Editor's Note: This review is of the first-generation iPod touch. A review of the second-generation model is available by hitting this link.
The iPod touch is the newly released widescreen media player from Apple, which shares the same multitouch screen as the iPhone. But the phrase "media player" only begins to describe what it can do.
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Its multitouch screen gives the user more control over the device, allowing for a more natural input without the need for a stylus commonly seen on other touchscreen devices. With the slide of one or more fingers across the screen users can enter text, navigate web pages, or zoom in on images.
Safari, Apple's own web browser, really lets users play around with this new interface since it relies entirely on finger movement. Storage format has changed from a hard disk to flash memory, allowing for faster access, but at the same time greatly limiting storage capacity.
Wi-Fi has also been added to this iPod to not only allow users to browse the web, but to wirelessly purchase and download songs through iTunes.
Read on to see how this newly redesigned iPod holds up in real world use.
My initial view of the iPod touch was very optimistic. I knew it had almost all the features I had been searching for in a mobile device; large capacity, beautiful touch screen, and most importantly an interface that didn't lag. Many devices to date have been able to hit a few of those key points, but either they failed on some parts, or the price was so high my pocket book wouldn't consider it.
With the iPod touch only costing $300 for the entry model, it was an answer to my prayers. As soon as it was announced I was on a mission find one as soon as I could.
Finding a store that had the iPod touch in stock was very difficult. I had to track down stores that carried the model, what stores were within driving distance, and above all who had it in stock. Out of 4 local BestBuys, 2 Circuit Citys, 3 Target locations, 1 Wal-mart, and 1 Apple Store, only a single location had it in stock. After about 40 minutes of driving I got my hands on one 8 GB model from a BestBuy location that had two in stock. The iPod was flying off shelves almost as fast as they listed them in stock, but I didn't care anymore, I had one in my hands finally.
After unwrapping the iPod, I prepped my computer with the latest version of iTunes. Unlike previous iPod versions, this model has to be activated through a computer before it can be used.
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After its initial sync, I was able to go to town setting up the Wi-Fi to enable Internet use on the iPod. It was pure bliss hitting the first web page in Safari, compared to what I had been used to so many years on other mobile devices. Finally an Internet experience that was comparable to that of my home computer in the palm of my hands.
As long as the other programs could provide even a slim resemblance of what was seen on my other PDA’s, this could be the perfect replacement.
Design and Construction
If you have to give credit to Apple for anything, it’s that this company knows how to make quality products that look and feel great. The iPod touch is no different with its super thin but sturdy design, and simple color layout.
On the front all you see is a single button and that revolutionary touchscreen interface surrounded by black plastic trim. It is hands down the most uncluttered and simple user interface I have seen to date.
The rear cover is polished stainless steel, different from other PDA’s with thin aluminum or plastic bodies. While it doesn't appear to hold up at all from getting minor scratches, it does give the iPod a solid feel protecting the internal components from being sat on or dropped.
Screen and Keyboard
The screen on this iPod model looks perfect. Vivid color reproduction, strong backlight, and decent viewing angles. It was also just the right size in terms of viewing a movie, compared to the older iPod Video. My only gripe with the iPod screen was dust found between the screen layers, which was present on two different devices.
The multitouch screen is unlike any other touch screen I have had the chance to use. The first change people will notice is the old stylus input is thrown out of the equation. Replacing the stylus is a more natural input, a user’s finger.
Next is the tracking movement which has become incredibly smooth and fluid-like. A graceful swoop of your finger lets you drag a web page surface around the screen, or spin a 3D dial to adjust a timer.
Finally I think the biggest improvement with the touch interface is the solid glass surface. The old squishy touch sensitive surface is now replaced with a surface that is firm.
Probably one of the most important features of the iPod touch screen is its inability to scratch. You can find YouTube clips of people taking keys to the screen surface without leaving any marks, and others taking razor blades to the finish. Compared to some of the older touchscreen finishes, this is pretty amazing by itself. With years of complaints about previous generation iPods scratching like cheap plastic, Apple finally fixed this aspect with the new iPod touch.
|Keyboard in Landscape Mode
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The display on the iPod touch becomes the keyboard for different programs that require user input. Typing was slower than a real keyboard for the most part, and I found myself typing much slower just trying to make sure I hit the correct keys. If you have fat thumbs like I do, you may want to practice typing with other fingers.
In Safari when viewing pages in landscape mode, you are given access to a wider version of the keyboard, which I found easier to type on. User input fields in every other application though are stuck with the slim keyboard.
The iPod Touch’s capabilities are very slick, and hands down is the fastest PDA-like device I have used.
Programs fully load before your finger even lifts off the screen from pressing the button. As this device was designed almost just for this purpose, video decoding is done without as much as a hiccup.
One of the downsides to all of this is you never get to push this iPod’s processing capabilities. All programs were designed to work under certain terms, and all third-party software has been locked out.
Currently the only wireless connection the iPod touch supports is Wi-Fi (802.11b/g).
