Last week Apple announced a complete overhaul of its iPod lineup including a new Shuffle, a new Nano (with multitouch screen) and a new iPod Touch. While the nano looks cool, it’s pricey and honestly I haven’t been interested in a dedicated MP3 player in about a decade.

The new iPod Touch however piqued my curiousity. With many of the same specs as the iPhone 4, I wondered if the new Touch might be a neat way to get most of the functionality of the 4 without the albatross of a contract AT&T hangs around your neck.

It turns out there’s a lot more than a cellular radio that separates the new iPod Touch from the iPhone 4.

iPod Touch, The Fourth

The new Touch comes with a pair of typical Apple earbuds (the ones without a mic or remote!) and a dock cable (no wall power adapter) in a fancy new plastic case:

Apple hasn’t given the new iPod Touch the full iPhone 4 styling treatment. You get a glass front but a smudgefactory chrome back:


This is after less than a day of use

The entire device is ridiculously thin, it makes the iPhone 4 feel like a brick. It’s comfortable to hold in your hand and honestly the size I wish all smartphones were.

The buttons are also cheaper than what you get on the 4. The new iPod Touch has individual rubber volume up/down buttons on the left side and a low profile power/lock at the top.

There’s a 1/8” output jack at the bottom of the iPod Touch, but the opening is tapered so you actually leave a bit of your headphone connector exposed when it’s plugged in:

It’s not the most elegant (or engineering friendly) design, but it does work.

There’s an external speaker at the bottom of the iPod Touch, but it’s not quite as loud/bassy as what you get with the iPhone 4. It’s enough to listen to music in a relatively quiet room but you’re much better off with headphones.

To give you an idea, I measured sound pressure 5” above the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch while playing a Kanye West track (Power):

External Speaker Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4 Apple iPod Touch (2010)
Sound Pressure - Higher is Better 90 dB(A) 78 dB(A)

The 4’s external speaker weighed in at 90dB(A) compared to 78dB(A) on the new iPod touch. This is very important for our FaceTime discussion later.

The new iPod Touch is available in 3 flavors: 8GB, 32GB and 64GB. The features are the same across all models.

iPod Touch Pricing
  8GB 32GB 64GB
Apple iPod Touch (2010) $229 $299 $399

Internally, the new iPod Touch uses Apple’s A4 SoC. The A4 is an ARM Cortex A8 based SoC with integrated PowerVR SGX 535 GPU. The Cortex A8 in the SoC runs somewhere in the 700 - 900MHz range and appears to be the same CPU speed as the iPhone 4. The GPU also appears unchanged. I ran a few sanity tests to confirm:

Apple iPhone 4 vs. iPod Touch (2010) Performance
  Apple iPhone 4 Apple iPod Touch (2010)
Geekbench 380 378
Sunspider 0.9 10666.8 ms 10693.2 ms
Rightware BrowserMark 30915 32106
Linpack 34.5 MFLOPs 33.9 MFLOPs
3D Benchmark App 47.7 fps 46.9 fps

If you’re wondering why I didn’t run Epic’s amazing Citadel demo, it’s because of the next major difference between the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch: memory size.

The A4 in the iPod Touch appears to be a lower clocked version of what you get in the iPad, it only has 256MB of memory compared to the 4’s 512MB. Currently Epic’s Citadel demo treats the iPod Touch as an iPhone 4 and crashes before getting into the demo as a result. Epic should have an update out soon that fixes the problem by lowering texture quality to fit within the memory limits of the iPod Touch.

The reduction in memory size simply means you won’t be able to have as many apps open as you would on an iPhone 4. iOS does a relatively good job of memory management so you’ll only see this surface while multitasking with a lot of apps. When it does surface you’ll simply try to switch to an application and note that it has to reload from scratch rather than just picking up where you left off.

This is purely a profit play on Apple’s part. The iPhone 4 is much more expensive, especially taking into account AT&T’s contract, and as a result you get more hardware despite relatively similar up front costs.

The Retina Display
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  • Brazos - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    My wife only has hearing in one ear so the mono software switch may be enough to get a new nano to replace her 3rd gen nano. I'm sure they could do that with a software upgrade but it will never happen. I'm tired of have to make mono mixes for her :) Reply
  • synaesthetic - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    I am very thankful to you for your RMAA of the iPods vs. the Zune HD, and your comment that digital music players are basically equal at this point.

    People still seem to believe that there's a difference in sound quality between well-designed DAPs. This is no longer true. The only SQ difference these days is when there is a demonstrable *problem* with the player--such as a gross bass rolloff caused by substandard filtering capacitors on the output stage, for instance.

