It seems everyone and his dog expected Apple's latest iPod touch to include a camera, but, sadly, that's not the case. Instead, the new version boasts a faster processor that makes it feel more responsive, and an updated operating system. The third-generation touch is available in 32GB and 64GB storage capacities, costing around £230 and £300 respectively. Here we review the 64GB model. Apple has dumped the 16GB model from the line-up but retained the older 8GB version, reducing its price to £150. While the 8GB model features the new software, it runs on the older, slower hardware.
On the outside, the third-generation touch doesn't look all that different to the previous model. It retains the extremely slim, 9mm-thick profile, along with the metal rear and flush glass finish on the front. For some, the new touch will be slightly too much like the older version, especially as it lacks a camera, an omission for which Apple has received a significant pasting in the press.
It's an especially odd omission given that Apple has managed to add a video camera to the cheaper and smaller iPod nano. The word is that production problems stopped the company from being able to kit the touch out with a camera this time around, but it's likely to make an appearance on the next version.
If little has changed externally, what has Apple actually been up to for the last 12 months? The answer lies under the bonnet. Instead of considering this model as the one that doesn't have a camera, we're sure Apple would rather you think of it as the speedier touch, because the engine has had a serious bump in horsepower.
Not only does this model boast a newer processor, clocked at 600MHz, but Apple has also upgraded the graphics chip and doubled the memory available to the operating system to 256MB. What all this means is that the new touch now features the same innards as the iPhone 3GS. More importantly, the changes are very noticeable when you're actually using the device. Applications load almost instantaneously, while zooming in on and resizing maps, pictures and Web pages is a great deal quicker and smoother than before.
Apple also reckons that, with its faster processor and improved graphics chip, the touch can now take on the likes of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS when it comes to gaming. Certainly, existing 3D games seem to run smoother, with less choppiness when there's plenty happening on the screen, but, until new games arrive designed specifically to take advantage of the new hardware, we'll have to reserve judgement. One thing's for sure: the touchscreen controls for most games aren't as easy to use as the dedicated controls on the PSP or DS.
One downside of the faster processor and graphics chip is that the new touch is slightly more battery-hungry than previous models, so, while video-playback time remains the same, at 6 hours, music-playback time is down from 36 to 30 hours. We don't think that's too much of a sacrifice to make for the increase in speed, though.
Elsewhere, the player remains largely unchanged from previous iterations. You still get a brilliant music player, excellent video-playback capabilities and the best mobile browser in the business. The beauty of the touch is that it doesn't stop there. It also packs in a photo viewer, email reader and host of other utilities, including a contacts book, calendar, weather-forecast viewer and notebook.
The built-in Wi-Fi support means you can download music, videos and applications directly to the player without having to hook it up to a PC or Mac. The on-board iTunes app gives you access to a vast library of music, TV shows and movies, which you can purchase and download in a matter of minutes, while the App Store, with its thousands of applications, means you'll always be able to add new games or new features to your touch.
The player comes with version 3.1 of the iPhone OS. This includes the new Genius Mixes feature, which creates endless mixes from your library of tunes, but perhaps the most significant update is the addition of voice control (the earphones have been upgraded to include an inline mic that supports this). All you have to do is press the 'home' or 'mic' button and then utter a phrase like 'play songs by Orbital' and the player will speak the command back to you and then act upon it. It also responds to voice commands like 'shuffle', 'next song' and 'pause'. It doesn't need to be trained to your voice, and it works brilliantly. Also, although the new software will be available for older touch models, voice control is only supported on the new touch and the iPhone.
The touch isn't perfect, though. What with all the fuss that's been made about the lack of a camera, you can be fairly sure that Apple will include one with the next update. This makes it difficult to decide whether to buy this player now or hold off and see if Apple actually does add a camera to the next model.
We also don't like the fact that Apple has kept the headphone jack on the bottom of the touch, rather than shifting it to the top, as on the iPhone. It means you have to put it in your pocket head-first, unlike pretty much every other MP3 player on the market.
We'd also like to see support for more standard video formats, like Xvid and DivX, but, seeing as Apple now makes considerable amounts of money from selling movies and TV shows online, we can't see this happening anytime soon, even though many other players now support these formats. A built-in FM transmitter for wirelessly beaming tracks to a car stereo would also have been welcome, especially as this feature is starting to appear on some of the newer portable media players.
Nevertheless, we can put up with these flaws simply because the touch remains such a sublimely brilliant piece of kit. It looks great, sounds good, is incredibly easy to use, and is eminently expandable via both software and third-party add-ons. Despite being on the market for two years in one form or another, no other player comes close.
The lack of a camera on Apple's third-generation iPod touch is disappointing and will rightly make many people wait until the next update before splashing out their cash. But, for those who don't want or need an on-board camera, this version's much faster processor helps make sure that it remains far and away the best portable media player currently on the market.
Edited by Charles Kloet