Oct. 12, 2012 at 2:52 PM ET
How do you get as close to owning an iPhone without actually owning an iPhone? It's not really a trick question — you already know the answer if you're reading this review.
The fifth-generation iPod Touch borrows a bit from each of the recent iPhone generations. It has a display identical to the one found on the iPhone 5, guts equivalent to some of those in the iPhone 4S, and a camera system similar — but significantly superior— to what's crammed inside the iPhone 4. It runs a full-fledged version of iOS 6, the latest version of the mobile operating system used by the iPhone (and iPad, for that matter).
While all of these details are fine and dandy, it isn't until you handle the new Touch that you fully realize just how mind-boggling the device is. At six millimeters — just under a quarter inch — thin, the Touch makes even the ridiculously airy iPhone 5 feel chubby. The Touch looks like it should be fragile, as if you need to cradle it gently while wearing soft, white gloves, yet it's anything but delicate. Its anodized aluminum back is solid, reassuring. You might feel the insane urge to bend or throw the gadget, just to see if it can take the abuse. (I suggest avoiding succumbing to this strange desire though. No one likes a shattered display.)
The fifth-generation Touch is the first to have a built-in flash and auto-focus system. These features — combined with a 5-megapixel camera, Apple's A5 processor, and a pile of software improvements, not to mention Wi-Fi connectivity to iCloud, email and a bunch of other ways to share photos — mean that you may just toss out your old point-and-shoot camera. Don't be surprised if a friend with an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 takes crisper snapshots though, because those camera systems have an edge on the one in the new Touch.
The battery life on the Touch seems to be excellent. Apple suggests that the device will offer up to 40 hours of music playback on a full charge and I haven't managed to drain it over two days of moderate usage. Do keep in mind that you'll need the included Lightning cable to charge the new Touch (and that your spare 30-pin cables are useless here.)
The Touch has a quirky little addition: A little color-matched lanyard. If you press a button on the lower back of the Touch, it pops out, and that's where you attach the wrist strap. If you don't care about the little loop, you can ignore it completely, but if you do want to use it, it's there.
NBC News tech editor Wilson Rothman and photographer Jim Seida both love the loop, for its design and for its iPod-saving function when you're, say, leaning off of a tall building to take a picture. But I can't quite bring myself to use it, mainly for fear that I'll accidentally fling the Touch across a room or somehow swing it with enough force to make the loop slide off its little button. (When Rothman and Seida tried to unhook it through aggressive use, it stayed fast.)
So, the big question, is the iPod Touch worth its price tag? The new Touch starts at $299, while the iPhone 5 — under an expensive 2-year carrier contract — starts at $199 (with the iPhone 4S at a mere $99).
The new Touch is a powerful, gorgeous little beast. No other device will get you this close to an iPhone straight out of the box. It doesn't require contracts, it won't come with monthly bills, and did I mention it's so easy on the eyes that you might feel a bit of lust?
But the Touch doesn't have built-in GPS capabilities (beyond Wi-Fi-based location guessing), it doesn't have a camera quite as great as the one in the iPhone 5, it doesn't have Apple's latest A6 processor (meaning that it'll struggle to keep up with iOS updates sooner than its more powerful iPhone siblings), and it's priced a bit steeply.
But if you are stuck on a dumbphone or enjoy your Android but want to know how the other half lives, this all-in-one media-player-slash-basic-point-and-shoot-slash-kinda-sorta-tablet will do the job.
Want more tech news or interesting links? You'll get plenty of both if you keep up with Rosa Golijan, the writer of this post, by following her on Twitter, subscribing to her Facebook posts, or circling her on Google+.