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Should You Buy an iPhone or iPod Touch For Gaming?

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The iPhone and iPod Touch may not be the most successful smartphone and multimedia devices in history, but they're certainly the ones with the biggest buzz. [UPDATED for the holidays.]

Since their release in 2007 there have been countless upgrades, new models and of course those thousands and thousands of applications.

This is our best advice — updated regularly — about whether or not you should buy an iPhone or iPod Touch for gaming, what games to get for it and what to watch out for.


[This post was last updated on Nov. 15, 2010 and will be updated if events, news, games, prices or acts of nature cause our opinion to change.]

Should I buy an iPhone now?

No, not if you're looking strictly to satisfy your gaming itch. If, on the other hand, you're in the market for a new smartphone or a digital music player then both the iPhone and iPod Touch are worthy devices that can provide interesting gaming experiences without sacrificing too much on the other fronts.


The iPod Touch has access to a wealth of music, movies and TV shows from which to select and plenty of applications to make it a useful device for just about any walk of life. The iPhone, while it comes with a pricey and sometimes unreliable service provider, includes enough add-ons, like a camera, voice and video recorder and GPS, to make it the digital media equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.

What Else Does It Do Besides Gaming?

Besides being a phone, the three different iPhone models each add some interesting, typically non-gaming, features to the mix.


The iPhone 3G has all of the expected apps you'd find on a smartphone, like a calendar, email, notes, web browsing, maps. It also has a built-in GPS, camera, serves as a music and video player and has access to a bajillion applications, both free and for a nominal price. The iPhone 3Gs adds the ability to capture video and use a built-in digital compass. The iPhone 4 includes a second camera and gyroscopic motion detecting.

The iPod Touch has all of the apps, the browsing and maps, but no GPS, phone, or other goodies.


Above: iPod Touch and the iPhone

If I'm going to take the plunge, should I get an iPod Touch or an iPhone. And if I'm going to buy an iPhone, which one should I buy?

Unless you're in the market for a new phone it would be crazy to plop down the cash for an iPhone along with the monthly cell service and data plans from AT&T. So get an iPod Touch. If you need a new phone, or want to upgrade to a new phone, then the iPhone is a great choice.


Choosing which iPod Touch you want is a pretty straight forward decision: It's all about the storage size. You just need to decide if you want 8GB, 32 GB, or 64GB. Eight is fine if you're a light user, 32 should work for all but the most intense video watchers.

Technically, there are four models of the iPhone: The original iPhone, the 3G, 3Gs and the iPhone 4. But in reality, it looks like Apple is a two iPhone sort of company. Your only options are the iPhone 3Gs or the iPhone 4.


I already have an iPhone, but should I should "upgrade" to a fancy new model?

Yes. It turns out that the higher-resolution "retina display", the faster processor, the extra internal memory, longer battery life, not to mention all of those extra non-gaming features, won our hearts over.

The iPhone 4 is head and shoulders above the last iteration, so if this is your cup of tea, you're going to want to upgrade.


What are the best games on the iPhone and iPod Touch?

There are literally thousands of games now available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. But not all of them are great. In fact, it would be fair to say that most of them are the exact opposite of great. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to separate the gems from the coal. We find that games by big name developers tend to be fairly good to great. So you're going to want to check out the offerings from the likes of Electronic Arts, 2K Games, Activision , PopCap Games, Square Enix and Gameloft. While they deal heavily in ports, those ports can be pretty amazing when played on this platform. Some of our favorites include Bejeweled, Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies and Zombies II, Civilization Revolution, Dungeon Hunter, Chaos Rings and Tiger Woods PGA Tour.

But great games don't just come from the big, known game developers. There are tons of fantastic titles from companies you've never heard of. Games like Swords and Poker 2, Drop 7, Crosswords, Doodle Jump, Stick Skater, Flight Control, Edge, Dapple and Bowmaster. The game's run the gambit, from role-playing, to puzzlers to action titles. Our Sweet Sixteen story is a nice jumping off point for building your gaming library.


Click the gallery for more images of the games.

You should also check out our holiday gift guide for the iPhone.


Which Ones Are The worst?

