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Apple iPod touch 4th gen review: Apple iPod touch 4th gen

A high-resolution screen and video calling just made the best better, but we'd recommend an iPhone 4 if you can afford it.

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Jason Jenkins
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Jason Jenkins

Director of content / EMEA

Jason Jenkins is the director of content for CNET in EMEA. Based in London, he has been writing about technology since 1999 and was once thrown out of Regent's Park for testing the UK's first Segway.

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The iPod touch is, according to Apple, its best-selling iPod, and no wonder. It's the best do-it-all MP3 and video player around, and by some margin. It does so much more than play music and video. It has one of the best mobile Web browsers available. It can take on a seemingly endless number of new features when you install apps. It's incredibly easy to use and it looks terrific.

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8.8

Apple iPod touch 4th gen

The Good

High-resolution screen; Video calling; Easy to use; Loads of apps.

The Bad

Rubbish camera; No FM radio or GPS; Reliance on iTunes.

The Bottom Line

A high-resolution screen and video calling just made the best better, but we'd recommend an iPhone 4 if you can afford it.

The new iPod touch is available to order online direct from Apple now. The 8GB model costs £189, the 16GB is priced at £249 and the top 64GB version will lift £329 from your wallet.

To keep ahead of the pack, Apple has taken much of the technology from the iPhone 4 and put it inside the fourth-generation touch, although there are some important differences between the two.

Retina display

The most obvious update is the screen. This is now the same resolution as the one on the iPhone 4 (960x640 pixels), offering four times the total pixels compared to the previous model. This becomes most noticeable when you look at the icons on the home screen. For the apps where the developer has taken the time to make a higher resolution icon, the edges are much smoother. Text, too, is generally sharper and easier to read on something like the Amazon Kindle app.

Here's what you get in the box. Note the pin-sharp screen and awful bundled earphones.

Despite having the same marketing name ('retina display'), the display on the new touch isn't actually the same one used on the iPhone 4. It's not quite as good, particularly when it comes to viewing angles. That said, most people will probably only notice the difference when they put the two devices next to each other, and unless you're us, why would you want to do that?

Video calling

The next major update is video calling over Wi-Fi. You can call other fourth-gen iPod touch users and iPhone 4 owners using an app Apple calls FaceTime. Once you have associated an email address with the app, people use that identifier to call you. If you're trying to call an iPhone 4 owner, you type in their phone number. It works brilliantly, with better than expected video and audio quality in our tests, although there was some initial faffing around on the landline first as we asked our test subject to upgrade his iPhone 4 operating system.

The new front camera lets you video call other touch and iPhone 4 users.

Apple has added two cameras into the touch to make this work -- one at the front above the screen, and one at the top left on the rear. There's also a built-in microphone next to the rear camera. As well as enabling video calling, these additions turn the touch into a camcorder. Like the Flip Video-style camcorders, it can record 720p HD video up to 30fps. But unlike most of those, you don't need to plug it into a computer to publish the video file on YouTube. The touch uses the Wi-Fi connection to upload the results directly.

Before you press the big 'publish' button, you can cut the start and end of a clip, or pay £3 for a copy of iMovie for some more sophisticated editing options. Movie quality isn't bad -- providing there's enough light, it's better than the average camera phone, but it's not as good as a proper camcorder or even a Flip.

Poor photo quality

One serious blunder is photos. The front camera takes shots at just 640x480 pixels (aka VGA) and the rear one isn't much better, with photos measuring 960x720 pixels. That's about 0.7 megapixels. Yes, you read that right -- Apple has made something that takes photos at less than one megapixel. As you might expect, the results are terrible.

Because the touch is so thin, at just 7mm, there simply isn't room for anything of higher quality inside. We'd have preferred a better quality camera and a thicker touch overall (with perhaps a bigger, longer-lasting battery). But even if that wasn't possible, it would have been better if Apple had simply disabled the photo feature altogether. If it can't be done well, don't bother.

The rear camera: excellent videos, repellent photos.

The touch runs the same software as the iPhone line, which is amazing. The menu system is one of the most user-friendly and intuitive ever designed for a touchscreen device, and you can run the same apps you can on an iPhone -- so there's hundreds of thousands to choose from. Check out our best iPhone apps and best iPhone games stories for some ideas to get you going. The touch ships with the new iOS 4.1 software, which we liked a lot when we reviewed it, and Ping, Apple's music social-networking thing, which we didn't.

The touch has the same Apple A4 chip found in the iPhone 4 and iPad, and unlike the last iterations, it doesn't look like there's an internal difference between the 8GB, 32GB and 64GB versions, apart from the memory. This means they all support multitasking (the ability to run certain apps simultaneously). There's also a gyro and accelerometer inside all of them for use with games, along with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

iTunes lives down to expectations

As always, you sync music, video, photos, podcasts and so on with your PC using iTunes. Despite now being on its tenth version, it's still a slow, clunking heap of rubbish. Fortunately, it's possible to avoid it most of the time after the initial sync -- you can buy apps, music, films and so directly on the touch, so you'll only need to use iTunes for software updates and backups, which eases the pain slightly.

Apple says the battery will last for 40 hours of music playback and 7 hours of video. It's almost impossible to provide anything more meaningful than that, as the touch can be used for so many different tasks that drain the battery at completely different rates. All we can usefully tell you is that the battery lasted a good day of us using as many of the advanced features we could before needing a recharge, and that video calling seemed to zap the battery indicator the most.

Music-wise, things are as good as before, although as always we recommend doing your ears a favour and buying some better headphones than the ones that come in the box. The internal speaker is quieter than the one on the third-gen touch, but that's probably for the best as the definition is understandably poor given its tiny size.

Apple still hasn't seen fit to build an FM radio into the iPod touch, which is annoying, although there are loads of streaming radio apps that will work fine if you're in the range of a Wi-Fi connection. One other annoyance is the lack of GPS that's included on the iPhone 4.

To buy or not to buy?

The iPod touch is still the best multifunction MP3 player available, by some margin. It's so good, it's not really competing with rival manufacturers' players any more. Given that, it's probably not surprising that most of our complaints about it seem to be that it's not the iPhone 4.

Those complaints might be made a little less irritating when you consider that the touch is considerably cheaper than an iPhone 4. The 32GB touch, for example, is £350 cheaper than the equivalent iPhone.

Here's how we would choose between the two. If you're in the market for this sort of thing, happy with your existing mobile, locked into a long contract or strapped for cash, get this.

If not, buy an iPhone 4. Buying advice doesn't get much simpler.

Edited by Nick Hide