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.

Redesigned from the original iPod touch, the second-generation iPod touch ($229/8GB, $299/16GB, $399/32GB) features a newly curved polished metal back that continues to the device’s front, forming a chrome bezel rather than the charcoal-colored one on the original model; the new curved shape is similar to the iPhone 3G, but noticeably thicker. New volume buttons have been added to the device’s side, while a speaker has been built-in to allow non-audiophile audio playback without headphones. Nike + iPod Sport Kit support is now integrated into the iPod touch; there is no need for a receiver, however, it’s unclear whether older Sensors will work with the new device. Other features of the prior iPod touch have been preserved, including capacities, while prices have dropped: the 8GB model falls $70 while the 16GB and 32GB models fall $100 each. All three capacities ship with iPod touch system software 2.1, which now includes support for voice recording on the touch when connected to Apple’s new optional $29 microphone-equipped headset. We’ll have more on the second-generation iPod touch soon; you can see our video of the second-generation iPod touch here.

In 2007, Apple released three substantially new iPods: the biscuit-shaped third-generation iPod nano (iLounge Rating: A), the metal-faced iPod classic (iLounge Rating: B+), and the phoneless iPhone called iPod touch (iLounge Rating: B-). This year, Apple has updated all three models with new features that range from trivial to important, generally improving each while boosting storage capacity for the dollar. Our review of the second-generation iPod touch (8GB/$199 $229, 16GB/$299, 32GB/$399

) covers all of the key changes and details you want to know about. We’ve also posted a video walkthrough of the interface for those who may be interested.

Over the past seven years that we’ve been writing about iPods, there’s never been a model as polarizing as the original iPod touch. As Apple’s first multi-touch, widescreen iPod, the first-generation device offered certain features and potential that really excited users. It was the first iPod to include an 802.11b/g wireless antenna, enabling the device to not only play music and videos from its own library, but also to surf the web with a Safari web browser and purchase music wirelessly from the iTunes Store. But its potential was crippled by disappointingly high prices, low storage capacities, screen issues, and comparatively weak battery life. iPhone owners and fans of high-capacity iPods pilloried the device; even Apple CEO Steve Jobs surprisingly described it as “training wheels for the iPhone” only days after its announcement.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

After initial sales apparently didn’t meet expectations, Apple started to rehabilitate the iPod touch. Applications that had deliberately been left out from the iPhone were added back in, unfortunately in the form of a $20 software update. The company started to pitch the iPod touch as a breakthrough “mainstream Wi-Fi mobile platform,” and later, after another $10 software update, began to highlight its potential as an affordable gaming device. Early adopters complained that Apple’s policy of paid upgrades had fleeced them, but the new software was pre-installed at no charge on newly shipped touch units, undeniably growing the appeal of the device to new customers.

Still, it was obvious that software fixes weren’t enough. With only 8GB of storage capacity at a $299 price, the iPod touch seemed underequipped and overpriced when compared to the newer “$199” 8GB and “$299” 16GB iPhone 3G. It still lacked for a lot of the iPhone’s functionality. And neither its audio nor its video quality was up to Apple’s highest levels of performance.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Thus, the second-generation iPod touch has emerged with a number of substantial changes, and it hasn’t lost anything—except as noted on page six—that was found in its predecessor. Physically redesigned, the new model is lighter and feels thinner than before, sports a nicer chrome front bezel, and packs both an internal speaker and side-mounted volume control buttons, just like the iPhone. Audio, video, and battery upgrades at least partially remedy concerns we had about its predecessor, while surprising new features—Nike + iPod Sport Kit and external microphone support—have been added to broaden its appeal to accessory users. Additionally, though storage capacities have stayed the same, their prices have dropped by $70-$100, making the device a much smarter buy than the first iPod touch. Our comprehensive review of the new model discusses all of these details, and many more; read on for what’s new, what’s old, and many illustrative photos.

[Editor’s Note: On September 9, 2009, Apple introduced a physically identical “Late 2009” iPod touch model that has been variously described as the “third-generation” or “new” iPod touch, replacing the prior mid-range and high-end iPod touch units with higher-capacity, faster versions at the same price points. These models, the 32GB ($299) and 64GB ($399) iPod touch, were reviewed by iLounge on September 13, 2009. Apple also dropped the price of the second-generation 8GB model to $199. As such, we have added a tenth page to this review dealing exclusively with the new models and explaining our updated ratings.]

