Apple took us all by surprise when it announced the iPod touch 7, the first upgrade to its portable music and video player since 2015.
With “enhancements to power, capability, and communication”, the updated iPod touch is fully geared towards gaming, with the release coming just in time for the launch of Apple's new gaming service, Apple Arcade.
But is the new iPod still a worthy music player like its predecessor? We spent a bit of time getting to grips with the touch to find out.
[Update: Apparently, there's a new iPod model on the way this year. That's according to MacRumors contributor @SteveMoser and tipster @AppleLe257 on Twitter, although they're keen to label this as a 'rumor' rather than a 'leak' – so it sounds like it's something that's been heard in passing from inside sources, rather than something there is hard evidence for.
There are a couple of reasons we're inclined to believe it: number one, Apple's recent announcement of a lossless upgrade for Apple Music, and number two, it's the 20th anniversary of the original iPod this year.]
Price and availability
The new iPod touch (7th generation) is available to buy now, with the price varying depending on how much storage you opt for.
At the bottom of the scale is the 32GB model, which costs $199 / £199 / AU$299 / AED 849, with the price rising to $299 / £299 / AU$499 / AED 1,269 for the 128GB model.
The most expensive option is the $399 / £399 / AU$599 / AED 1,689 256GB model, which is the version we tested for this review.
In terms of design, the new iPod touch looks identical to its predecessor, with a four-inch display and a sleek, lightweight build. We tested the blue version, but the music and video player is also available in space gray, white, gold, pink, and red.
At the bottom of the iPod touch you’ll find the home button; annoyingly, however, it doesn’t feature Apple’s Touch ID technology, which was introduced way back in 2013 with the iPhone 5S.
This means you have to remember a six-digit passcode to unlock the iPod, which might not be ideal for younger users who could struggle to remember a passcode – although parents who want to limit children’s usage of their device might find this useful.
As with pre-iPhone X iPhone models, the on/off button is situated on the top of the iPod, while you’ll find the volume buttons on the left-hand side of the display. There are also front- and rear-facing cameras – more on those later.
The bottom edge of the iPod touch houses a built-in speaker, Lightning port, and, puzzlingly, a 3.5mm headphone jack – Apple stopped including headphone jacks on its smartphones a long time ago in favor of its own multi-purpose Lightning port, with the last jack-friendly models, the iPhone 6S and iPhone SE, being discontinued in 2018.
We’ve speculated as to why Apple would include a headphone jack on the new iPod, with possible explanations ranging from the superior audio quality provided by wired headphones to the theory that Apple is trying to appeal to children who may find wireless headphones fiddly and annoying to use.
Reunited with the 3.5mm headphone jack, we’re reminded of how convenient it is to use if you have regular wired headphones to hand – which you will do, as the iPod touch comes with a pair of Apple’s infamous EarPods, as well as a Lightning cable for charging.
That said, we realized that we hadn’t really missed the headphone jack as much as we thought we would. True wireless earbuds, Bluetooth earbuds, and wireless headphones are getting better all the time, and there are plenty of Lightning-enabled cans on the market if you still prefer a wired connection.
At just 88g, the new iPod touch feels incredibly light, while its 4-inch display means it’s easy to hold it and navigate the touchscreen with one hand, making it accessible for kids as well as adults.
While the display isn’t the most advanced we’ve seen from Apple (it’s the same resolution as 2013’s iPhone 5, in fact), we found the 326ppi LED Retina display bright, clear, and attractive.
The 1136 x 640 pixel display is definitely a step down from the color-accurate OLED display utilized by the iPhone X, but it’s worth remembering that the cheapest new iPod touch model is only a fifth of the price of Apple’s latest smartphone.
Whether you think that’s a fair trade-off largely depends on how much you care about screen resolution – Steve Jobs originally gave the Retina Display its name due to the fact it's meant to be so high-res that it's actually more than the human eye can cope with. Take from that what you will.
The new iPod touch runs iOS 12, Apple’s latest operating system, which brings with it group FaceTime for up to 32 users, Screen Time, and 70 new emojis compared to the previous version, iOS 11.
This isn’t unique to the new iPod touch however, as the 6th-gen model also supports iOS 12. iOS 12.3.1 is the latest stable version of the mobile operating system that’s available to iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad users alike.
The 7th-gen iPod touch therefore comes with pretty much all the apps you’d expect to find on one of the latest iPhones, except for Phone of course – essentially, it can do everything an iPhone can, except for making calls or accessing the internet over a mobile network; you can, for example use messaging apps such as WhatsApp or iMessenger over Wi-Fi.
Apple says the battery life of the iPod touch (7th generation) is up to 40 hours, and is good for up to eight hours of video playback.
Moderate use over a few days, including music playback and casual gaming, didn’t deplete the battery too drastically, although playing demanding games like PUBG (Player Unknown Battlegrounds), and streaming video at full brightness, predictably drained the battery faster than using more basic apps.
We decided to test the iPod 7’s audio performance using the Apple EarPods that are included in the box, and we were pleasantly surprised by how well they handled our music.
Streaming via Apple Music, we listened to Dutch Uncles’ Oh Yeah. We were impressed by the new iPod touch’s lively and detailed rendering of the track, with tight bass notes and precise percussive hits.
Cat Rider by Little Dragon had a similarly precise feel, with swirling, smoky synths accentuated by snappy trap beats and subby bass lines. Vocals sounded smooth and clear, from the crystalline high notes right down to the wavering lows.
