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iPod touch (2019) Review: The Cheapest iOS Device Has Some Trade-Offs

The iPod touch packs plenty of power for a low price, but it’s design and battery life could be better.

Our Verdict

Get the iPod touch if you want to run the latest iOS apps but don't want to pay more than $200 for the privilege. A cheap phone would probably give you a better overall experience, though, especially in battery life.

For

  • Decent performance (for its price)
  • Cheapest iOS device
  • AR apps support
  • Colorful screen
  • Headphone jack

Against

  • Very short battery life
  • Cramped 4-inch screen
  • No power adapter included

Apple releasing a new iPod touch creates a type of cognitive dissonance. Sure, the updated music player sports a faster processor than before, capable of running augmented reality apps. But a tiny, 4-inch screen looks quaint, almost anachronistic, compared to today's phablets. And while it's still shocking that Apple sells anything that resembles a phone for $199, these days, you can find pretty good cheap phones for $250 that don't force you to rely on Skype and Wi-Fi to make a simple call.

Still, even with a worryingly short battery life, the new iPod touch is worth considering if you want the cheapest entry into Apple's iOS ecosystem and don't want the recurring expense of a monthly data plan.

iPod touch Cost and Availability

Starting at $199 with 32GB of storage, the iPod touch is the cheapest device Apple sells that has its own screen. You can bump up the device's storage, with a 128GB model costing $299 and a new-for-2019 256GB model running you $399.

The seventh-generation iPod touch is available from Apple, and you'll also find it at retailers like Best Buy.

The iPod touch makes every day throwback Thursday.

Apple includes only wired headphones and a Lightning-to-USB Type-A cable, foregoing a power brick for charging the device. This is a strange decision, especially since Apple doesn't make new laptops with USB Type-A ports. Phones in the iPod touch's price range — the $249 Moto G7 Power and Apple's $299 iPhone 7 and $249 iPhone SE — all come with chargers.

Specs: iPod touch (2019) vs. iPhone 7


iPod touch (2019)iPhone 7
Starting Price$199$299
Screen4 inches, 1136 x 640 pixels4.7 inches, 1334 x 750 pixels
ProcessorA10 Fusion chipA10 Fusion chip
Dimensions4.9 x 2.3 x 0.2 inches5.4 x 2.6 x 0.3 inches
Weight3.1 ounces4.9 ounces
Storage (Starting/Max)32GB/256GB32GB/128GB
Cameras (rear/front)8 MP/1.2 MP12 MP/7 MP
Touch IDNoYes
ColorsBlack, Blue, Pink, Silver, Gold and (Project) RedRose Gold, Gold, Silver and Black

Design

As I stared at the iPod touch, I could hear Derek Zoolander ask, "What is this? A phone for ants?" Available in black, blue, pink, silver, gold and (Project) Red shades of machined aluminum, the iPod touch makes every day throwback Thursday. Its small, silver camera bump is on the lesser end of the obtrusive spectrum, and the back of the iPod touch has a black oval that doesn't seem to serve any obvious purpose.

At 4.9 x 2.3 x 0.2 inches and 3.1 ounces, the iPod touch is one of the smallest, lightest devices I've ever reviewed. Apple's 4.7-inch phones — the iPhone SE (4.9 x 2.3 x 0.3 inches, 4 ounces) and iPhone 7 (5.4 x 2.6 x 0.3 inches, 4.9 ounces) — are thicker and heavier, probably because of all those cellular components the iPod touch skips. The Moto G7 Power (6.3 x 3 x 0.37 inches, 6.9 ounces) features a larger, 6.2-inch screen and is also larger and heftier.

iPhone 7 (left) and iPod touch (right)

iPhone 7 (left) and iPod touch (right)

The iPod touch's 4-inch screen proves that good things can come in small packages.

Packing both a Lightning port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, the iPod touch is thankfully missing that "courage" that Apple needed to tear the audio port out of the iPhone 7. At least that part of the iPod's throwback sensibilities is welcome.

Display

The iPod touch's 4-inch screen proves that good things can come in small packages. Watching a clip from the bizarre wrestler Bray Wyatt in 1080p on YouTube, I noticed decent color output, with vibrant red roses, nice blues in the wallpaper and sky, and a strong pink in his fanny pack. Browsing websites and writing documents, though, feels especially tight on this extra-small screen.

Our colorimeter found that the iPod touch captured 117% of the sRGB spectrum, with a Delta-E rating of 0.08. (Lower numbers are better on that latter test.) That means this panel is slightly less colorful, while being more accurate, than the screens in the Moto G7 Power (123%, 0.35) and the iPhone 7 (124%, 0.22). The display on the iPhone SE (111.4%, 0.51) is just as colorful, though less accurate.

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While the iPod touch offers 488 nits of brightness, comparably priced phones shine brighter. Our light meter measured better results for  the Moto G7 Power (558 nits), iPhone SE (547 nits) and iPhone 7 (599 nits).

As I played around in Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs, I appreciated the fluid motion of birds soaring over my desk to topple virtual wooden forts.

