Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)
Pros: A substantial improvement to 2007’s polarizing original iPod touch, featuring better screen and audio quality, superior battery performance, and lower prices for previously offered storage capacities. New enclosure looks and feels better in the hand than its predecessor, and adds both volume buttons and an integrated, decent speaker for easier listening. Incorporates hardware and software support for the Nike + iPod Sensor, lacking only support for Nike’s wireless remote control, as well as limited support for upcoming microphone accessories. Continues to include all of the software and hardware features found in the prior iPod touch, with only one exception, enabling users to enjoy music, videos, games, web browsing and email, as well as numerous downloadable applications. Much faster transfer speeds than prior model. New 32GB and 64GB models offer faster processors and enhanced graphics capabilities, as well as new Voice Control and Accessibility features.
Cons: Low storage capacities relative to hard disk-based iPods continue to force users to choose between the smaller-screened and more capacious iPod classic or the bigger-screened and more versatile iPod touch. While improved, battery life is still not comparable to Apple’s best prior iPod classic. No longer supports FireWire charging accessories, rendering the device unable to be recharged by some popular past iPod docks, speakers, and car kits, and video-out to an external display can only be unlocked by overpriced cables or relatively new docking accessories. Though hardware is now microphone-compatible, device currently lacks software support for microphone accessories, and recording software developed for the iPhone does not work. Software updates may add to device’s actual cost of ownership.
That brings us to the second-generation iPod touch’s speaker. Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs almost apologized for this part when he announced it, telling people not to expect an audiophile-quality listening experience, only knuckleheads would seriously criticize this addition to the device. By contrast with the iPhones, which served as convenient—if power-hungry—portable gaming and video devices even in the absence of headphones, the original iPod touch was useful only if you carried around something cabled for listening.
While it’s a little unfortunate that the iPod touch’s speaker isn’t in the same league’s as the iPhone 3G’s, or even the original iPhone’s, the fact that the iPod touch is the first iPod ever to include a speaker for music and video is a major plus for the product line. Notably, it does not use traditional ventilation, and amazingly doesn’t introduce new holes into the iPod touch’s casing. We initially guessed that the speaker breathed through the bottom Dock Connector and/or headphone ports, but when they’re blocked, audio still can be heard: as it turns out, Apple is using the metal back surface of the iPod touch as a speaker, sort of like an NXT flat panel audio system. At maximum volume, you can feel the slightest hint of vibration in the back, but at lower volumes, it’s not evident, and it doesn’t appear to impact touchscreen or other use of the device, either.
Sonically, the speaker is capable of roughly half the volume of the iPhone 3G speaker, and has less bass body; as expected, it’s not a phenomenal listening device. But in a quiet room, you won’t have a problem hearing music, the audio portion of videos, or in-game sound effects. Just don’t expect to use the speaker on a subway or airplane; besides the hate you’d generate from fellow passengers, you’ll find the volume only marginally higher than the ambient noise level in these noisy moving vehicles. Those expecting to use the iPod touch as a Wi-Fi speakerphone may find themselves disappointed.
It’s also worth noting that the second-generation iPod touch, like the fourth-generation iPod nano and second-generation iPod classic, now includes the ability to work with external microphones—at least, certain external microphones. The $50-$70 Dock Connector microphones that worked with the iPod classic and iPod nano unfortunately continue to bring up an unsupported accessory dialogue box, but headphone port-based microphones—such as the one integrated into the iPhone’s headset, and a new pair of $29 Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic that have not yet been released—do not.
Unfortunately, we were unable to get voice recording applications we’ve previously reviewed for the iPhone OS to work on the new iPod touch, and the device does not appear to have any voice memo application of its own for this purpose. It’s unclear whether the old apps will be updated to offer support for these new microphone accessories, or whether Apple will release a 2.2 software update for the iPod touch with a Voice Memos feature of its own. We’d bet that both will happen, and probably within the next month or two.