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Apple iPod Touch 2015 review: An 'iPad Nano' that's almost too pocket-friendly

Apple's iPod Touch gives you a good portion of the iPhone 6 experience in a tiny package, but it's a bit too small.

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Nate Ralph
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Nate Ralph

Associate Editor

Associate Editor Nate Ralph is an aspiring wordsmith, covering mobile software and hardware for CNET Reviews. His hobbies include dismantling gadgets, waxing poetic about obscure ASCII games, and wandering through airports.

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Update, May 28, 2019: Apple has updated the iPod Touch, adding a newer A10 Fusion chip and a 256GB option. The product is otherwise unchanged, with the same basic design and available colors. It still starts at $199 for 32GB.

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7.8

Apple iPod Touch 2015

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.

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).

Check out the new iPod Touch (pictures)

See all photos

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.

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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.

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The 8-megapixel camera is surprisingly good.

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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.

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Pretend I haven't labeled this, and spot the difference (100% crop).

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This shot is noisier than I'd like, but color reproduction is accurate and all of the objects are clearly detailed.

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I'm not happy here: in strong sunlight, the whites are blown out, and the pinkish purples are oversaturated.

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Here's another side by side. In identical conditions, the iPhone 6 offers much richer colors.

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They say the best camera is the one you carry with you. A smartphone with higher megapixels will do better here, but the iPod Touch does an amicable job for a lowly MP3 player.

Performance

When it comes to processing prowess, the iPod Touch stands head and shoulders above its competition. This isn't surprising. The iPod Touch's A8 processor is clocked at 1.13GHz, which puts it under the 1.4GHz CPU in the iPhone 6. That still ranks it fairly high among similarly priced devices.

3DMark -- Ice Storm Unlimited

iPod Touch (2015 15,414iPhone 6 17,202Moto G (2GB) 4,473iPod Touch (2012) 2,167
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3

iPod Touch (2015) 1,376 2,443iPhone 6 1,623 2,913Moto G (2GB) 528 1,609iPod Touch (2012) 217 415
  • Single-core
  • Multi-core
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Here we see the iPod Touch trouncing the 16GB variant of the Motorola Moto G, a $220 smartphone equipped with 2GB of RAM, and a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor. That Moto G has a superior camera and is a proper smartphone, but then we're left with the age-old Google Play versus Apple app store debate. I'm an Android fan, but I won't wade into those waters: I will admit that you'll have decidedly more apps to choose from on iOS. The fifth-generation iPod Touch is obviously outclassed, but I included it for reference.

There are a few good reasons to buy the new iPod Touch...

It's almost an iPhone 6, without a contract

The new iPod Touch is small -- almost dinky, when compared to the iPhone 6. And the hardware has been brought up to speed with the iPhone 6: Apple's 64-bit A8 chip is joined by the M8 motion coprocessor, which handles motion tracking.

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The best-in-class iOS app store, on a budget

Whatever your thoughts on Apple products, the vast majority of cool new apps and mobile games head to iOS first. The iPod Touch's souped-up hardware means that the games and apps that are usually exclusive to iOS will work here, so if you're in the market for a portable entertainment device and don't want an iPhone, the iPod Touch is a relatively inexpensive way to go.

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A pretty nifty camera, too

You're getting the 8-megapixel iSight camera, too. The camera on the iPod Touch is a tad slower than the one you'll find on the iPhone 6, with an f/2.4 aperture when compared to the iPhone 6's f/2.2. Video recording remains at 1080p resolution, but it's limited to 30 frames per second, with slow-motion video capped at 120 frames per second. The iPhone 6 can shoot at 60 frames per second, and shoot slow-motion at 240 frames per second. You're also losing out on things like continuous autofocus while recording video.

The photos it captures are still pretty good though, as I showed above. And you're also getting all of the functionality built into iOS 8. That includes the aforementioned slow-motion video recording, as well as time-lapse videos, and 43-megapixel panoramas. I wouldn't recommend picking up an iPod Touch to use solely as a camera, but if the camera on your own phone isn't up to snuff, the Touch won't disappoint.

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James Martin/CNET

...But there are also reasons to steer clear

If you need a jukebox or a fitness companion, the smartphone you likely own will do the job

The gap between phones and PCs that iPods used to cheerily occupy is getting really crowded. If you're looking for a fitness companion, or just want to take your music with you, there's a good chance you're already using your phone to handle that. The iPod Touch offers no additional functionality, and the lack of cellular connectivity limits what you can do while you're out and about. If you've got the money and want something to fill a fitness-shaped hole in your life, devices like the Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatches are more than happy to help.

Want to have some fun? You'll enjoy a tablet more

The iPod Touch has always made a compelling case as an entertainment device, but devices like the 7.9-inch iPad Mini 3 are fairly easy to tote, and offer a larger, higher resolution display that'll make for more satisfying entertainment experience when you're looking to play games or watch movies. If you opt for an iPod Touch you'll also miss out on features like Touch ID and Apple Pay.

Buy it or skip it?

The iPod Touch remains a fun little device, and there was a time when I would find myself picking up the latest model every year to keep in touch with the iOS ecosystem, and have a portable jukebox and fitness companion. But the iPad Air 2 has scratched my iOS itch, my Nexus 6 tackles music and podcasts, and wearables like the Apple Watch, Android Wear smartwatches, or the Microsoft Band that I carry have filled in the fitness gap.

The iPod Touch packs a surprisingly good camera, and the classic design, powerful hardware, and petite size are all great selling points. But smartphones (and small tablets) already accomplish most of these tasks just as well, and generally better, while also packing cellular connectivity. While the Touch remains a good choice for kids who are too young for a smartphone -- and who prefer the pocketability that a tablet won't match -- it will feel like a redundant gadget for most smartphone owners.

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7.8

Apple iPod Touch 2015

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9Camera 8Battery 5