The iPod touch's 4-inch screen is super responsive, with smooth scrolling and accurate text selection. To nobody's surprise, Apple's 3D Touch technology, which is falling out of favor, is nowhere to be seen on this latest iPod touch.

Audio

The iPod touch produces a surprisingly moderate amount of volume for such a small device. I listened to Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag" (which feels about as retro as the iPod touch itself) on the MP3 player's single speaker, and I was moderately impressed by how sweet the vocals sounded and how percussive instruments came through clearly. I found the bass lacking, coming through more with a slight distortion and not much thump.

Performance

To update the iPod touch, Apple turned to the A10 Fusion CPU, which the company introduced with the iPhone 7 back in 2016, and augmented that aging processor with 2GB of RAM. The result is decent performance, especially considering the iPod touch's price. When I browsed websites in Safari and watched 1080p video in YouTube, the iPod touch provided that effortless responsiveness I've come to expect as an iPhone XS Max owner.

The processor upgrade means the 2019 iPod touch can support two new features out of reach of previous iPods: augmented reality apps and Group FaceTime. Both additions work relatively well. As I played around in Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs, I appreciated the fluid motion of birds soaring over my desk to topple virtual wooden forts. But the virtual game board in Star Wars: Jedi Challenges was hard to navigate with such a small screen, as interactions depend on hovering over characters and tapping squares.

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The iPod touch earned a respectable 4,699 on the Geekbench 4 general performance benchmark, narrowly beating the 4,485 score from the Moto G7 Power (Snapdragon 632 with 3GB of RAM) and the 4,411 result from the iPhone SE (Apple A9). The iPhone 7 features the same components as the iPod touch (A10 Fusion, 2GB of RAM) but earned a higher 5,507.

3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test gave the iPod touch a relatively high score of 32,829. That beats the Moto G7 Power's 14,802 and the iPhone SE's 28,474 but falls below the iPhone 7's 37,810.

Battery Life

Stick close to a charger if you opt for the iPod touch. In our battery test, which involves continuous web surfing until fully charged devices run out of power, the latest iPod touch conked out at 4 hours, 52 minutes. (We ran the test over Wi-Fi instead of LTE, since that's the only network connection available to touch.)

A low price doesn't mean you have to compromise on battery life. The Moto G7 Power, for example, costs only $50 more than the iPod touch but held out for more than 15 hours on our battery test. The iPhone 7 (9:03) and iPhone SE (8:35) didn't do as well, but they still lasted longer than the iPod touch.

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This short battery life can be explained by the historically smaller battery the iPod touch has had compared to iPhones.   

Cameras

As I walked around midtown New York's Bryant Park, I snapped a number of decent photos with the iPod touch's 8-megapixel, rear-facing camera. Not only did the green lawn of the venue come out with an accurate hue, but close-ups of flower petals were clear enough for zooming to reveal dew drops and other minutiae. Close-ups of pastries on sale at a nearby market looked so good I wanted to lick the screen.

Selfies from the 1.2-megapixel, front-facing lens were not as great. While my skin tones looked accurate in these images, and the pinks and purples on my black shirt were also reproduced correctly, you see a ton of digital artifacting if you tap to zoom.

Software

The iPod touch shipped running iOS 12.3.1, which means the device runs the same apps as my iPhone XS Max. The only difference, of course, is that these apps look much smaller on the touch's cramped screen. Trying to write in the text editor Bear was a bear on a 4-inch screen where I could barely see much beyond the sentence I was working on. But some of my favorite iOS games, like Holedown and Alto's Odyssey, are as fun on this screen as any device.

The new iPod touch will be able to run iOS 13 when that update arrives this fall, something other iPod touch models can't say. This fall's update will add a system-wide dark mode, improve performance and upgrade Apple's own apps, such as Reminders and Photos.

iPod touch vs. Smartphone

Originally, the iPod touch existed for parents who wanted a cheap iOS device for their kids that didn't add the ongoing expense of a monthly cellphone plan. Even though that's still part of the iPod touch's lure, there are alternatives, as cheap Android phones deliver a lot more value than they used to. It comes down to how much you want iOS.

If you want a good portable phone without worrying about a monthly bill, you can just buy an unlocked Moto G7 Power, the iPhone 7 or even an iPhone SE (if you can find one), and simply not buy a mobile data plan. This gives you a longer-lasting, but still cheap, pseudo-phone.

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Yes, it's neat that the iPod touch can run iPhone apps, but the iPhone 7 packs that A10 Fusion chip that unlocks AR apps and Group FaceTime for $299 with trade-in; however, that phone is $449 without trade-in.

Bottom Line

The iPod touch is a decent option if you want in on the vast array of iOS apps, including those that feature AR but don't want to pay more than $200 for the privilege. But even a used iPhone would give you those benefits, along with longer battery life than what the iPod touch can muster.

The entry-level iPad is another good option, at $249 to $329 (depending on sale prices). It gives you a much larger, 9.7-inch display and more than double the battery life but in a design that's not as portable as the iPod touch. So, the iPod touch is definitely worth a look, but we would consider the alternatives, too.

Credit: Tom's Guide