The iPod Touch has traditionally been touted as a handheld gaming console for children. That perception is likely to change with the new iPod Touch 5 being a considerable upgrade on previous models. Along with the increase in screen size to match the new iPhone, the camera has also been upgraded and there is a much faster processor with the addition of a dual-core A5 chip.

As a test, for the past month I have given up all other devices and relied solely on the new fifth generation iPod Touch for all mobile activities, both work and play.

Thumb-tall display

As with the latest iPhone, the screen of the iPod Touch has been extended – it is now taller with a ratio of 16:9, at a resolution of 640 x 1136 pixels and 4 inches (diagonal) in size but is not quite wide as previous iPod Touch versions.

5th and 3rd iPod Touch models' width compared
5th gen model is not quite as wide as the earlier 3rd gen iPod Touch

Comparing with the iPod Touch 3, which was my last iPod Touch, the improvement in the quality of the display is not obvious even though the iPod Touch 5 has the new retina display.

In fact, when looking at them side by side with both set on full brightness the screen of the new iPod Touch looks yellow and not as white as the iPod Touch 3 screen. After doing some research I’ve found this is a commonly reported problem, with many saying that it is due to the glue used on the screen having not fully cured. Some have reported that this yellowing goes away after a few days. After a month of use I haven’t seen any improvement yet.

3rd and 5th gen models compared to show 6th gen's yellow screen
The yellow iPod Touch 5 screen

The retina display is another major new addition to the 5th gen model and has received great reviews. I personally wasn’t overwhelmed by it, to be honest, I don’t find it very easy to tell the difference between the retina and non-retina displays on such a small screen.

One use in which the retina is said to particularly useful is when reading small text. When comparing the two side by side, set on full brightness with the same book in iBooks at a few centimetres away from the screen it is easier to see how much better the new retina screen actually is. Unfortunately, this difference is a lot less noticeable in normal use, at normal brightness and at the more typical distance of 30-40 centimetres away.

Powering through: the thick and the thin

The length of battery life, however, is very noticeable. Contrary to the specs listed on the Apple website that claim a music playback time of up to 40 hours and a video playback time of up to 8 hours when fully charged, I found that after just a few hours of use the battery level had sunk to less than 50%. To combat this and ensure a longer battery life I now tend to leave the brightness set at about 20%, further reducing the effectiveness of the retina display.

Unfortunately, due to thinness of the device at just 6.1 mm, the light sensor has been removed so there is no automatic ambient lighting adjustment. It’s not ideal as I have to manually alter this level whenever the surrounding environment changes. Because of this much reduced battery life the light sensor is required more than ever to preserve battery life.

I would have prefered Apple’s concentration on thinness to be eased in favour of a thicker, longer lasting battery and room for an ambient light sensor.

One consolation was that I found that it only took about 20 minutes to charge to 100% from about 20% capacity. The Apple website claims a much slower charge rate with a fast charge in about 2 hours (80% capacity) and a full charge in about 4 hours.

Facetime / iSight

Not having any camera on my previous 3rd gen model I feel spoiled with both a front and back camera. Video conferencing with Facetime or other apps like Skype is now a breeze as long as you have a wi-fi connection to the Internet.

Both cameras give surprisingly good images and I’ve found myself using it a lot to take photos and video with.

Back camera: 5 megapixels, 1080p, up to 30 frames per second
Front camera: 1.2 megapixels, 720p, up to 30 frames per second

The LED flash is very powerful and can double as a torch by using the free Flashlight app.

Another new addition that came with iOS 6 is the new Panorama node for easily taking panoramic photos.

Strap it on

Another new feature that has not appeared on iPods until now is the strap. Apple have ingeniously designed a pop-out button about the same size as the camera. It is located on the back of the device and on the same side as the camera but at bottom. It’s size and position looks as though it was created to match the camera, which also protrudes slightly from the otherwise flush back.

Camera and loop button compared
Camera on one end, loop button on the other. Both protrude from the back

Popping it out by firmly pushing it like a button enables the strap to be hooked on. The strap is probably a good idea to ensure the device is not accidentally dropped, especially when using it as a camera. I was surprised at how secure the strap fastens to the pop out button and no matter how violently I jiggled it around I was unable to get the device to detach itself from the strap. It can be easily removed intentionally.

Controversial connector

There was a lot of fuss made over the switch from the older 30 pin connector to the new 8 pin connector. A lot of iPhone and iPod users have bought accessories that will no longer fit with the newer models. Apple does sell a convertor….for $29, which many grumble about not being included for free. The newer, smaller connector is a huge improvement over the older connector. It is stronger and much less likely to break. It is also reversible – meaning that it cannot be plugged in either way. The socket into which it plugs in the bottom of the ipod is much more compact and looks a lot more resistant to water, should you accidentally drop your device in water.

EarPods dumbed down

Unlike the EarPods that come with the iPhone 5 and new iPads, the EarPods that are included with the iPod Touch 5 do not come with a built in microphone or inline remote control which is both surprising and disappointing.

The manual, which can be downloaded from the iTunes store says that the EarPods can be used for listening to Siri, another new comer to the iPod Touch. There is not much point in just listening to Siri though, which is mainly used for issuing commands or requesting information.

I was concerned that the iPod’s internal microphone may be turned off when the EarPods are plugged in, as is normally the case. After plugging them in and running a test I found that the internal microphone does remain in use even when the EarPods are plugged in.

Speaker out loud

The speaker is very much improved and is easily audible even when not on the highest volume setting. I often prefer to listen to podcasts and music and watch video without the EarPods and this easily achieved, indoors at least, with the 5th generation iPod Touch.

The small speaker holes at the bottom
The small speaker holes at the bottom of the device

Shaping up to other Apple products

There is often a lot of thought and consideration that goes into Apple product design with a history of focusing on the human element of the consumer. The switch to the 16:9 ratio, for example, is advertised as being based on the average reach of the human thumb.

The white top, rounded corners and brushed aluminium gives it the classic Apple look. I’ve noticed something else about the adjustments to the size and shape of the iPod Touch 5, and of course the iPhone 5, and how this newer size relates to existing Apple products.

The taller iPod Touch 5 is now the same height as the Apple TV Remote, which was also recently made taller when it switched from the plastic white controller to the brushed aluminium remote control.

Apple TV remote and iPod Touch 5 compared
The taller design now equals the height of the Apple TV remote

The iPod Touch 5 certainly makes a better remote control for the Apple TV with it’s touch screen interface. All the functionality of the traditional Apple TV remote control is available through the free Remote iOS app. But the iPod Touch’s potential as an alternative remote control is really with the ability to watch video apps such as ABC’s iView and BBC’s iPlayer using AirPlay. The number of TV stations that are developing iOS apps is always expanding, which makes iOS devices like the iPod Touch the perfect way of getting content onto the home TV.

Thinking about Apple and an expandable remote control for TV in this way reminds me of the universal TV remote control that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak invented and ultimately left Apple to design and release in 1987, the CL9 CORE.

Wozniak's programmable Core TV Remote and the iPod Touch compared
Wozniak’s programmable Core TV Remote and the ever expandable collection of viewing apps on the iPod Touch that can be AirPlayed to the Apple TV

Shortly before his death Steve Jobs made it clear that the TV was his next goal. He told his biographer, Walter Isaacson:

“‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.’

Is Apple about to come full circle with a ‘programmable’ TV remote control in the form of iOS devices such as the Pod Touch 5?  With Siri now onboard ‘changing channels’ could be as simple as asking Siri to switch to a different app.

Author: Vincent Brown
Twitter: @Vintuitive
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Flickr: Vintuitive