod ever made, I'm going to tell you why in this Product Spotlight. When I started this job nearly four years ago, a $300 iPod would get you something like this: a music player with some photo and video capabilities-- and if you're lucky, a handful of games. If you had asked me then, I never would have predicted the iPod would evolve into this--a thin, internet-connected device that handles email and web browsing just as well as it plays music and video. The fourth generation iPod Touch is offered on three models, an 8bg version for $229 a 32gb version for $299 and a 64 gig model for $399. All three are physically identical, roughly the same height and width of an iPhone, but just 0.28 inches thick. To really appreciate that, check it out side by side with an iPod from 2003. In spite of the thin design, it's a sturdy product made mostly of chromed steel, and a front covered in scratch resistant glass. If you really want to protect your investment, there are hundreds of inexpensive cases available, but they're not necessary. Some other little design features to note. The screen here measures 3.5 inches diagonally. It's a high resolution screen that Apple calls a retina display. Like the iPhone, there's a sensor on the front that automatically adjusts the screen brightness depending on the conditions, giving you a little boost outdoors and dialing down when you're inside. Other features include a front-facing camera above the screen and a home button below it that takes you back to the main menu. There's a screen lock button on the top, volume buttons on the side, a camera lens and microphone on the back, and on the bottom you'll find a 30 pin dock connection, headphone jack, and a speaker. Ok, so what makes this thing so great? For the uninitiated, the Touch gives you killer features out of the box, such as email, maps, music, photos, videos, YouTube, and a Safari web browser. You also have two new apps here for camera, and Facetime video chat. And if all that's not enough to keep you entertained, there's a link here to the iTunes App Store, giving you access to hundreds of thousands of third-party apps and games. These are the same apps available for the iPhone, and putting the marketing hype aside, there really is an app for every niche interest you can think of. Speaking personally, I've got apps to help me learn guitar, apps for my kid, streaming radio apps, apps that recommend places to eat, and of course, plenty of games. But even without all the crazy apps, the core features here are still better than anything else on the market, outside of smartphones. Just looking at the music player, you have integrated access to one of the largest online music stores with iTunes, a music library view that can be customized or viewed in a Cover Flow mode, great support for podcasts and audiobooks, the ability to create playlists on the fly, and unique Genius Mixes and Genius Playlists features that take all the work out of finding something to listen to. Dive into settings, and you'll also find features like wireless Bluetooth audio streaming, auto volume control, and EQ presets. On the video front, again, the iTunes store integration is killer, allowing you to download or even rent movie and TV content right over your Wi-Fi connection. You can sync video over from your computer, subscribe to video podcasts, stream videos over the YouTube player. Netflix users can also install a free app to view streaming Netflix content. Best of all, the screen here is nice enough that you'll actually enjoy watching video it. On the productivity front, you have an email app that's compatible with all the major services and now works with multiple email inboxes. With the multi-touch keyboard, typing is actually very smooth in both landscape and portrait orientation. You can cut and paste, shake to undo typing, and jump to different parts of your email by tapping and holding. The web experience has to be taken with a grain of salt, considering the screen size, but it's still very useful. Page load time is quick over a decent Wi-Fi connection, you can resize pages with a pinch, and the system for creating and managing bookmarks is excellent. If you're already familiar with the older versions of the iPod Touch, the big new changes here are the addition of two cameras, and the added Facetime voice calling capability. With the cameras, you get an HD camera on the back that can shoot 720p video, as well as still photos, and a VGA resolution camera on the front that also works as both a video and still camera. Click on the camera app, and you can switch between the two cameras and shooting modes. If you shoot video, you can use the built-in editor to trim the clip to just the part you want, and even send the video out over email or upload it to YouTube. Finally, there's Facetime, which is a voice calling application available on the iPod Touch, iPhone, and Mac computers. With it, you can place and receive video calls to other Facetime compatible devices, using either a phone number or an email address. Since the calls go over Wi-Fi, they're completely free, and the call quality isn't dependent on flakey cell recpetion. It' s a fun feature, and one that will probably become more useful as Facetime gains steam. It also makes this a neat gift to give if you have friend or family member you want to use Facetime with, but doesn't have an iPhone. So that's the fourth-gen Apple iPod Touch. It doesn't get all the hype and buzz of an iPad or iPhone, but it packs most of the same great features in a more affordable, and more portable package. For CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell.