iPod Touch Review
Size and Dimensions
Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 0.3 x 4.1 inches ; 8 ounces
The iPod Touch now sports a more rounded design on the back, making
it look slightly thinner and more like the iPhone than the original
did (it is not really thinner than it's predecessor, just looks
that way). Unfortunately, the back plate is still made from stainless
steel, and this plate attacts fingerprints and scratches almost
magically. After one year of near-constant use the backplate of
my first gen Touch looks a bit like a wild etch-a-sketch (I carry
the Touch in my pocket). Interestingly, the glass on the front appears
(after one year of heavy use) to be absolutely scratch-resistant.
It's the backside (that also carries the custom engraving) that
quickly becomes blemished. I would have preferred a brushed metal/aluminium
backplate. I had to look it up, but the new Touch is slightly lighter
(a few grams) - but it looks thinner (thanks to the tapered edge
design). The rounded edges make it fit my palm slightly better,
making it feel just right (to be honest, the original Touch was
already very, very good in this respect). Other than that the outside
dimensions exactly match that of the original Touch. The most visible
change from the front is that the steel from the backplate now frames
the glass much like it did on the original iPhone.
Touch Screen and Controls
Remember what it felt like to flip through your CD or record collection?
Cover Flow brings that feeling back. Just turn iPod touch on its
side and flick through your music to find the album you want to
hear. Tap the cover to flip it over and display a track list. Tap
again to start the music. Even view the lyrics while you're listening.
The screen is simply gorgeous. It's bright, crisp, has great contrast,
and can adapt it's brightness to the ambient light. In direct sunlight,
much like it's predecessor it becomes difficult to read correctly.
In shade it's perfectly readable -- a feat considering how bright
a display has to be to achieve that. Color temperature of the display
has shifted slightly downwards (or, to sound less pompuous: the
display's colors have shifted slightly from a blueish to a golden
tinge, something you wouldn't notice unless you have the two devices
side by side).
The touch screen is very responsive, and as I stated before, absolutely
scratch-resistant. Surviving a full year in my pocket along with
metallic objects such as my keys is a testament to it's durability
(looking at the stainles steel backside is a constant reminder just
how badly it could have been scratched). As with the original Touch,
the same problems occur when you try to control the device 'blind'
(i.e. while it is in your pocket): without looking at it, you simply
can't. Fortunately, Apple has addressed the most important drawback
with this design: a hardware volume control. The screen's resolution
remains at 480x320, which is very good (certainly better than my
iPod Classic's). Interestingly, I've found out that ripping videos
to this resolution does not necessarily yield noticeably better
results than for the iPod classic's (320x240) screen, so I now rip
to that resolution, conserving some memory.
iPod / iTunes
After one year of owning the original Touch I have to remind myself
that this device originally is an iPod -- or rather a digital music
player. As it turns out, although I also use it for music playing,
this function has more and more been relegated to a background task
-- a task, nontheless, that it handles really well. The coverflow,
browsing and display functionality has evolved nicely from the original
(1.0 and 2.0) versions, and are still the best in the market. The
interface improvements support nice touches such as displaying a
song's lyrics on single tap, bringing up the volume/cue controls
on double-tap of the home button, an alphabetic slide rule when
browsing titles, etc. Still missing is a search function, though.
And, especially in light of the gorgeous display capabilities and
the recent addition of a new visualitzer (in additional to the existing
ones in iTunes), I would have loved to see a visualizer on the Touch
as well. The biggest (and in my oppinion delibarate (as in spiteful))
omission is this: you still can't enable 'hard drive mode', i.e.
use the Touch as a mass storage device. The biggest boon is improved
Video is crisp (still no contrast control, though), and audio playback
is just as you expect (again: I'm no audiophile. I'm absolutely
happy with most player's audio capabilities). Again I'm not using
the Apple-provided white and quite sub-par headphones. I'm using
separately purchased ones. New for the second gen is a built-in
speaker. Audio quality here is not actually terrible, but close.
The sound is tinny, weak, and just somehow comes out of the iPod
(mono, of course). I believe that the addition of the speaker has
a specific reason different from HiFi: it makes playing games on
the Touch without headphones so much more enjoyable. But for listening
to music I would prefer headphones or active speakers. To be honest,
I prefer not listening to music from that speaker.
iTunes integration is top-notch as before. Some sort of bug-fix
now has made data backup much faster, and both iTunes and the Touch
now sport a new kind of smart playlist that is called 'Genius'.
Initially, I wasn't impressed by this feature. Although iTunes 8
has had this feature I regarded it primarily as a well executed
new way to sell song and hence didn't use it. On my iPod, however
(which only carries a subset of my library due to memory contraints),
this feature literally rocks. On my first day alone it had me re-discover
five songs I never knew I had (much less liked).
On the downside, the Touch still does not support playlist groups,
which is a constant annoyance to me. I'm also disappointed to see
that the Touch still can't synch wirelessly, nor can it be used
to access shared playlists (other than downloading them, of course).
