iPod touch Screen Issues After Version 1.1.1 [updated]

iPod touch Screen Issues After Version 1.1.1 [updated] 1

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.

  1. Is it a week 37 or not? This is cleary indicated by the serial number. Check your own forums if you don’t know where it is….

  2. I just recently bought an ipod touch, and I have had no problems with my videos at all. I compared my screen to the pictures you are showing, and mine is much more like the iphone. I’ve watched several movies and shows already in perfect quality. No problems here with the 8gb.

  3. Cameron: Maybe I should have put it this way… “Assuming the guesses as to decryption of the iPod touch’s serial number are correct, it is a week 37.”

    Jim: It’s not really a matter of “like,” but a reality of the way people use portable video devices. People who watch movies on airplanes, on desks, and in many other situations unfortunately have to deal with the fact that the device isn’t perfectly aligned with their eyes.

  4. The iPhone and the iPod Touch on
    that angled picture ARE NOT AT THE SAME ANGLE, the iPhone is obviously closer and at a different angle that the Touch.

    I assume you showed this particular pic because it clearly shows the difference.

    I agree that the screens are not the same quality, but please, stop the biased reviews and show both devices tested in the same circumstances (such as angles, side by side, straight on to the camera)

  5. I own the 8gb iPod Touch and I definitely had a device with the screen problems. Everything dark or black appeared almost as a negative image – it’s very hard to describe. Anyway, I installed the upgrade today and to my amazement, it worked!! I no longer have any screen issues. It looks perfect. This was one of my only gripes with the device. Now I am extremely pleased. BTW – I don’t agree with iLounge’s review of the device. I would give it an A reducing points for the slightly poorer sound quality than other ipods, less apps than the iphone, non-customizable EQ, and non-replaceable battery).

  6. The iPhone screen is installed UPSIDE DOWN so it’s brighter from the wrong angle. If you flip both units upside down the iPod Touch would be brighter and the iPhone would be darker as shown in the first picture.

    I know because I have an iPhone and it is very dark when I look down at it and bright when I look up to it.

  7. It could be different component suppliers and it could be different manufacturing partners. It could be one supplier with a faulty assembly line. There are a lot of possibilities.

    Regarding “test,” the picture was for convenient illustration and the same results are evident when you see this touch and iPhone next to each other in real life. There are definitely variations in screen quality and as a general rule they do not favor the iPod touch; some users will have better experiences with this device than others.

    Regarding re-rating: we almost never re-rate products, but our policy (since September 2005) is that we’ll consider it if a company makes it very easy for consumers to identify the new product versus the old one, through conspicuous renaming and a box reference to “version 2” or something of the sort, and provides us with a full description of the change for possible publication. “These requirements are designed to give us, our readers, and resellers, an easy way to distinguish between old and new versions.”

    From our policy: “Virtually every iPod accessory maker will have a problematic product at some point, but companies differ in how they handle the problems. Sometimes, we are told after the fact that the problems will only affect the first unlucky 500 or 1,000 purchasers of products. Other times, companies say that they have recalled affected inventory, and some actually do, but with others, we still see units with problems sitting on store shelves months later. Some post web site advisories to let consumers know that updated versions are available. Others release fixed versions without any notice or explanation to customers.”

    We adopted this policy because there are too many instances of quiet revisions (including multiple revs of the same product) to re-rate every changed product; we have included the revving notice since 2005 on all our reviews. We feel that it’s important for companies to ship their products right the first time, and not put early adopters at a disadvantage (in quality or the need to waste time going back and forth for repairs/replacements), or use them as beta testers, but this is unfortunately a common practice.

  8. I updated firmware on my 16GB ipod touch (with 37 in the serial number) this morning. I must say the video is much improved. In fact, the video is really good now. I picked a TV show with a lot of dark scenes. The difference before and after update is striking. In fact, I am watching the same show simultaneously on the touch and on my laptop (which has a great display) at actual size. I think I prefer the touch. I was fully prepared to return the touch today, but I won’t. It is quite satisfactory now

  9. It was obvious before the review was published that it was going to be controversial; this was mentioned on Backstage during testing. The results were what they were; some people (actually, most iLounge readers) felt really strongly that the touch wasn’t what it should have been, and others wanted it. No shock. We called it like we saw it, and didn’t try to find some mushy middle ground where we could pretend everyone was going to be happy. That’s not our style.

    So let’s get past the whole ‘bias’ thing. Different strokes for different folks; enjoy your iPod touch if that’s what you want. This comments section is about whether the widely acknowledged screen problems have actually been fixed or not, so people can go and buy with confidence or hold off until Apple fully remedies the issues. If you have something useful to add on this topic, please contribute. Otherwise, don’t waste everyone’s time in an attempt to deny or downplay what has been a legitimate issue for a number of people.

  10. My week 38 touch didn’t have the problem before the update (nor after) and the display is fantastic. Note that I don’t have an iPhone to compare it to, but it looks really, really good. MacCentral (or I guess MacWorld) posted some photos comparing the image quality of an iPhone and an iPod touch that had the negative blacks problem before and after the update, and those photos seemed to show the touch looking terribly dark still, but when I look at those images on my touch (in Safari) the iPhone image looks like the iPhone image! It looks fine. Others since posted on the apple forums after a post of mine, that their touches that had the negative blacks problem did dramatically improve and that in fact those test images looked correct on their touch afterward, not being so ridiculously dark. So either MacWorld did a faulty comparison, or some touches are still not very good after the firmware update, while others are genuinely fixed by it.