There's no nice way to say this, so we'll be blunt: Most of them. The iPhone and iPod Touch have some amazing, spectacular games, but they are often needles in a haystack of needles. There are some easy ways to avoid the bad. Check out the user reviews, read up on the game, look at the images. We've also found that some play styles have less chance of succeeding than others. Those include tilt-control games, first-person shooters, console ports and games that use virtual direction pads or analog sticks.

Keep in mind, these are just tips, there are exceptions to those rules as well.

So if I buy a system, what are the first three games I should get?

1. Angry Birds: This puzzle game has you shooting a variety of birds across the sky into the many different fortresses of those stinking pigs, with their beady eyes and tiny, little smirky smiles in hunt for your lost eggs. Easy to understand, hard to not get addicted to, Angry Birds combines the fun of physics-based demolition and sling-shotting, with enragingly snide pigs. That and there's more than 180 levels. And yes, we love it for the iPad too.


2. Tilt To Live: Remember those exceptions we were talking about earlier, this is a huge one. One of our favorite games on the system right now, Tilt To Live is a bit like shoot-em-up classic Geometry Wars, but controlled entirely with tilting.

3. Plants Vs. Zombies: The popular PC game perfected for the portable. Defend your house from hordes of zombies with man-eating plants and other bits of aggressive plants.


Click the gallery for bigger images.

What are the big drawbacks of the system, the stuff they don't tell you?

It's a small device with no physical controllers. That lack of directional pads, buttons and joysticks is too much for many a gamer to handle. If you can get past that and are comfortable with touch gaming then it shouldn't be a problem.


There's also the issue of Apple's ever evolving platform. This is usually a good thing, but as iPhone 3G owners soon discovered, having a less powerful system can mean laggy gameplay. So buying an iPhone or iPod Touch for gaming could mean that you may need to be doing a lot of upgrades in the future.

And let's not forget just how controlling Apple is when it comes to the content they allow on their devices. That means no free Flash games and a very strict policy about what sorts of content they allow in their games.


Above: iPod Touch

Any hidden costs?

For the iPod Touch you'll just need to buy the games. Apple even seems to be getting out of the habit of charging for firmware updates these days.


The iPhone is a completely different story. You'll need to get a phone plan from AT&T, and along with its terrible, terrible service. We're talking frequent dropped calls, lacking 3G support and poor quality audio. You're also required to buy a data plan, which while it works well, isn't cheap.

But is there a better version of the iPhone or iPod Touch coming soon? Or a price drop? Maybe I should hold off

The iPhone 4, with its sexy new look, some new capabilities and, most importantly, a faster processor and better screen resolution, hit in June. We don't foresee any price drops coming.


There aren't any new iPod Touch designs coming soon. The latest iPod Touch added Facetime, a camera and GameCenter to the mix. Do keep in mind that Apple loves to roll out new hardware. That's true for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Even if you pick up an iPhone 4, expect it to be outdated by next year.


Above: iPhone 4

Essential Facts For The iPhone and iPod Touch

The original iPhone and the original iPod Touch both hit in 2007.

The iPhone is a smartphone sold by Apple. The machine's features beyond a phone include a motion-detecting accelerometer, a touchscreen, built-in camera, GPS, digital compass, audio and video recorder and the ability to play music and videos and run applications. The newer iPhone 4 includes a second camera, a motion-detecting gyroscope, better screen and a faster processor.

The iPod Touch is a multi-media music player that can also play videos and run applications. It has no phone functionality.

All iPhone and iPod Touch systems include both short-range wireless communication and WiFi online access.

Battery life varies based on the model of iPhone and iPod Touch and how a player uses the system.

Currently available models:iPhone 4 16GB ($199)*, iPhone 4 32 GB ($299), iPhone 3Gs 8 GB ($99), iPod Touch 8GB ($229), iPod Touch 32GB ($299)*, iPod Touch 64GB ($399) [recommended models marked with an asterisk]
Price of new games: Free to $9.99
Discount line of games: None, though prices are always shifting for games.


Need more shopping advice? Take a look at Kotaku's other video game hardware buyer's guides.