Apple iPod Touch Flash-Based MP3 Player
Friday, March 21, 2008; 2:19 PM
The Touch is certainly an amazing piece of technology. Mobile Safari is the best portable Web browser around, Cover Flow works great on a device with limited storage capacity, and the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store is extremely slick for a first-generation product.
Almost every feature of the iPhone has now made it over to the iPod Touch. The Touch is available in 8GB ($299), 16GB ($399), and 32GB ($499) capacities. At 0.31 inch deep, it's substantially thinner than the iPhone, but it has the same 802.11b/g wireless support. In addition, it features the same 3.5-inch Multitouch screen with 480-by-320-pixel resolution. The single button on its face brings up the main menu; a small button on top of the device turns the unit on and off.
The only missing bits of hardware from the iPhone are the phone (including the mic and speakers that go with it), the camera, and the volume buttons and locking switch on the side. The nonstandard headset jack, which prevents you from plugging most headphones directly into the iPhone, is gone as well: The connector for a normal set of headphones will fit into the Touch just fine.
Meanwhile, the tap, scroll, and pinch gestures that make the iPhone a joy to use work just as well on the Touch.
The iPod Touch's beautiful interface and large, attractive screen contribute to its being easily the most fun media player I've ever tested. Cover Flow, Apple's unique touch-based interface for flipping through the albums on your player, performs much better on the Touch than onthe iPod Nanoorthe iPod Classic. Album art loads so efficiently that it's nearly impossible to outrun the player and force the screen to display gray placeholder graphics while the player catches up.
I loaded my test unit with a library-wide "best of" playlist, along with some classic discs and the most recent 20 or so albums I've ripped. My favorite new trick: I put the "best of" playlist on shuffle and let that play until I hear something I haven't listened to in a while. When I do, a quick tap of the album's track listing lets me go back and enjoy that disc.
Apple's iTunes Wi-Fi Music store works great as well. Its search function updates while you type, helping you drill down to the correct artist, album, or song title with a minimum of typing. If you have an iTunes Music Store account, you can purchase songs directly from the device over the Touch's Wi-Fi connection. (This feature is available to iPhone users as well.) Tracks download as quickly as your Net connection can manage, and they're immediately playable. And the next time you sync the player, those songs will download to your PC's music library.
Like the iPhone, the iPod Touch sounds similar to a last-generation iPod Nano, except that in my tests the Touch didn't play so well with many high-end in-ear headphones. The problem went away when I used an attenuator (a tiny adapter that shipped with my Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pros), but I'd prefer not to have to plug an adapter into the player.
One of the things I like best about the iPhone is being able to play videos on its gorgeous 3.5-inch screen. And the iPod Touch lets you watch videos at resolutions of up to 640 by 480 pixels in both H.264 and MPEG-4 compression.
Safari remains the best mobile Web browser I've ever used--and it works extremely well on the iPod Touch, except when you try to multitask.
If you start up some music and then tap your way over to Safari to do some Wi-Fi-enabled Web surfing, you may run into problems. Often, when I opened a complex page or a second tab, the Touch stopped playing music, forcing me to go out to the main screen, tap over into music, and restart the audio. I've also experienced crashes occasionally after loading up three or more pages.
The implementation of the Calendar app is a bit confusing, too: Though you can sync events from your PC's calendar, you can't edit them on the Touch or add new events.
A recent software update added five new applications to the iPod Touch. All five had already appeared onthe iPhone: Mail, Maps, Stocks, Weather, and Notes.
The update also adds the ability to rent movies from iTunes, rearrange icons, view song lyrics, and have the Maps application chart your location. Apple will install the update on new iPod Touches before shipping them, but users who already own a Touch will have topay $20 for the enhancement.
The iPod Touch is beautifully designed and incredibly fun to use. It still suffers from some performance hiccups, but I'd gladly recommend it to anyone looking for a mobile video player, a portable Web browser, or a high-class way to cart around the highlights from your music library.