Packaging, Pack-ins, and Physical Characteristics

Unlike the original 8GB iPod touch, which sold for $299 and came in a deluxe cardboard box, the second-generation 8GB iPod touch sells for $229 and ships in a transparent hard plastic container that’s nearly identical to the ones used for the iPod nano and iPod shuffle. This box is interesting for only one reason: it’s the first to place a sticker on the front of the iPod, letting the buyer know what the device looks like with the screen turned on. Apple’s packaging doesn’t become any fancier as you step up to the $299 16GB model or the $399 32GB model, marking the first time that the company has sold iPods this expensive in see-through plastic boxes; frankly, we don’t mind.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

The new iPod touch’s pack-ins are very similar to the first version’s, dropping only slightly in number and quality. Preserved are the pair of Apple earphones, USB-to-Dock Connector cable, and Universal Dock Adapter from before, though the Adapter is now version 16, and features updated curves. Apple now includes a thinner, cheaper-feeling screen cleaning cloth rather than the thick, suede-like one that comes with iPhones, and no longer includes the small plastic stand that held the original touch on a recline for video viewing. Most users won’t mind the stand’s omission, given that similar parts come with many iPod cases, but it would have been nice for Apple to keep it anyway.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Two Apple logo stickers, a safety and warranty booklet, and full color Quick Start pamphlet are also in the package. As with all iPods sold over the past couple of years, you’ll need to download iTunes from Apple’s web site in order to actually use the device in any way, as that media synchronization software is required but not included in the package. iTunes 8 or later is required for the second-generation iPod touch.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Significant changes have transformed the original iPod touch’s shape in entirely positive ways. You still get the same glass face and a 3.5-inch, 480×320 resolution display, front Home button, top Sleep/Wake button, bottom Dock Connector and headphone ports—all in virtually identical spaces—but now there are also tiny black left-mounted volume controls like the ones on the iPhone, only thinner, and a redesigned back casing. The volume controls are easy to use, as is the Home button, which is no longer recessed slightly under the front glass surface and consequently is easier to touch.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Most notable about the new back shell isn’t its continued use of scratch-attractive polished metal, but rather a few changes that were designed to make the device look slimmer. To create the illusion of thinness—the new model is actually a half millimeter thicker at maximum than the prior one—the second-generation touch’s back now tapers from a 0.33” (8.5mm) thick center to thinner, soft edges that wrap around the face to form a chrome bezel, replacing the separate charcoal-colored matte black bezel of the first iPod touch. This particular set of design decisions make the new iPod touch look and feel better in your hand than its predecessor; its soft corners even help it feel nicer than the smaller, thinner fourth-generation iPod nano.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

The 4.3” (110mm) height and 2.4” (61.8mm) width are identical from the first iPod touch to the second, but between a slight decrease in the weight—4.2 ounces to 4.05 ounces—and those tapered side edges, most users will have a hard time believing that it’s thicker at any point than the first iPod touch. It’s an especially stark difference from this to the iPhone 3G; there’s even more of a gap in their sizes than there was between the original iPhone and iPod touch. Note also that there are no differences in size, thickness, or weight between the 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB models of the iPod touch; unlike last year’s iPod classic, they have the same batteries and general parts inside, save for their different memory chip capacities.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

One big surprise about the new iPod touch is the manner in which Apple has integrated a speaker into the casing. Unlike the iPhone, which has special metal vents for both its bottom speaker and microphone, the iPod touch has no apparent perforations at all for speaker ventilation. Instead, the speaker performs somewhat like a NXT flat-panel design, radiating through the unit’s metal back surface and bottom ports. We discuss the speaker more fully on page four of this review.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

While we really like the changes that Apple has made to the new iPod touch’s body and packaging, there’s one thing that still sticks out like a sore thumb, and that’s the device’s Wi-Fi antenna cover. Still made out of black plastic, this cover no longer forms an odd corner of the touch’s otherwise metal rear surface, but instead is a small pill-shaped compartment floating in the same general area. The original iPhone got the antenna cover design right; as much as it’s otherwise improved, the iPod touch continues to look a bit odd from the back.

What’s New Inside: Nike + iPod Support

Three of the most noteworthy additions to the new iPod touch have been heavily requested by readers: true Nike + iPod Sport Kit support, a miniature speaker to let users enjoy music, movies, and games without the need for headphones, and microphone support. Without question, Apple’s choice to add all three of these features to the iPod touch will thrill most users, though they each come with modest caveats.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

While Apple could easily have added support to the original iPod touch—or the iPod classic, iPhone, or iPhone 3G—for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit Receiver and Sensor combination, it chose not to do so for reasons that remain unclear. Instead, the company appears to have included a special chip in the iPod touch that would normally be used for Bluetooth functionality, but here has been repurposed to communicate directly and solely with the shoe-mounted Nike + iPod Sensor. As such, you can buy a $29 Nike + iPod Sport Kit, but you won’t need the Receiver; the Sensor can now be purchased alone for $19.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

