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.]
In the six-year history of the iPod family—and our publication—we have never before issued a limited recommendation to an iPod. Even the iPod shuffle, which we viewed as stunningly minimalist and a weak value for the dollar relative to its screened iPod mini, iPod nano, and iPod counterparts, seemed worthwhile from day one because of its small size and low entry price point, and its brothers have generally continued to get better and better over time.
iPod touch is different. Demand for a “video iPod” started years ago, and the contours of the product consumers wanted was obvious: a big, detailed screen, a hard drive, and a good battery. Apple’s initial response, the fifth-generation iPod, was widely viewed as a compromised step down that path, but not the breakthrough people truly wanted; consequently, demand for a “true video iPod” continued to build, and was openly acknowledged by Apple during its January, 2007 announcement of the iPhone.
But rather than using certain of the iPhone’s components as a starting point for an even better iPod, Apple decided to downgrade them, creating an iPod that now sits in the cell phone industry’s shadow rather than pointing the way forward, or serving the greater capacity and performance needs of iPod buyers. And those downgrades are numerous: you don’t just lose a cell phone by buying iPod touch instead of a comparable-capacity iPhone; you lose the dock, charger, camera, external speaker, microphone, battery life, screen quality, resilient back casing, Bluetooth, and several applications. Try to read that list aloud without taking a breath. You gain only a limited video-out feature, and a few millimeters of thinness, which we’d gladly have traded for superior performance.
As with every iPod model it has released since 2004, we have no doubt whatsoever that Apple will sell plenty of iPod touch hardware, and that this model will be of particular interest to users overseas without access to iPhones—hence its newly robust support for foreign languages and keyboards. Our limited recommendation is largely directed at such people, as well as those in iPhone-supplied countries who simply cannot wait for something better to emerge.
That said, we cannot in good conscience generally recommend the iPod touch to all of our readers. The essential elements of the “true video iPod” we and others have been waiting for are obvious—an iPhone-matching screen with iPod classic-matching capacity and battery life—but between its so-so screen, limited storage and below-nano battery life, iPod touch doesn’t equal or surpass the best portable products Apple has released this year. If you need similar storage space and don’t need a big video screen, get an iPod nano. If audio quality and capacity are important to you, buy an iPod classic. And if you’re a video fan, consider an iPhone if it’s available in your country, or save your money. Wait until Apple (or someone else) gets the “true video iPod” formula right. We sincerely hope that it will be sooner rather than later.
Updated January 29, 2008: the “iPod touch January Software Upgrade”
In late 2007, Apple announced that it would enable third-party developers to create iPod touch and iPhone applications, presumably to be sold through the iTunes Store, with development to commence in February of 2008. Following Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ January, 2008 keynote speech at Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Apple released two updates to the iPod touch: version 1.1.3 of its Software, enabling the viewing of rented iTunes movies and rearrangement of Home screen icons, as well as a separate application package called the “iPod touch January Software Upgrade,” containing the first collection of new programs for the iPod touch.
Unlike past iPod software upgrades, which have been made available to past buyers at no charge, the iPod touch Upgrade sells for $20 and includes five applications already available to iPhone users: Mail, Maps, Weather, Stocks, and Notes. Starting in mid-January, new iPod touch customers received the applications pre-installed on their devices without any need to pay the $20 fee.
These five applications are virtually identical to the latest ones found on the iPhone, with small exceptions. Keyboards in the iPod touch versions by default show international keyboard toggling, unless you go into your International and Keyboard settings, and the Maps application has a substantially diminished Locate Me/location finder feature relative to the iPhone’s, which uses both cell phone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots to determine your location. The iPod touch uses only Wi-Fi and frequently cannot automatically determine your location at all. Otherwise, the applications are the same. Photos of all five are shown here.
As a postscript to this review, iLounge is currently on its fourth iPod touch unit, having replaced two previous units because of screen problems, and one due to a failed firmware update that rendered the device fully inoperable and incapable of recovery. None of the units has removed the screen issues we noted in our review, or dramatically improved iPod touch’s audio or battery performance. Consequently, though these new applications add additional value for new iPod touch buyers, and might otherwise have merited revision of our rating, we continue to feel that our original rating of the device is merited based on Apple’s failure to address the continued technical issues the device has experienced.