Walking around my office or home the range seems less compared to a laptop. In areas where a laptop would still have 50-60% connection, the iPod touch will drop off depending on if your hand is in a certain position. If you were to use this around a larger home, prepare to get another access point to extend the range.
So far the average distance I can be away from my access point is 50-75 feet. Mix walls or other obstructions into the way and you will probably be dropped off quicker.
Software on the iPod touch, while limited, appears to be very well thought out. Each application loads without lag, works smoothly, and features (while basic) are incredibly each to use.
The applications present on the iPod touch at the time of this review are Safari, YouTube, Calendar, Contacts, Clock, Calculator, Music, Videos, Photos, and or course iTunes.
|Brighthand in Safari
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Safari, Apple’s web browser, will probably see the most use. The interface is very slick, and easy to figure out once you get the finger motions worked out. Page rendering works out well most of the time, but common features such as Flash or Java are not supported. Scrolling, zooming, and other page navigation controls are handled all through finger motions.
The YouTube application gives you access to most (if not all) YouTube videos, allowing you to view by most popular, featured videos, bookmarked videos, or search for others. The layout of each section gives you a nice preview of each video (image, rating, views, and username). Clicking on it buffers the video, and allows you to start watching a clip in the same style player used for music or videos on the iPod.
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The internal Calender can be set to sync with Outlook on your computer, but right now is crippled by Apple to only allow you to view, not edit or add, appointments. You can view by list, day, month, as well as jump to the current day.
Contacts also syncs with Outlook, and appears to support a seemingly unlimited number of phone numbers for each contact. Besides the standard fields for common phone numbers, you add custom tags for whatever might fit best for a number you have on hand. Unlike the Calendar program, you are allowed to add and edit items.
The Clock application gives you a wide range of features, covering a world clock, alarm, stopwatch, and timer. The world clock section gives the user a chance to add in multiple major cities. The alarm section lets you add in multiple alarm setting, not just limiting you to a single alarm that you need to change each time. The stopwatch gives you basic lap features, and times by the tenth of a second. The timer lets you set a countdown of up to 24 hours.
Calculator is just a basic calculator program without any scientific functions. Very basic and simple to use program.
Music gives you access to all the songs loaded onto your iPod. The control interface looks much different from the past iPod interface. I really wish that Apple stuck with the tried and true circular controls through some sort of screen overlay. Volume and track position bars are now thin bars that take a bit of practice to get used it.
Video allows you to control all the movies and TV shows loaded onto your iPod. Default viewing orientation is landscape, and has controls similar to the music layout. The only real control you have outside of the volume or track position is the video resize feature. This allows you to view the video at normal size, or expand it to the screen edges.
If you have any pictures set to sync with your iPod, Photo lets you browse through your entire selection. It sorts by folder, and while viewing pictures you are allowed to set your device wallpaper image to the current selection.
iTunes is probably the most handy application on this device, considering you can now gain full access to the entire iTunes music selection anytime you have an active Wi-Fi connection. You can preview songs, purchase them, and of course download them all while not connected to your main computer. The only content that is not available through the iTunes Wi-Fi store at this time are video, TV shows, and podcasts. Hopefully these are added in the near future.
Battery Life and Charging
Battery like on the iPod touch was long enough to easily cover a day or two of off and on of wireless access. At times depending on how long I sat in front of the TV surfing the Web, I went as far as a week between recharges.
Battery life with Wi-Fi enabled got me into the 4-5 hours range, depending on how tasking I was with the wireless connection. If I spent most of the time viewing movie trailers or watching YouTube clips, it ate the battery faster than plain web browsing
Knowing when to charge the iPod became somewhat frustrating if it had sat a day or two without being used. One time I picked it up with 30-40% charge, 10 minutes later it gave me a warning saying it was at 20%. Almost to the dot, 10 minutes later a 10% charge warning appeared, and then 2-3 minutes later the iPod shut down. I know the battery gauge isn't always a trusted source, but come on… it shouldn’t be that bad.
Charging time once the iPod was dead, or near 0%, was a bit less than 2 hours.
Hardware Flaws and Other First-Generation Problems
After having the iPod for a little less than one week the first glaring flaw was found, a big speck of dust in-between the LCD layers. I haven't seen anything like this since the older Compaq iPAQ series, so it was quite a shock. After a quick search for another BestBuy that had the item in stock for exchange, I was back in business… or so I thought. I arrived back at my place and opened up the brand new iPod, and this one yet again had a speck of dust in-between the screen layers. Different location, smaller in size, but sure enough it was the same defect as before. I opted not to exchange this iPod for another, so I could get on with my review.
Another in-house model that a fellow reviewer had purchased did not have any dust defects, but instead had a nice stuck white pixel on the screen. 0/3 so far trying to find a “perfect condition” brand new iPod Touch.
Some early adopters have also been complaining about inverted or distorted looking black colors on early iPod touch models. This was one problem I wasn't able to see firsthand, thankfully.
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