    The viewing angle on the touch isn’t great, mind you, and it looks best when held at a slight angle back (with home button closer to you), which I’m pretty sure is by design – looked at straight on you’d get your own reflection, plus it makes sense for laying flat on an airline tray. It may be that the viewing angle is worse than the $600 iPhone, but one wonders if the display is the same as the touch in the newly cheaper $400 iPhone. You may not be able cut a price tag by $200 without compromising somewhere.

    For me, the viewing angle isn’t a big deal. In fact in a way it’s actually good for use on a train where I’m not keen on others being able to watch what I’m watching anyway. They could still see it, mind you, it would just be washed out for them. When viewed at the proper angle the thing looks beautiful. Even a bit off that angle looks very good, just not quite as good as at a slight backward angle

  11. Oh, and the image quality is absolutely superior to my 5G iPod. On the 5G there is a lack of detail in blacks, whereas I’m seeing plenty of detail in blacks on my iPod touch.

  12. I had the negative screen issue on my week 28 7-series LCD iPhone. Dark scenes look washed out and shadows appear bright, etc. The update did not do anything to fix the issue.

  13. My Touch had the negative-black issue, and the update did wonders to my iPod and fixed it! I’m hapy now, I guess, until someone compares an actually perfect Touch with an updated firmware one.

    So far, this is the second time that a firmware update has considerable improved my iPod experience (if you can call this screen issue an improvement, instead of a repair). The other was with the iPod 5G, when the update made the battery last longer.

    Just to repeat it again, I think the test were not run on the same conditions (pics not taken at the same angles), but anyways…

    So Jeremy, if Apple replaces the faulty screens (on way or another), do you guys refresh your rating? (i’m just asking)

  14. I’ve used an iPod touch at the Regent St Apple store and the screen looked fine (noting that we don’t have iPhones over here to compare to!). Apple regularly uses alternate suppliers for components and assembly – if that’s the case with touch, could it be the reason for the variability?

  15. My opinion is that there is still something fundamentally crappy about the screens themselves. I had a 37 and a 38, and while the 38 is much better, the viewing angle is still very limited, not from a side to side angle, but back and forth tilt. The comparisons to the iPhone is like night and day. SOOOO this leads me to believe that the better 38s just had the soft fix, and did not get new screens or “reflective coating” fix.

  16. I bought my Touch way back on the 14th. I had the negative black issue big time, and this definitely fixed mine. I had a photo on the ipod of my home library, and on some of the lower shelves, the books were so dark that all you saw was this negative image effect that spilled to books around them. After the update, I can make out details of all the spines. I watched a couple videos, as well. Also much better. I didn’t think it was something they could fix with a software update, but apparently they did. Fantastic!!

  17. I love how the ipod and iphone are never shown in the same shot at the same angle, with the exception of a couple — where the ipod looks better! Seriously, my ipod’s screen (week 38) looks marginally BETTER than my friend’s iPhone. Also, why the heck are you even including ‘the screen looks fine except when viewing it from an extreme angle’ as a detriment? Obviously, this is something to be weighed when reviewing TVs– but this is a PERSONAL MEDIA PLAYER. When are you ever going to be watching it sideways?

  18. Thanks for all of your continued comments.

    sjonke: Various forums are suggesting a real split on whether or not there are improvements, and whether the improvements are partial or complete fixes. I’m glad to hear you have a unit with a great screen, and we’re seriously looking forward to seeing one ourselves.

    Jesse: Please read what was actually written above. I realize it’s tempting to just look at the pictures and make assumptions about what’s being said, but in problem units, including the one we just bought in a store two days ago, there’s not only an issue on an “extreme angle;” it’s on many (most) angles. The photo above is supposed to be illustrative of how differently the screens behave. Regarding “when;” it can be an issue when two people are viewing together, or again, when the iPod’s angled on a surface below eye level, such as a desk.

  19. I had an ipod touch with a negative black issue. this was my second ipod touch, since the first one that I bought had only diagnostic software on it. After 3 trips to the local apple store, which is 60 miles away from me, and a 30 minute wait at the “Mac Genius” station, I have turned in my iPod touch in favor of an 80GB ipod classic.
    It may not have a touch screen, and a 3.5″ LCD, but I can carry all my music with me, not just a random sampling, and to my utter amazement, it worked right out of the box… LOL…
    Sorry, Apple, maybe revision 2 of the ipod touch will be better, but this time.. I’m sticking with the Classic.

  20. Guys, i hope my ipod touch (it just shipped this friday) will be week 38th and will have a good screen ! It has been taking from FedEx in Shangaï :S

    What do you think ? Will it be a 38 week ipod touch ? Will ther be a nice screen on it ?

    Share your opinions plz !

  21. If you want to use the same test shot, it’s the iTunes Store download of The Incredibles, 00:26:36, within Chapter 6 of 32.

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