iPod touch gets a substantial touch-up
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iPod touch gets a substantial touch-up

I've liked the previous incarnations of the iPod touch; I like the latest model even more as it adds still more features. The gorgeous, svelte touch can now record HD video and supports FaceTime video calling -- as well as doing everything it did in prevous versions.

The iPod touch remains a joy to use. Once you turn it on, there's a "slider" at the bottom of the screen that you use to "unlock" the iPod for use.

The new iPod touch includes, as always, Wi-Fi wireless networking. The iPod touch home screen can be customized, allowing users to reorder and add new icons. There's support for up to nine different home screens that you can easily flick between. With the Web Clips feature, you can create custom icons on your home screen for your favorite web sites.

With its 3.5-inch widescreen display, the iPod touch is good for watching videos (though I wouldn't want to watch a full length movie on a screen this size) and great for viewing photos and album art. As before, the iPod touch has a built-in accelerometer that automatically senses when you rotate it into its landscape position. When you're in music, it automatically switches to Cover Flow so you can browse your music collection by album cover artwork with a flick of a finger. And the fourth gen iPod touch adds a 3-axis gyro.

But you probably knew all that? So let's look at what's new in the latest iPod touch and see how well do the new features work.

First up is the Retina Display, which was introduced with the iPhone 4. It has 960 x 640 pixels -- four times as many pixels than before. Apple says the resulting 326 pixels per inch is so dense that the human eye is unable to distinguish individual pixels when iPod touch is held at a normal distance. I won't argue the point; with the Retina Display, text, images and video look sharp, smooth and very realistic.

But not quite as good as on the iPhone 4. Why? The iPhone 4's retina display incorporates in-plane switching (IPS) technology, which provides it with a viewing angle of nearly 180 degrees, and the touch doesn't. If you view the touch from an extreme side angle, there's a slight blueish tint.

With the new front-facing camera and mic, iPod touch users can make FaceTime video calls over Wi-Fi. With a tap of the new FaceTime app, iPod touch users can call other new iPod touch or iPhone 4 users. Instead of using your phone number (and SMS) to connect, as o the iPhone 4, the iPod uses your email address to ID you. And you can only connect with other 4.1 devices, so that limits the functionality of FaceTime somewhat. However, I suspect we'll see FaceTime expanded to include Macs and, yes, even PCs in the near future.

The rear-facing camera on iPod touch is built for HD video recording. Users can capture HD video wherever they are and share it via email, MobileMe and YouTube. I really wasn't expecting a great deal when it comes to HD video recording, but the results are surprisingly good. In fact, they're better than with the Flip camera I own.

With the iMovie app (which I haven't tested yet), users can combine movie clips, add dynamic transitions and themes and include photos and music right on their iPod touch. Users can buy and download the app for US$4.99 through the Apple App Store.

On the downside, the iPod touch's rear camera -- though capable of 720p video -- has a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720. And that drops to 960 x 720 (720p at a 4:3 ratio) when used for still photos. Compared to the pics I've seen snapped with an 5-megapixel capable iPhone 4, the iPod touch's pics are mediocre at best.

On the other hand, when it comes to performance, especially for gaming, the iPod touch doesn't disappoint. The new A4 chip -- the same as that used in the iPhone 4 and iPad -- provides flawless performance and no discernible lags in any task or game I tackled.

The new touch also supports Apple's Game Center, which lets you showcase your scores and achievements and discover new games their friends are playing. I haven't tried this feature yet.

Finally, if you thought the previous generation iPod touch was thin, wait till you hold this one. The fourth gen iPod touch has gone on a diet, and is even more compact.

Apple says the latest iPod touch can handle up to 40 hours of audio playback and up to seven hours of video playback. During my tests, I'd say those estimates are fair; in fact, you can probably get a bit longer music playback and/or video viewing times than Apple lists.

Also, on my wish list is a GPS chip for future iPod touches. And a 128GB model. Also, if the iPod nano has an FM radio tuner, I don't see what the touch can't have one as well.

Macsimum rating: 8 out of 10.

The new iPod touch is available next week for a suggested price of $229 for the 8GB model, $299 for the 32GB model and $399 for the 64GB model through the Apple Store (http://www.apple.com), Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers. iPod touch requires a Mac with a USB 2.0 port, Mac OS X10.5.8 or later and iTunes 10 or later; or a Windows PC with a USB 2.0 port and Windows Vista or Windows XP Home or Professional (Service Pack 3) or later and iTunes 10 or later.

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