Review: Apple iPod touch (6th generation)

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Gizmag reviews the new 2015 iPod touch, a good upgrade for the (relatively) few people who need one(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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It's almost surprising that Apple bothered to update the iPod touch in 2015. With most people already having a smartphone in their pockets, what place does a Wi-Fi only smartphone have in today's marketplace? Let's try to answer that, as Gizmag reviews the new 6th-generation iPod touch.

The new iPod touch is a more attractive product than you might expect. It doesn't get any lighter or thinner than its predecessor (from way back in 2012), but it does hang onto the same awesome build while taking a huge step forward in raw power and camera quality.

We could jump into a long list of technical feature breakdowns (and we will cover some of that), but that one question remains: what the hell does one do with an iPod touch in a smartphone-saturated world?

When the first iPod touch launched in 2007, the iPhone was still a novelty that was out of financial reach of a large portion of consumers. The iPod touch served as a cheaper way to see what the fuss was all about. A gateway product for future iPhone owners, somewhat miscategorized as an iPod. But today iPhones, Android phones and even some Windows Phones are in nearly every pocket or purse you come across. The gateway aspect died years ago.

The iPod touch always lacked a crystal-clear identity, but today its purpose is foggier than ever.

Our best answer is children. Many parents aren't comfortable buying smartphones for their kids until they become teens (if then), but they may still want their children to get in on the entertainment (and perhaps learning or productivity) that mobile devices can offer. So Mom and Pops are left to choose between a tablet like the iPad mini or a (slightly cheaper) portable media player like the iPod touch.

In that sense, the iPod touch is probably, first and foremost, a gaming device. More a rival to the Nintendo 3DS than to smartphones.

Another possible use is for people who own Android phones, but still want access to the occasional iOS game or app (on the whole, it seems like many app-makers still prioritize iOS development). If you prefer Android for most of your phone needs, but wish you could dip your toes into the App Store from time to time, then the iPod touch isn't a bad way to do that.

So let's say you fall into one of those two categories: parent or iOS-curious Android phone owner. Is the new iPod touch a good buy, or worth the upgrade?

In many ways, yes. It has a newer and better system-on-a-chip than any iPad mini to date, and also costs less. And while you miss out on the larger screens that you'll find in Apple's tablets, you get a beautifully-designed aluminum body that's compact, ridiculously light and pleasantly thin. It's an absolute pleasure to hold.

Its 4-inch screen does look downright shrimpy compared to today's flagship smartphones (it's the same size as the iPhone 5, 5s and 5c screens), but it's a great size for small kids' hands. And for adults, it's better for one-handed use than today's humongo-phones.

The iPod touch's screen has a familiar 326 pixels per inch (apart from the iPhone 6 Plus, every iPhone from 2010 to today has this same pixel density), and looks good. It has lower contrast than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus do (800:1 vs. the 6's 1,400:1 and the 6 Plus' 1,300:1), but for a device in this price range, that isn't something to nitpick over.

As a gaming device, it's going to be future-proofed for several generations, as it runs the same Apple A8 chip found in the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus (though it is clocked a bit slower). Compared to the iPhone 6, the new iPod touch benchmarks (in Geekbench 3) at 85-86 percent as fast. Again, not too shabby for a device that costs less than one-third of the iPhone 6's full retail price.

In terms of UI navigation, the iPod touch is also very zippy. Though some of its specs are the same as the 2012 model, this 2015 model stands head and shoulders above it as a significantly more powerful device. The 5th-generation iPod touch had an early 2011 A5 chip. This new iPod touch's A8 launched in late 2014. That's three and a half years worth of silicon innovation – practically an eternity in today's mobile tech world.

The new iPod touch's camera isn't quite on par with the latest iPhones' shooters (it's about iPhone 5 or 5c level quality), but this is another area where it's a huge step forward from the 2012 model.

Here are a few unedited (though downscaled to 1,060 px. wide) samples taken with the new iPod touch:

If you already own a flagship smartphone from the last year or two, then you probably already have a camera that's roughly this good or better. But this is another area where the iPod touch is great for little ones: it can make for an outstanding first camera for a child.

Battery life is good, but also not breaking any new ground. In our benchmark (streaming video with brightness set at 75 percent), it dropped 12 percent per hour. For comparison's sake, that's a little bit better than the iPad Air 2 (14 percent) but off the mark of the iPad mini 3 (9 percent per hour).

For a Wi-Fi only device that largely serves as a portable gaming console, it would have been nice to see Apple push some battery life limits. But perhaps that would have meant adding some grams and millimeters to that lusciously light and thin build. We can live with that call.

You need to fall into a certain niche to even consider buying an iPod touch in 2015. If you don't see a clear-cut need to buy one, then nothing we can say about our experience with it should change that. But if you want a relatively cheap entry into the world of iOS, either for you or a loved one, then this is one of the best ways to do it. You can pay a bit more for an iPad mini (with larger screen) or pay a bit less for the new iPod touch, with better performance.

The new iPod touch is available now, starting at US$200.

Product page: Apple

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