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.]
Executive Summary: Like other iPods, iPod touch is sold with minimal pack-ins, which are interesting only because of a new, simple clear plastic video stand, and Apple’s omission of the dock and wall charger included with iPhone. Certain industrial design decisions seem to intentionally render iPod touch less impressive than the iPhone, particularly on its back; Apple compensates for this, and its larger-than-any-past-iPod footprint, with surprising thinness, but reverts to an easily scratchable mirrored back casing. You can see a video showing off both devices here.
As noted in our review of the iPod classic, Apple’s iPod boxes now come in two flavors: clear plastic for the least expensive models, and thick black cardboard for the more expensive ones. iPod touch, like the iPod classic and iPhone before it, arrives in a cardboard container, this time with the image of an musician named Corinne Bailey Rae on the front; one side of the box shows the iPod touch’s slim profile, while the flip side has the product’s name in silver foil, and the top and bottom both use silver foil to show its storage capacities. The back contains text, UPC, Apple Part and serial numbers.
Apart from the iPod touch itself, which sits in a black plastic tray inside the box, wrapped in two sheets of protective film, most of the box contents are the same as the iPod classic’s or iPhone’s. In addition to two Apple stickers, a Quick Start guide, and a booklet full of warnings, there’s a pair of 2006-vintage microphone-less iPod Earphones, a new iPhone-style USB cable, a black screen cleaning cloth like the iPhone’s, this time stamped “iPod,” and a Universal Dock Adapter for use with Universal Dock accessories. The adapter is numbered 14, for those keeping count.
There’s also an odd little piece of clear plastic that isn’t described on the box or the included Quick Start guide. Once you strip off all the protective film that covers it, you’ll discover that you can use it as a horizontal viewing stand for the iPod touch while it’s playing back videos. It provides fine support for the reclining device when placed underneath, rather than on the touch’s side, where it is unstable.
Cosmetically, the iPod touch is a mixed bag, though its face is attractive enough that you might ignore the junk in its trunk. Viewed from the front, it can most easily be described as an iPhone without the chrome front bezel, replaced here by matte charcoal black aluminum similar to the front of the latest iPod nano. Apple’s removal of the chrome unquestionably makes iPod touch’s face less scratchable, but it will be a matter of personal preference as to whether you prefer the newer, darker look, or the more luxurious accenting of the iPhone. We think Apple got it right the first time, and knew as much: iPod touch was designed to look less expensive, and succeeds.
Like the new iPod nano, the matte metal continues past iPod touch’s face to its bottom, where it surrounds a centrally-located Dock Connector and a right-mounted headphone port; thankfully, it’s not recessed like the iPhone’s, and works with any earphones you might have. Unlike the nano, there’s no Hold switch on the bottom; instead, iPod touch has a black Sleep/Wake button on its top left side, similar to the one on the top right side of the iPhone, which also serves as a power on button. Finally, iPod touch and iPhone share the same jet black frame for their glass-covered 3.5” widescreen displays and plastic-coated Home buttons; touch’s Home button is a little smaller than iPhone’s, but equally usable.
As was the case with the iPhone, iPod touch has a footprint that’s not precisely the same as past full-sized iPods, but the shape’s pretty familiar. Though the 2.4” width stays the same as all hard disk-based iPods since the 2001 first-generation model, iPod touch grows 0.2 inches taller than all of these models, for a 4.3” height. That’s 0.2 inches shorter than the 4.5” tall iPhone, but still not short enough to fit properly in certain closed dock iPod accessories such as Altec Lansing’s inMotion iM7.
Putting temporarily aside our feelings about its wisdom, iPod touch’s single most impressive design feature is its thinness. Regardless of whether you like anything else about the device’s cosmetics, the fact that it’s only 0.31 inches thick—8 millimeters—is an immediate attention-grabber. Sure, the iPod nano is thinner at only 6.5 millimeters, but iPod touch feels very close; slimmer than the 10.5 millimeter 80GB iPod classic and the 11.6 millimeter iPhone. Similarly, its 4.2-ounce weight is under both the 4.8-ounce iPhone and 4.9-ounce 80GB iPod classic.
Its least impressive feature is its back shell. Apple’s iPhone casing design very deftly managed to fit multiple wireless antennas and a camera within an enclosure that looked great, and thanks to an unpolished, resilient finish, didn’t unduly attract scratches. Lacking iPhone’s camera, cell phone antenna, and apparently the Bluetooth antenna as well, iPod touch’s back casing had less to manage, and yet isn’t as impressively designed. It has one odd black plastic upper corner for the Wi-Fi antenna—better than a stub, but not as clean as the iPhone’s bottom panel—and a highly scratch-attractive mirrored finish. If the facial proportions of the new iPod nano suggested that Apple was willing to compromise beauty for functionality, iPod touch’s back proves that point, and then some.