When version 1.1.1 of the iPod touch software was released earlier today, we had a dilemma: we didn’t have an iPod touch on hand. Our two purchased units had the screen problems mentioned in our review, and since Apple hasn’t provided any actual guidance on when properly working units would arrive in stores, we opted to return both of them and wait until the good ones arrived. We’ve read too many reports on our own Forums (and Apple’s) about people going back several times for iPod touch replacements, with varying results, and really didn’t want to deal with the hassles. Does the Macy Gray box guarantee a good iPod touch? A “week 38” box? From what we’ve heard, the answer’s “apparently not.”
So today, when the “version 1.1.1 fixes the screen problems” comments started coming in, we reluctantly went out and bought another iPod touch. A local Best Buy employee told us that its store hadn’t received any shipments in a week and a half. As of noon, the local Apple Stores said they didn’t have any, either. But we lucked out, finding one 8GB unit, which we think is a week 37. Conspiracy theorists disagree on whether the week 37 batch of iPod touches is all bad or only partially bad. All we know is that we’re now on our third iPod touch, and the screen still doesn’t look as good as the ones on any of our iPhones.
The good news is that we ran The Incredibles side-by-side again on an iPhone and the version 1.1.1 iPod touch,* and the straight-on negative blacks problem isn’t there—as you can see, the shadow coming off of Helen’s head onto Bob’s jacket looks like a shadow, rather than a bleach spot, as it did before. That asterisk’s there because we’re not entirely sure whether the unit, which shipped with 1.1.0 installed, had that particular problem to begin with, and we accidentally upgraded to 1.1.1 before doing a controlled test with The Incredibles. Oops. If we can find a way to downgrade, we’ll do it and report what we find out. New: see the update below.
But even assuming that the software update did fix the negative blacks, it won’t magically change the screen’s other characteristics. The shot above shows that it looks fine straight on, but on an off angle—yes, they’re both at the exact same brightness setting—the iPhone’s a lot more viewable. And it goes without saying that if you’re having stuck pixel issues with your iPod touch, as we did in one of our units, the software update’s not going to fix those.
So, as we have yet to see an iPod touch with a screen as good as our iPhones, we’re still wondering what’s really going on here. Are some people really getting decidedly better iPod touch screens than others, or are video drivers somehow responsible, or is something else going on? We’ll let you know when we find out something worth sharing.
Update: Thanks to our resident iTunes and iPod software master Jesse Hollington, we downgraded the iPod touch’s software to version 1.1 (hold down Option when picking Restore in iTunes, then pick the older iPod touch software version from the folder containing IPSW software updates), and ran some additional comparisons. Though the pictures below can’t totally capture the negative black phenomenon, and make the brighter-screened iPhone look blown out, they show pretty much what we saw:
At least for this iPod touch, we didn’t see much of a difference between how the black values looked on versions 1.1 and 1.1.1 of the iPod touch software. Other iPod touches may have better results, as everything we’re hearing indicates that there are differences between units, so some may be benefitting from color tweaks. If you’re up for it, try the Option-Restore command in iTunes and Flickr some pictures of your comparative results; we’d be curious to see them.