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: With the exception of added iPod silhouette wallpaper and a surprising collection of new international features, iPod touch’s settings and keyboards are very similar to the iPhone’s, and therefore generally similar to past and current iPods. It also preserves the secret iPod Hi-Fi and authenticated Speaker settings found on past iPods.
iPod touch’s Settings menus are basically the same as those on iPhone, only fewer in number: the list is now initially comprised of Wi-Fi, Brightness (for the screen), General, Music, Video, Photos, Safari, and Contacts. There are only a few really interesting points in these menus, as noted below.
Like the iPhone, iPod touch offers you the ability—for the first time on an iPod—to pick your own wallpaper as a start-up and “Hold” screen. Though the feature is limited by iPod touch’s lack of an integrated camera, you can pick any image from your synchronized photo collection, or certain built-in pictures, moving and scaling it to your liking before setting the final position. Apple has included nine iPod silhouette images and 19 other photos or pieces of art to choose from.
In addition to the iPhone’s past settings, Apple has added a new “International” menu to the General settings list, allowing you to change iPod touch’s language and activate a wide variety of foreign language-specific keyboards. The standard US English keyboard we’ve previously seen is activated by default, with separate on/off options for UK English, French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian Bokmal, Swedish and Polish. You can also switch the entire user interface language to these languages, plus Chinese and Korean, resulting in updated text for everything from the main menu icons to other text-only menu options, to the settings themselves. Finally, iPod touch lets you change the “region format” of date, time, and phone data as preferred in various countries around the world.
Settings familiar from past iPods are also included. Date and time are gimmes, as are the passcode-based screen lock feature, the option to turn clicker sound effects on, off, or only on for the headphone port. You also still get the iTunes-specific sound check, audiobook speed toggle, a bunch of equalizer presets, and the headphone port-capping volume limit feature. Under video, you can choose to start playing where you left off, or at the video’s start, turn on or off closed captioning if it’s included in a video, and set two TV out switches: widescreen on or off, and signal to the widely-used NTSC or PAL standards.
With the exception of the International options, little has changed from the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard to iPod touch’s. As before, iPod touch’s on-screen keyboard will require around a week of adjustment for those with larger fingers. In the two and a half months since iPhone’s release, we have not come to prefer the keyboard to a physical one, and do not consider it nearly equivalent to a Danger Sidekick for text entry. It is a fine option for what it is, but not as precise as we’d prefer it to be.
Apple has added only one major feature for US English typists: a keyboard shortcut option that lets two spaces automatically become the characters period and space (. ) for faster typing. It’s appreciated, if less necessary here than on the e-mail-ready iPhone. On iPod touch, the keyboard comes in handy mostly when you want to search YouTube or the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, and if you dare to try and enter data onto Safari web pages; because of Safari’s instability on iPhone, we haven’t used it as much as we’d hoped for more complex data entry.
The only other Settings menu options iPod touch has are almost secrets: iPod Hi-Fi and Speakers. Unlike past iPods, which display these options as new main menu choices when iPod Hi-Fi or certain speakers such as Bowers and Wilkins’ Zeppelin are connected, iPod touch hides them under Settings—a change introduced in iPhone. Like the equalizer/EQ feature of the iPod, these options enable you to make speaker-specific adjustments to bass or treble levels, and disappear immediately once the speakers have been disconnected.