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.
Most of the second-generation iPod touch’s features are identical to those of the first-generation model, but there have been changes in both the hardware and the iPhone OS 2.1 software since our prior review. In this and the next section of this review, we look at all of the device’s past features and applications, including how they’re impacted by changes to the new touch’s screen and audio output.
Music: iPod touch’s Music feature is a modestly enhanced update to the audio half of the iPod application that originally shipped with iPhones in late June, 2007. You use a finger to scroll through tabbed lists of Playlists, Artists, Songs, Albums, or other categories of music, selecting tracks from menus that are substantially white with occasional thumbnails of album artwork. Flipping the iPod touch on its side brings up a scrolling Cover Flow view of your library with large album covers, instead.
The only “major” new software feature here is Genius, which is accessed by selecting a song, touching its album artwork while playing, and then pressing an atom-shaped icon. This feature brings up a list of similar songs in your collection to the one you’ve selected, and lets you create a playlist from the automatically selected songs. As with the iPod nano version, we found that it worked fine, but it doesn’t strike us as an especially compelling feature; we prefer using an application on the iPod touch such as Pandora, which plays similar, Internet-streamed music we don’t already have.
There is one big audio change, and that’s the iPod touch’s sound chip. Months ago, long-time iPod audio chip supplier Wolfson Micro made clear—with minimal discretion—that its chips were not going to be included in either the upcoming iPod nano or iPod touch refreshes, which were then unknown. Lo and behold, the new devices arrived, and both of them sound like the Wolfson-chipless 2007 iPod classic—they’re cleaner, with a nearly non-existent static noise floor that’s as well-suited to audiophile-grade earphones as free pack-ins. That’s really good news for those who hope to use the iPod touch with better headphones; to our ears, this version is a big step up over the prior touch.
Videos: iPod touch’s Videos application is the other half of the iPhone’s iPod feature, and remains functionally identical, starting by displaying a combined list of your movies, TV shows, music videos, and video podcasts for selection and playback. The same two video formats, MPEG-4 and H.264, are supported, and the new iPod touch apparently still does not play back higher-definition video than 640x480 files.
Apple has partially addressed one of the most bothersome issues with the original iPod touch: at least on the two units we’ve tested, the screen quality is superior overall for viewing videos. Viewed on maximum brightness at the exact same viewing angles, the new screen is a little brighter and displays more color detail than its predecessor’s, while not suffering from the severe “negative black” problem that we saw in a number of first-generation iPod touch units, causing dark colors to become almost reflective, washing out detail in the process.
On the flip side, the second-generation iPod touch screen now has a slight yellow tint that was first seen in the iPhone 3G, and wasn’t present on the original iPod touch. Every white menu on the device, including those in the Settings menu and third-party applications, looks decidedly light yellow and comparatively unattractive. Though this issue isn’t obvious when you see a single iPod touch without comparing it to other Apple devices, we prefer the white balance on the first iPod touch, and really think that there should be a setting to adjust the screen to the user’s preferred color temperature.
On a final video-related note, Apple’s worst iPod decision of 2007 lives on in the second-generation iPod touch: the TV-out feature is still locked, requiring users to purchase either an overpriced authentication chip-based video cable or a similarly expensive docking device if they want to watch iPod-stored videos on an external display. This unpublicized change to the iPod family, which broke accessories and infuriated users, was never explained by Apple; it continues to render the new iPod touch incompatible with many popular video add-ons released prior to September 2007.
YouTube: Built upon the Videos application, YouTube includes a number of tabs that let you find and play back popular, featured, bookmarked, or specific videos on Google’s video sharing service. Other than the continued growth of the YouTube library, including the surprising amount of adult-themed content now found on the iPod-formatted YouTube menus, it has not changed in any major way from the prior versions.
Photos: iPod touch’s Photos feature begins with the ability to display photographs that were synchronized to its database using iTunes, a feature that has existed within the iPod family since the fourth-generation iPod (iPod photo) in 2004. There are still only five simple transition effects, and a grid-style display that lets you see 20 thumbnails on screen at once, selecting each photograph to be zoomed in or rotated to whatever the screen’s current orientation may be. You can select any photograph as your Sleep/Wake screen background wallpaper, e-mail a picture, or assign it to a contact in your database. Since version 2.0 of the iPhone OS, you can now take screenshots using the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons in tandem, as well as grabbing images from Safari by holding your finger down on them, and view those pictures in a Saved Photos folder. These pictures can be transferred to a photo application such as iPhoto for viewing and editing.