Review of the 5th Generation iPod Touch

Is the iPod Touch the Best Handheld Device Ever?

5th Gen. iPod touch
5th Gen. iPod touch. image copyright Apple Inc.

Besides the iPhone 5, the 5th generation iPod touch is the best handheld entertainment and Internet devices I've ever used. It is, in every way, excellent. From its large screen to its light weight, from its much-improved cameras to an expanded feature set in iOS 6 and beyond, the 5th generation iPod touch is a remarkably versatile and high-quality device. If you don't want or need the always-on connectivity to the Internet and monthly costs of an iPhone, there's no better pocket-sized gadget you can buy.

The Good

  • Big, appealing screen

  • Improved cameras, with panoramic support

  • Siri support

  • Thinner, lighter

  • Included Loop holder

The Bad

  • EarPods don't include inline remote/mic

New Screen, New Size

The 5th generation of the iPod touch takes everything that was good about previous models — and there was a lot — and improves on it in a few major ways. First, like the iPhone 5, it sports a 4-inch, 1136 x 640 Retina Display screen. At its large size and high resolution, the screen is gorgeous and makes playing games, watching videos, and using apps a joy.

Despite the substantially larger screen, though, the 5th touch itself isn't a lot bigger than its predecessor. That's because rather than making the screen taller and wider, Apple only made it taller, leaving the touch's width at the same easy-to-hold, palm-friendly size users have always enjoyed. As a result, you can still easily use the touch with one hand and its portability and usability aren't diminished.

This is quite an engineering accomplishment, made even more impressive by the fact that Apple also made the 5th touch thinner and lighter than the last version. While the 4th generation was 0.28 inches thick, the 5th generation is 0.24 inches thick. The 4th gen. model weighed in at 3.56 ounces, while the new edition is just 3.10 ounces.

These changes may sound like tiny fractions of the whole, and thus not likely to make much of a difference, but they do. It's hard to fathom just how light and thin the 5th touch is, and it still feels solid and reliable.

Beyond the improved screen and body, the touch's internals were improved, too, thanks to the inclusion of a new processor and new Wi-Fi hardware. This model uses the Apple A5 processor, the same as the iPhone 4S and iPad 2, which is a substantial upgrade over the A4 chip in the last generation. The Wi-Fi chips were also upgraded to support both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies (the last model supported only 2.4 GHz), making the touch more able to connect to high-speed networks.

Much Improved Cameras

The other major internal component improved in the 5th generation iPod touch were its cameras. The 4th generation model added two cameras to enable FaceTime video chats, but neither camera was terrifically high-quality. In fact, the back camera topped out at just under 1 megapixel resolution. That was fine for taking low-res video or video chats, but the photos weren't great. That changed quite a bit with the 5th generation.

While this model still supports FaceTime, the back camera offers 5 megapixel resolution, camera flash, and the ability to capture 1080p HD video (up from 720p HD).

The user-facing camera packs 1.2 megapixel resolution and 720p HD recording. And, thanks to iOS 6, the touch supports panoramic photos, too. While the previous touch's cameras made it a solid device for video chats but not photography, the upgraded cameras in the 5th generation touch take the device beyond video chatting and into being a serious tool for capturing high-quality stills and videos. 

iOS 6 Is Better Than the Headlines

Besides hardware changes, when the 5th touch launched, it came pre-loaded with iOS 6 and the many improvements it brought to the platform. While the majority of the headlines about iOS 6 went into the problems with the Maps app (and the removal of the YouTube app), those stories overshadowed the many benefits of iOS 6.

Perhaps the flashiest and most obvious improvement 5th gen. touch users see, though, is the ability to use Siri, Apple's voice-activated digital assistant. Siri was not available on the previous model (presumably because the processor couldn't handle the task), but users of this model get to enjoy dictating emails and texts, asking Siri for information, and finding restaurants, shops, and movies by voice. While many of the other features of iOS 6 weren't quite as obvious as Siri, the OS added tons of useful features, fixes bugs, improves performance and generally adds polish to an already great device.

The Loop and the Headphones

One major new introduction with the 5th generation iPod touch is The Loop. This is a wrist strap (a la Nintendo's Wiimote) that lets you tether the touch to your arm for carrying and to make sure you don't drop your new device. The Loop is secured to the bottom back corner of the touch. There's a small button there that, when clicked, pops up a nub that you wrap The Loop around. Slip the other end over your hand and you're good to go.

In my testing, The Loop was impressively sturdy. I tried flailing my arm, whipping it (though somewhat gently, I admit; I didn't want to send the touch across the living room!), and otherwise doing things that could cause The Loop to slip off either my hand or the touch. In all instances, it remained securely anchored to my wrist.

I wish the same high marks could be given to the earbuds included with the touch, Apple's EarPods. The EarPods update the iPod's trademark earbuds with a new, ear-canal-friendly shape and improved speakers. And all that's been said about them is correct: the fit is night and day improved over the old models, and these earbuds don't feel like they'll fall out at any minute.

The sound of the new EarPods was improved, too. The problem, though, is that the EarPods included with the touch aren't as full-featured as those that come with the iPhone. The iPhone version includes an inline remote to control volume, songs, and other features; this is missing from the ones that come with the touch. To get that version, you'll have to shell out an extra $30. That seems a bit nickel-and-dime for a device that runs nearly $300 for the entry-level model.

The Bottom Line

Despite that quibble, the 5th generation iPod touch is, without a doubt, the best, most complete handheld portable media and Internet device I've ever used. If you don't need the always-on Internet and phone features of the iPhone, or the larger screen of the iPad, this is the device you should get. Even at the relatively steep price, the features it offers — Internet access, email, messaging, apps, games, music, video — are so compelling, so polished that it will seem like a bargain.