    Now if only smartphones could stop hissing horribly when used as an MP3 player...
    Reply
  • chemist1 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    I'm glad you've taken a stab at approaching sound quality (SQ) testing of the Apple ipods in a sophisticated manner. However, I'm afraid that the tests you've done simply aren't sufficient for this purpose. General tests for THD, IMD, noise, and frequency response will catch gross errors. But a device can be fine in these areas, and yet have flawed reproduction for other reasons. More broadly, running a device through the RMAA's battery of tests is only the first step. Then you need to listen, carefully, and identify the flaws in the sound. Then you have to figure out what the source of the flaw might be, and then determine if there is some measurement you can do that could identify and quantify the audible error. This is where years of experience as, say, an audio engineer designing electronics would come in. I.e., what you did ----running it through your RMAA, finding no significant flaws, and then making the pronouncement that "I believe we've hit a ceiling for PMP audio playback quality"----is just as over-simplified as, say, concluding an SSD is fine based on its passing a a single battery of memory benchmarks. It takes years of training, experience, and sophistication to evaluate computer components. Evaluating audio is no different.

    Turning to the ipods themselves: The SQ of the ipods has gone downhill since the gen 5.5 ipod classic, which used a Wolfson DAC chip comparable to those in audiophile-grade CD players (http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/news/comments/aud... Their switch to Cirrus Logic was not a good one, and seems to have been accompanied by the introduction of an error into their DAC algorithm. Objective testing (and, I think, much more sophisticated testing than that presented in this article---as I mentioned, SQ is about more than just noise, IMD and THD) reveals this flaw:

    http://homepage.mac.com/marc.heijligers/audio/ipod...

    Redwine audio, which does audiophile upgrades to ipods (they upgrade the entire signal path following the output of the DAC, including the coupling capacitors and op amp), will not work on anything later than the 5.5, because they've tried the later models and find the output from the DACs is simply not good enough to enable them to achieve acceptable SQ (http://www.aloaudio.com/imod-faq/):

    "Q: Will you ever modify the 6th generation iPods (”iPod Classic”)

    A: No – these use what we have found to be an inferior sounding dac and the sound cannot be improved upon. The sound quality of the 4G, 5G, and 5.5G iMods are far superior. If the newest iPods could be improved and were worth the effort to mod, we would have enjoyed offering an iMod for them and the business this would have created for us." [N.B.: This also applies to the other iPods, including the Touch, which likewise do not use the Wolfson DAC.]
    Reply
  • chemist1 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    What I should have said was:

    As you know, it takes years of training, experience, and sophistication to evaluate computer components. Evaluating audio is no different. I.e., if you want to get serious about evaluating SQ, you need to find someone who has as much sophistication, training and experience with audio as you do with computers. And that's not going to be easy.

    At the very least, his or her ear must be good enough to be able to distinguish between different CD players in blind testing. I can do this, so I know it can be done.
    Reply
  • dlinderholm - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    The lack of GPS is the one thing that I really think they missed out on. For me that would be a far better feature than Face Time, but I know I'm probably in the minority there. Ah well. If I could have used it instead of a dedicated GPS I would have picked one up today, issues with display quality notwithstanding (though the incredibly low-resolution primary camera would be a tough pill to swallow). Fortunately for my pocketbook the lack of GPS pretty much kills any interest I had in the device. Reply
  • truk007 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    I'm with you on that one. A GPS receiver would have been the selling point for me. Reply
  • OrionAntares - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    I'd disagree on the GPS because there are after-market options for adding GPS to the Touch as well as giving it some extra battery power since GPS is a real battery drainer. I don't know how well those options fit the new version with the slimmer design and what adjustments might need to be made for it. The garbage camera they put into the back because of their need to cut off an extra 1/20th of an inch from the depth and keep the edges of the case rounded is what I'm upset with. Reply
  • SadTouchLover - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Hahaha the aftermarket options? You mean like strapping a huge, expensive cradle to it? Yeah that's a great idea. Super functional.

    Also, I agree with you BIG time on the camera. BIG time.
    Reply
  • OrionAntares - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    I'm extremely disappointed with Apple in this release. I'm not disappointed in the cost cutting measures I was expecting from them such as the RAM, IPS, and GPS but in their "form over function" garbage and how it gimped the rare camera. The rare camera was the one feature I was actually looking forward to for this revision and the blew it. They didn't have to give it the 5MP camera of the iPhone (or 8MP of the Driod X :-O ). But a 3MP camera or even a 2MP camera would have been good as long as it was auto-focus and had a flash. Reply
  • Watwatwat - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    whats an iphone cost unsubsidized? atleast twice as much in many places.
    Sure the screens not as good, but its still got contrast and black levels better than the 3Gs, which was hardly considered horrific. Setting it up against smart phones is setting it up to fail. Its casting it in a poor light on purpose, against its actual competition like the zune and such it does far better.

    Whats the cost of a year of iphone contract?;)
    Reply

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