Review: Apple iPod touch (8GB/16GB/32GB)
Pros: Apple’s first iPod-branded device with a widescreen display, wireless Wi-Fi antenna, and icon-based touchscreen interface, offered at a lower price than the company’s same-capacity iPhone. Includes iPhone-style music, video, photo, and web browsing features, plus updated versions of several classic iPod applications, plus wireless access to the iTunes Store for audio downloads. Offers longer audio and video run times than last year’s models, in a surprisingly thin package.
Cons: Feels less like a flagship iPod than an intentionally stripped down iPhone, with diminished cosmetics, interface and features. Noticeably downgraded screen exhibits problems such as inverted blacks and dead pixels, which detract from video viewing experience, while shorter battery life, lower storage capacity, longer transfer times, and less impressive audio quality make it a surprisingly so-so alternative to the less expensive iPod classic. Neither Apple’s best portable video or audio device; also lacks games. Continues iPhone’s overly expensive battery replacement program, despite using less powerful battery.
[Editor’s Notes: On January 29, 2008, we added a new section to the last page of this review, detailing Apple’s release of a $20 software upgrade for the iPod touch, containing five applications (Mail, Maps, Stocks, Weather and Notes) previously reserved only for iPhone users. On February 5, 2008, Apple released a 32GB version of the iPod touch at a $499 price point, without changing the device’s other features or dimensions. Due in part to screen quality concerns that were raised in our original review, found in multiple early units we’ve tested, and never fully addressed by Apple, our rating of the iPod touch has remained unchanged since it was originally issued in September, 2007.]
Apple has proved capable of near-miraculous things. The original iPod changed the world’s perception of digital music by demonstrating the value of a cutting-edge 1.8” hard drive and a simple, intuitive user interface. iPod minis became must-haves thanks to even smaller drives, colored enclosures, and lower prices. Then, iPod nanos went “impossibly thin” by discarding hard drives altogether, eventually becoming the ideal “take it everywhere” iPod. Every sequel was a smarter evolution of what came before, at roughly the same or lower prices.
iPod touch ($299/8GB, $399/16GB) departs from that path. Rather than growing in performance from the company’s previously-released fifth-generation iPod or more recent iPod classic, the iPod touch is actually a devolution of Apple’s much-discussed iPhone, which showed how an iPod might look with a 3.5” widescreen video display, multi-touch-sensitive interface, and numerous wireless communication features. To create iPod touch, Apple reused many of iPhone’s components—the reason touch is the first product with an iPod name to have a bigger footprint than the 2001 original—but trimmed out enough to differentiate the devices and leave the iPod version noticeably thinner. It also omits iPhone’s most onerous limitation: iPod touch requires no lengthy cell phone contract, and is thereby intended to appeal to users in countries where iPhones aren’t officially available.
Unfortunately, by the past standards of a company that has proudly released products disruptive enough to threaten cannibalization or premature discontinuation of their recent predecessors, the iPod touch is not a truly great new device. In fact, iPod touch feels as if it was designed quite specifically not to threaten Apple’s recent cell phone initiative, putting the future of the 110-million-selling iPod family at the mercy of the 1-million-selling iPhone. Given that it exists first and foremost to serve as a better-than-iPod classic widescreen video player, it’s surprising that it steps backwards from iPhone in all regards: there’s no other way to explain Apple’s decision to combine a large video screen with a small battery, limited storage capacity, and an interface that looks and feels so stripped-down by comparison.
Despite its positive traits—particularly a wireless antenna that has the potential to transform the iPod media experience as people know it—we can’t help but feel considerably less enthusiastic about the iPod touch than we would ever have expected. Though some users will be thrilled to have the ability to play with iPhone-like media and web features at a lower-than-iPhone cost, a less impressive screen and cheaper-feeling design touches render iPod touch less the rightful heir to the full-sized iPod’s storied legacy than a quick fix for those who can’t wait for Apple to release something better—the first iPod in six years that has rated below our general recommendation. Our comprehensive review, complete with numerous photographs, test results, and videos, continues below. Because of the length of each section, we have included new Executive Summaries to help you skip quickly through the pages if you don’t care to read all the details.