Apple's iPod touch is the device for those who want all the features of the iPhone, but without the phone. The first-generation model came out in 2007, and has recently been followed by an improved version.
One of the best things Apple is known for, outside of releasing revolutionary electronics devices, is quickly updating said items with more features, better battery life, and much sleeker looking designs.
The second generation iPod touch follows that same trend with a slimmed down look, substantially improved battery life, onboard speaker, and a wide range of applications offered through the Apple App Store. Has Apple finally turned the iPod touch into the ultimate handheld computer?
The design of the new iPod touch is slimmed down and much smoother than the previous generation, and it is noticably thinner than the iPhone 3G, too.
Overall, this device has a tablet shape, and is 4.3 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.33 inches thick.
The old design had a flat stainless steel back with plastic trim around the display. The new model has a curved stainless steel back that wraps around to border the display, cutting out the plastic trim (see here). The new back has a vacuum sealed look compared to the old model, slimming down towards the edges. Besides the rear cover, the new iPod touch looks identical to the old model.
Build quality is excellent to average depending on what area you look at. The screen is very scratch resistant with its glass surface, and the metal body prevents any flexing or creaking.
The polished stainless steel back is not without its flaws, though; it is very susceptible to scratching. The first day out of the wrapper the finish started to show very fine scratches. After more than a month of usage the back is very scratched and abused.
The 3.5-inch display on the iPod touch is one of the nicest displays I have seen, hands down.
Back in the early days with flexible layer resistive touch screens, the flexible layer would mar images with its inconsistent finish, and partially block your view with its tiny wires. With the newer capacitive touch displays you can use completely rigid surfaces like glass, giving it a cleaner look, and in my opinion much better colors. The small wires are also gone, something that annoyed me on some screens as some were more visible than others.
The glass finish also has another benefit, reducing and in some cases completely removing the risk of scratching the screen. The iPod touch was the first mobile device I could carry in my pocket without any risk of damaging the screen. The shiny metal shell might get dinged and scratched up, but the glass display still looks perfect after a bit of rubbing to remove any finger prints. The same couldn't be said about my Compaq iPAQ after someone used a wool sweater to wipe down the screen. For mobile device users this means you can store the handheld in your pocket or bag without a case, making it much smaller and easier to carry around.
Color saturation and brightness are excellent, making it perfect for watching a movie or surfing the Web. The backlight brightness puts my TV and laptop to shame, and easily readable in bright conditions at 30-40% brightness. I have not been in any outdoor setting where I could not read the iTouch's screen, even with excessive amounts of glare reflecting in my face. Viewing angles are also very good, with little color inversion at steeper angles.
One problem I have noticed, on both of my first generation iPod touch and second generation model, is dust between the layer of glass and the LCD. I went through two models the first time and only noticed the dust on my current second generation model well after the initial return period. Nothing is ever completely perfect, but I really dislike screen defects.
This handheld's multitouch interface replaces the old stylus with your finger for handling user input. Apple designed the entire user interface around your finger, with swiping or twirling motions used for navigating screens.
For typing emails or entering in other text information, you have two keyboard options depending on the screen orientation. Both options have decent speed, but still slower than a physical keyboard. It takes a while to get used to the lack of tactile feedback, and it also makes it difficult to place your fingers in the right spot without first looking at the screen.
For those of you dead-set on still using a stylus or just have a hard time hitting the correct keys with your finger, a company has recently made one that works with the iTouch's capacitive touch display. Ten One Design has released the Pogo stick, which has a soft end that transmits electrical signals from your hand onto the display to simulate your finger touching the screen. It doesn't fully replace a true stylus but it gets very close.
Wireless capabilities are still limited to Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), with functional Bluetooth still out of the picture. This isn't an iPhone, so don't be asking about 3G.
Still, if you spend most of you time near Wi-Fi hotspots, you won't miss cellular-wireless access. With the iPod touch, you can check your email, surf the Web, and access the App Store without having to pay AT&T a monthly service fee.
A small note: the iTouch does have a chipset that communicates with the built-in Nike+ interface that is similar to Bluetooth, but it is locked for only that function. The Nike+ feature is used for tracking running information when paired with a transmitter you put in your shoe. This captures pace, distance, and calories burned and allows you to view this information at a later time to track progress.
A great add-on to the second generation iPod touch is the internal speaker. To watch a quick YouTube clip on the first generation, you needed to grab a pair of headphones to hear the audio. Now you can just listen to it without headphones, expanding the audience to friends or other people around you.
Another great not-so-advertised feature is a microphone input through an extra pin in the headphone jack. Using headsets designed for the iPhone you can take quick audio notes, or even make cheap or free phone calls over Wi-Fi with VOIP software like Fring. It won't completely replace your phone by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great alternative in some situations.
The Apple App Store is the best thing that has happened to the iPod touch (and iPhone). The first iPod touch was limited to only a handful of applications unless you hacked it for use with non-approved software. Now Apple has finally opened it up to third-party software that goes through a basic approval process.
At the time of this article the App Store has approximately 15,000 applications that are available for a small sum or completely free. A few of my favorite applications are listed below:
The mobile version of Apple's OS X software environment is very snappy and rarely has any lag. The rendering of webpages is one thing that many mobile devices show some lag in, especially if they are loaded with images. The iPod touch can navigate pages with ease and has by far the smoothest scrolling I have seen short full computer.
The only area I have been able to make my iPod touch lag or crash is playing third-party games, but these are early revisions that have since been updated to fix some of the problems.
With this new version, battery life has been increased in most areas, including music playing and watching movies.
The original iPod touch was rated for 22 hours listening to music, 5 hours watching movies, and 4 hours surfing the web. With the newer chipset Apple has bumped music playing to 36 hours, movies to 6 hours, but leaving internet surfing the same at 4 hours. For those of us who rely on our iPods to keep sane on long flights, this is a very nice improvement.
Charging times are listed at 2 hours for a fast 80% charge, and 4 hours for a full charge.
The iPod touch's wonderful display and wide selection of third-party software makes it an outstanding mobile device for playing games, surfing the web, and keeping in touch with your friends via email.
The second generation is a solid upgrade from the previous model. The increased battery life by more than 50% while playing music is phenomenal and new internal speaker fills a big gap in the previous design.
While the App Store is not unique to just the newest iPod touch, it is one of the most significant upgrades to hit the model lineup.
With all of these improvements Apple still found a way to lower its price down to $229, a big drop from the $299 release of the original model. I can't say these improvements are enough to make someone upgrade to the new model, but it does make it a sweeter deal if you don't own one yet.
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