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If your kid is too young for an iPhone but might like a device that still sends iMessages, places FaceTime calls, streams music and can play games, you might want to consider Apple's new iPod touch, which is available now and starts at $199.
I bought one a couple of days ago to test out. It's kind of like a mini iPhone that can't place phone calls — though it can do FaceTime video chat — and only gets data over Wi-Fi. That means you don't have to pay for a data plan, but you can't use it anywhere you would an iPhone.
I like it a lot more than I thought I would, though as an owner of an iPad and an iPhone, I'm still trying to find out where it fits in my life. It's fun, but Apple isn't going to suddenly sell several million of these things unless there's some retro trend coming back I don't yet know about.
Here's what you need to know about it.
I love how tiny the iPod touch is. It's about half as thin as my iPhone and has a tiny 4-inch screen, although I found it was still easy to type on. It has access to all of Apple's latest apps, like Apple News and even Apple TV. It's a bit tiny to watch movies on, but your kids might like it for YouTube or for watching cartoons.
I loaded mine up with tunes from Apple Music and found that the $199 32GB model was sufficient for storing enough playlists and albums to get me through a five-hour flight. I really don't think most people need more space here, since you can always stream music over Wi-Fi. But if you have a huge library of tunes you've already purchased, there's a 128GB model for $299 and a 256GB model that costs $400.
It has a headphone jack and comes with buds in the box, but I liked using the iPod touch with AirPods, which connect just as easily as they do with my iPhone and iPad. Since the iPod touch is nice and small, it's easy to grip and hit the volume keys, and control everything with just a single hand. Sometimes I have a hard time doing that with my much larger iPhone XS Max.
Battery life is alright if you're not using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or streaming a bunch of music. But I found it fell down below half after my five-hour flight, so it's not as good as an iPhone or iPad, which have much bigger batteries.
Most importantly, it's just so light. I can carry a couple movies, my music library and my AirPods in my pocket without really feeling it there at all. I can't say the same about my huge (but beloved) iPhone XS Max.
Apple didn't really update a whole lot here, other than add the newer processor originally used in the iPhone 7, which is itself already dated. So, in that sense, it feels a bit like recycled hardware. I noticed that loading apps was definitely slower than on my iPhone XS Max, and you shouldn't expect higher-end games to run as smoothly. And you don't get new features like wireless charging, which would have been great.
I also wish it had Touch ID or Face ID, since I'm just not used to pressing the home button and then having to enter in a 4-digit password to unlock a device any more. And, for a device so focused on music, I wish it had stereo speakers instead of the single down-firing one.
The front-facing camera is just one megapixel, which is pretty much laughably bad on paper. I took a selfie with my editor outside a restaurant and thought it was fine, though blurry due to the lack of any optical image stabilization. Again, your kids might like it, but adults might prefer something better with portrait mode, like you'd get on an iPhone XS Max. The 8-megapixel camera on the back is just fine, and now supports augmented reality so you can use apps that let you drop digital objects into the real world. Kids might like Angry Birds AR, which lets you slingshot birds at bad guys on your desk, for example.
The screen is just OK. You can see the pixels, so it's not as sharp as Apple's screens on newer iPhones, or nearly as colorful. Movies and photos don't look as brilliant as they do on the more expensive OLED panels Apple uses on iPhones.
Finally, while I don't really want to pay for another data plan, it would be pretty cool to have the option to carry this anywhere and get internet access even when Wi-Fi isn't available, like you might with an LTE iPad. It seems like a missed opportunity to have a super-portable internet device.
You probably don't need to buy an iPod touch for yourself, unless you're like me and have a bit of nostalgia for the iPod and just want to use a super-mini version of your iPhone. Part of me wishes this was a full-fledged iPhone, though. It's so attractive at its size that, with a bit more battery life and better cameras, it could serve as a pretty compelling iPhone mini.
But — and I should warn that I don't have any — this might be a good option for kids who aren't old enough to own a phone yet. You'll be able to stay in touch with them over iMessage when they have Wi-Fi, or FaceTime, and at $200 it's cheaper than Apple's entry-level $329 iPad. But it still has a full browser, access to apps and games and will let them stream music and movies.