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.
Apart from screen quality issues, the original iPod touch’s biggest deficiencies were in storage capacity and battery life: users were expected to pay $299 for a device with as little storage as an iPod nano, and even less run time for audio and video playback. This year, Apple has somewhat remedied these issues, and though the results don’t break the iPod family records set by last year’s 160GB iPod classic, the new iPod touch does better than before.
Last year, Apple promised that the iPod touch would play audio for 22 hours, with actual performance of 28 and a half hours. This year, Apple promised 36 hours of audio, and actually delivered more: at 50% volume, the second-generation touch ran for 39 hours and 46 minutes. These numbers place the new touch in the same league as last year’s 80GB iPod classic, and above the 30-hour performance we saw on the new iPod nano; we’re currently running a battery test on the new 120GB classic model and will update this article to show which one did better.
This much-improved audio runtime obscures a more modest change to the video runtime. Last year, Apple promised 5 hours of video on the iPod touch, and in our tests, the device alternated between falling 30 minutes short or just measuring 5 minutes above that mark. For the second-generation iPod touch, Apple promises 6 hours of video play time. In our testing with the Wi-Fi antenna turned off and minimal device interaction, the second-generation iPod touch ran for 5 hours and 41 minutes of video playback, set on 50% brightness and 50% volume with the same two iTunes Store videos that we’d used for last year’s tests. We also ran identical tests on the new iPod nano, which ran for a little under 5 hours each time. The iPod touch’s performance is an hour below the run time of last year’s 80GB iPod classic, and around four hours below the performance of the 160GB classic. Interestingly, while it’s more than two hours short of today’s 120GB iPod classic in video runtime, it’s only a couple of hours behind in audio.
While extended video playback time may not be critical for all users, it’s worth mentioning that the multi-function iPod touch also eats more battery life when its Wi-Fi antenna is on, when it’s working with the Nike + iPod system, and when it’s running third-party applications such as games. Though every Apple improvement in run time is appreciated, the iPod touch really needs longer video and game run time if it’s going to become a serious competitor to handheld game devices from the Nintendo’s and Sony’s of the world.
It bears mention that Apple continues to update all of its iPods with new software that can have positive or negative effects on battery life, so the numbers we report above may well change a little over time. On a related note, the second-generation iPod touch has not gained the new accessibility features added to the fourth-generation iPod nano for vision- or hearing-disabled users: there aren’t menu options for font size adjustment or spoken voice prompting, but then, there are questions as to how such features would be useful in a touchscreen-based iPod. Similarly, the touch has not gained the audio crossfade feature that the new nano received. While these features and others could easily be added by Apple in a future software update, there are no guarantees that they will be, and if past history is any guide, there may well be a charge for these updates. As users clearly hate being charged for every little thing that gets changed in these devices, we’d strongly prefer to see Apple go back to the free-of-charge point release update model that it has used for other iPod and Mac OS software releases, as well as for the iPhone and iPhone 3G.