An application in the App store offers this functionality, albeit
only for non-DRM'd titles, proving the point that this is possible.
Images (from iPhoto) can also be synched to the Touch, and nothing
is more fun than showing off your iPod's capabilities using a nice
picture and 'pinch' and 'swipe'. Interestingly (or rather: unfortunately),
iTunes appears to down-sample large images to a smaller resolution,
probably to conserve memory. This may make sense, but I would like
to be able to have more control over this feature (i.e. decide myself
what the image's resolution on the iPod should be).
Accessories - the Big Bad Ugly
Unfortunately, Apple has changed the pin-out (*again*) for the
iPod connector. As a result, some 'made for iPod' accessories either
don't work, or don't work fully any more. For example, my Altec
Lansing active speakers can't charge the Touch any more (it was
able to charge the 1st gen Touch). This is truly, truly annoying
as you don't know if your iPod works with your 'made for iPod' devices
any longer, and makes purchasing new accessories a game of chance.
My car has a (hideously expensive) iPod integration that luckily
still works (including re-charging). Still, the iPod connector compatibility
(or lack thereof) is becoming a big mess. Just imagine you want
to buy an accessory for your kid or friend, and too late find out
that it does not work with it.
WiFi / Internet
A year ago I purchased an iPod, and got a fully integrated web
accesory kit. As it turned out, the addition of WiFi and full internet
access is a killer feature to me. The web browser (a mobile version
of Safari) is very capable. Much has been said about the fact that
Mobile Safari does not support Flash. This is annoying if you visit
sites that use it. The pinch/slide gesture-based interface works
so well that I regularely use the Touch for normal web surfing.
The general experience has increased over the past few month, no
doubt in no small amounts due to the fact that many sites have beed
re-designed with the iPhone in mind. Since the Touch's browser is
exactly the same, it inherits the benefit. WiFi speed is good (although
it still uses the 802.11b/g, not the n variant) - and mostly depends
on the hotspot you are connected to. It remembers the hotspots it
has connected to (much like a laptop would), and can also connect
using WPA. There are other Web enabled applications that come with
the iPod (Maps, which can pinpoint your location by the position
of hotspots close to you), Stocks, YouTube, and Weather, which are
nice, but remarkable. WiFi reception range is average, but definitely
below that of some PC laptops.
Then, the Touch also comes with Mail, Calendar and Adressboock,
and these do become killer fieatures, especially when coupled with
an Exchange server or (as Apple would prefer) MobileMe. Mail supports
'push' technology, meaning that (almost) as soon an there is an
incoming mail (and your Touch is connected to a hotspot), you are
notified by a little discreep 'bleep'. Reading emails, including
mails with rich content works very well. Composing any but the shortes
emails, on the other hand, is bothersome, verging on annoying due
to the small virtual keyboard). Still, simply being able to do this
makes all the difference. Live Calender updates have saved my bacon
a few times already, as you do not have to remember to actively
synch your iPod after you have made a change to the calender.
Integration with Exchange (at the point of writing) remains a
tad spotty, with no messages appearing for s few hours, and then
suddenly many appearing at once (I initially suspected a configuration
issue on the Exchange Server, but this appears not to be the case).
Depending upon how you configure MobileMe on your Mac, the results
are similar to what you can expect from Exchange (with the difference,
of course, that Apple is running the servers for you). Unfortunately,
MobileMe currently does not synch your Notes.
Nicely executed is the integrated iTunes store. While possibly
just another mechanism to generate sales, I simply love the fact
that if I hear or remember a song, I can almost always instantly
purchase it and have it on my touch within seconds. Songs purchased
on the Touch synchronize back to your main library in iTunes (into
a rather silly 'Purchased on Touch' playlist). If a download has
to discontinue because the network connection was lost (or for any
other reasons), it will continue as soon as the connection to the
Internet is restored.
Interestingly, the touch sports (I'm a sucker for lame puns) the
required hardware to connect to the 'Nike + iPod' sports accessories
built-in (i.e. you do not have to connect the dongle). I say interestingly
because these devices utilize the bluetooth frequency band, yet
the Touch does not support bluetooth devices (headphones, mikes,
car integration and printers come to mind). Since I use a shuffle
for work-out, this is not a must-have feature for me.
Even if games aren't your thing, there's an iPod touch application
for you. Thousands of applications in almost every category--entertainment,
social networking, sports, photography, reference, and travel--are
a tap away at the App Store
Whenever you download an application from the App Store, a new
icon appears on your Home screen. And if you check the same websites
every day, just create Web Clips and you can access the sites directly
from your Home screen with a single tap. Not happy with how they're
organized? Reorder them any way you want by dragging them around
If Mail, Calendar and Browser are killer apps, Apple has added
another killer feature to the Touch (and iPhone) that expands the
device's usability (and customizability) by orders of magnitude:
the App store. In appearance similar to the iTunes Store, here you
can choose from literally hundrets of applictions (of greatly varying
quality, though), purchase and install them instantly. Prices run
from free to roughly 10 USD (there are some more expensive titles,
but the majority are priced at a couple of USD). The apps are presented
in three different ways ('featured', 'top', browse by category),
plus you have the ability to search for keywords.