Having reached its 7th generation, the iPod touch finally supports the Hi-Res Audio codec FLAC, as well as Apple Lossless, giving you more options than ever when it comes to accessing audiophile-quality music.
Using a Hi-Res Audio playback app for iOS called Vox, we listened to Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. The strings had a warm and natural quality, while soprano vocal duets soared sweetly above the mix without ever sounding harsh.
There’s hardly any point in listening to Hi-Res Audio with Apple’s EarPods, however; they just can’t do the music justice. So we donned a set of Master and Dynamic MW65 Active Noise-Canceling headphones to listen to Foals’ Spanish Sahara, and we were struck by how accurate the gently strummed guitar and soft vocals sounded.
The headphones you use with the iPod touch will have a huge impact on how good your music sounds; a pair of audiophile over-ear headphones will always outperform the cheap in-ears you bought from the gas station.
That’s not to say the EarPods sound terrible; for casual listening they’re convenient, easy to use, and won’t break the bank if you need to replace them in the future. They’re popular for a reason.
We also tested out the inbuilt speaker at the bottom of the iPod touch, and it packs quite a punch despite its size. It won’t do for listening to your Hi-Res music, but if just want a little background music for your gaming sessions and can’t be bothered to dig your headphones out, it works just fine.
With Apple’s A10 Fusion chip built in, the new iPod touch is optimized for gaming, including what Apple calls, "immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences".
The release of the new iPod touch has also come just in time for the launch of the company's new gaming service, Apple Arcade, (Apple says it’s coming “this fall” so between September and November), meaning that gaming is truly at its heart.
To put the iPod touch’s AR capabilities to the test, we downloaded AR Dragon from the App Store. The game prompts you to hatch an egg, from which emerges a cute baby dragon that can interact with the real world through the magic of AR.
As you look ‘through’ your screen via the Camera app, you can see your dragon interacting with the objects in your surroundings. We found the game loaded quickly; something that will appeal to impatient younger users who want to see their dragon in action as fast as possible.
We also tested the 7th-gen iPod touch on something more simple: Whale Trail from ustwo Games is a colorful endless flyer, and it looked fantastic on the iPod touch’s backlit LED display, and we didn’t experience any latency issues.
However, to really put the iPod touch through its paces we had to give it something a little more complex to process.
Enter PUBG. A faithful port of the PC battle royale phenomenon, the mobile version of PUBG is known for demanding a lot from the devices it’s played on in terms of processor speeds, GPU (graphics processing unit) performance, and RAM capacity.
According to Ars Technica, the A10 Fusion chip’s built-in GPU delivers “about 56% the performance of the A12”, the chip that’s used in the latest iPhones, but we didn’t experience any latency issues while playing this rather complex game, and we found the graphics ran smoothly, with the iPod touch’s bright and sharp display handling the realistic military-style graphics of PUBG just as well as the colorful, cartoonish graphics of Whale Trail.
Plus, with double the RAM of its predecessor (2GB to be exact), the 7th-gen iPod touch has a lot more memory to run the increasingly complex titles available to mobile gamers.
One of the applications that comes built-in is the Camera app. The camera hardware itself is exactly the same as its predecessor’s: on the front of the iPod touch is a 1.2MP FaceTime HD camera, while the rear sports a more advanced 8MP camera that supports autofocus, auto image stabilization and a f/2.4 aperture.
Modern luxuries like 4K video recording and Portrait Mode are nowhere to be found on the iPod touch, which does feel like a step backwards.
In fact, compared to even our relatively old iPhone SE, the camera is disappointing – photos just aren’t as sharp or detailed, and the hardware hasn’t improved over the previous iPod touch.
Is the iPod touch 7 okay to use for FaceTime or taking basic snaps? Sure. Will you win any photography competitions using it? Probably not.
Overall, we were impressed by the iPod touch (7th generation). For the number of apps you get with iOS 12, it feels like good value for money – especially when you compare it to the cost of an iPhone.
In terms of design, we like the fact that Apple has stuck to the 4-inch display of old, while the inclusion of the 3.5mm jack will be a welcome addition for anyone who loathes Apple’s Lightning port. Older isn’t always better though, as proven by the dated camera and the lack of Touch or Face ID.
Playing music on the iPod touch is seamless, and it generally sounds great, with the new support for FLAC likely to appeal to audiophiles.
Unlike with its predecessors, however, Apple has emphasized the gaming capabilities of the new iPod touch over its music playback capabilities – and it handles games superbly. Whether we were playing simple side-scrollers or complex battle royale games, we didn’t experience any latency issues, and the A10 Fusion chip means AR titles work equally well.
This will put Apple in good stead when it comes to releasing Apple Arcade, its upcoming games streaming service – after all, the iPod touch will be the cheapest way to get access to it for those who don’t already have an iPhone.
Which brings us to the question of who’s going to buy the 7th-gen iPod touch. Who, after all, would want what is essentially an iPhone that can’t make calls? Well, without the capacity for mobile data, parents don’t have to worry about kids downloading games over a mobile network and gobbling up expensive data plans with a few swipes, and limiting Wi-Fi access is much easier.
Plus, for parents concerned about exposing their kids to the potential hazards of the online world, the iPod touch could represent an attractive middle ground between regular ‘dumb’ phones and a fully connected iPhone.
With access to social media apps and messaging services like Apple’s iMessage and WhatsApp, you won’t exactly be cut off from the world if you use the new iPod touch as your primary device. Of course, you won’t be contactable away from a Wi-Fi network, but in today’s constantly connected age many are likely to feel that’s no bad thing.
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