Although the 'signal to noise' ratio isn't that great (there are
quite a lot of useless or awfully executed applications), there
are some jaw-droppingly good apps that truly enhance your Touch.
Among the first to mention is Apple's own (free) 'Remote' app, which
allows you to remote-control iTunes on your Mac or Apple TV - with
real-time full visual feedback, and full search capability (allegedly,
it is also a real boon for Apple TV users, as it provides a virtual
keyboard as input means. Not having Apple TV, I can't comment on
this). Then there is an application that allows you to stream all
your music (well, the unprotecte at least) to your Touch - over
the Internet to wherever you are (interestingly, this App was not
produced by Apple).
Greatly enhancing the Touch's usability are eBook readers (the
Touch is almost perfect for rading books, giving you that 'Star
Trek' info pad feeling) as well as off-line news readers. Another
important category are applications that enable you to easily transfer
(and view) files from your Mac/PC to the Touch. I would have expected
Apple to integrate this feature into iTunes (perhaps rudimentary
support for PDF), but third party providers are more than happy
to bridge this gap for you. And for the geeks there are VNC and
SSH clients that finally allow them to control their server cluster
using an iPod.
For those who want radio, there are lots of offerings for IP radios.
Of course this means that your iPod must remain in range of a hotspot
to use this feature. Mine does, so I alos now have radio -- and
re-discovered just why I never missed it. I'm simply not a radio
guy, I guess. I do know that many people miss it, and wish apple
had gone the last mile and also added an FM tuner.
Two Apps I'm sure that will arrive soon at the App store is due
to another addition to the Touch: support for extenal microphones.
Apple's hi-end earphones have both a remote and mike built in, and
are said to be compatible with the 2nd (and only 2nd) gen Touch.
Audio note pads, and VoIP apps (a la Skype) that allows phone functionality
over WiFi are sure to follow soon (note: I have seen these apps
available in the US stores; sadly they are not yet available here
in Switzerland Also, I interpret Apple's docs that the 2nd gen Touch
supports external microphones, as they have not yet shipped the
combined mike/remote headphones to me).
And then there are games. They currently are the biggest category
of all applications. The Touch, with it's integrated accelerometer,
480x320 color screen and touch interface makes a nice gaming device,
and developers have come up with some truly fun and innovative games
('Toy Bot' may serve as a great example). Apple may have realized
that this is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the Touch:
the Gen 2 device sports a speaker that makes little sense - except
to improve the gaming experience (believe me: playing an accelerometer-based
game with headphones on can be verry little fun when it gets exciting).
And improving the experience it does. The Touch is ill suited for
classic 'control pad' based games (e.g. Tetris, Pac Man), and most
of their Touch adaptations suffer accordingly. Other games, however,
adapt nicely to touch/accelerometer input (Monkey Ball, Crash Cart
etc), or are a natural fit (Labyrinth, Sudoku, Solitair, Othello)
Super-geeks can also download the iPhone/Touch SDK and create their
own applications. This is not for the faint of heart, as you first
download a few gigabytes (Apple's XCode development environment),
and then will have to code in Objective-C (an extension to standard
C) and use the Cocoa framework. Plus, you'll need a Mac to do so.
The environment is actually very good, and includes an iPhone simulator
to test your software before deployment.
The 2nd generation iPod Touch is an almost perfect device. It combines
top-notch video/audio, world-class UI, great casual gaming, hundrets
of apps, and full access to the Internet into a single, beautiful
package. To sum it up neatly: Untouchable. Well -- almost. It has
one big flaw if you have invested in accessories: it may not be
compatible with them, as Apple has changed the iPod connector pin-out
(again). With those reservations, I recommend the Touch to anyone.
+ great display
+ good audio
+ gesture-based interface
+ accelerometer for controls
+ great integration with your music library (via iTunes)
+ long battery life
+ wireless music store
+ wireless App store (killer feature)
+ Speaker for gaming
+ Mail, Calendar and Address book with Push
+ WiFi Internet (killer feature)
+ Remote App (free) for your PC/Mac's iTunes/AppleTV
+ SDK freely available for anyone
+ Microphone and remote support
+ Nike + iPod without dongle
- incompatibility with 'made for iPod' devices (bad, bad, bad)
- stainless steel backplate (fingerprints and scratches easily)
- no wireless synching
- no wireless playback of streamed iTunes content (an Appstore application
can stream unprotected content, though)
- no visualizer
- no search function
- no playlist groups (why, oh why?)
- no GPS nor FM radio
- Notes not synched with MobileMe
- no hard drive mode
- no synching documents (except third party Apps)
- downsampling of photos
- currently tops out at 32GB (would have preferred 64)
- no bluetooth