The iPod touch version of the Nike + iPod interface isn’t exactly the same as the iPod nano’s, but it’s close. There’s a main screen with basic, time, distance, calorie, and calibration options, plus tabs on the bottom of the screen for your past workouts and history. A separate settings screen is found under Settings, letting you turn the Nike icon on or off, select a PowerSong, pair the Sensor, and lock the on-screen displays into horizontal or vertical screen formats if you prefer.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

One notable omission from the Nike + iPod interface for iPod touch is the absence of apparent support for wireless remote controls, such as Nike’s Amp+ Watch, which are capable of pausing playback, changing controls, and changing volume levels while you run. As such, you’ll need to interact solely with the touch’s integrated volume buttons and on-screen track controls to handle music, which is a little less convenient than the nano’s Click Wheel-based interface, but not awful.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Apple also enables you to hit the Home button in the middle of a workout to use other applications, placing an iPhone-like “Touch to Return to Workout” bar near the top of the screen with a number indicating your workout’s progress. Your current connection to the Nike + Sensor is also indicated by a plus sign that’s wedged between the play and battery icons in the upper right corner of the screen. While all of this looks a little nicer than the third-generation iPod nano’s Nike+ menus, we prefer the streamlined design and remote compatibility of the fourth-generation nano, and hope that Apple updates this feature for Amp+ compatibility—and possibly flashier graphics—soon.

What’s New Inside: A Speaker, and Microphone Support

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.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

Comparative Battery Test Results and Software Updates

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.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

iTunes Synchronization, Capacities + Accessory Compatibility

For years, we have tracked the speeds at which various iPods synchronize with iTunes under real-world conditions, and have performed tests on both the new iPod touch and the new iPod nano to see how quickly they can be filled with data. In our test environment, it took exactly 2 minutes for 1GB of mixed music and video files to transfer to the new iPod touch, versus 3 minutes and 31 seconds for the same files on the original iPod touch, and 1 minute and 29 seconds for the iPod nano.

In other words, though the new touch isn’t as fast at transferring files as the nano—and can slow down even more when you’re syncing mixed types of files such as applications and photos—it’s nearly twice as fast as the slowpoke original iPod touch. You can expect that completely filling the 7.1GB of usable space on a second-generation 8GB iPod touch will take roughly 14 minutes, versus 29 minutes for the 14.5GB of usable space on an 16GB iPod touch, and around 59 minutes for the 29.6GB of usable space on a 32GB iPod touch; older computers, and those with hugely shared USB hubs, may well take longer. Note also that the amounts of usable space will vary based on the version of the iPhone OS system software installed.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

These positive transfer results are offset by a disappointing change to the iPod touch’s accessory compatibility: like the iPhone 3G and fourth-generation iPod nano, the second-generation iPod touch no longer supports charging from a collection of past iPod accessories, notably including Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi and Bose’s SoundDock, which used an unpublicized but widely adopted charging technology called FireWire charging.

There’s no way to assemble an exhaustive list of all of the accessories that used FireWire charging rather than Apple’s subsequently preferred standard, USB charging, but it suffices to say that a number of old iPod speakers, car accessories, and docks won’t charge the new iPod touch. They trigger one of two dialog screens that alert you that the iPod has detected an attached charger, but cannot actually charge from it. These accessories will still generally perform properly for any feature other than recharging, and most add-ons released—not sold—in the past two years will work without any issue at all. Of course, Apple’s included USB cable still charges the iPod touch when connected to any USB 2.0 port-equipped computer.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

As we noted with the release of the iPhone 3G, Apple alerted developers to this change quite some time ago, so the only people who will be surprised will be the many users with incompatible accessories, including some high-end car kits. Thankfully, it doesn’t disable most accessories entirely, but it’s yet another example of a communications disconnect between Apple’s “Made For iPod” program and the customers who have relied upon it to purchase add-ons.

Music, Video, YouTube and Photos Features and Performance

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.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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 640×480 files.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

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.

Other iPod touch Features and Applications

Apart from bug fixes, iPhone OS 2.1 has changed very few of the other applications and features found in the prior iPod touch software release. The following list enumerates all of the other pre-installed applications and their recent important changes, if any.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Safari: This web browser enables you to view and interact with virtually any major web page on the Internet—except those using Adobe Flash Player or comparable plug-ins. Though it has waxed and waned in stability with every new version of the iPhone OS, its current version on the iPhone OS 2.1 iPod touch is sturdy and does a good job of displaying web pages in either horizontal or vertical format. On-screen keyboards appear in each orientation when you need to input text, and bookmarks are transferred automatically from your computer to the device.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

We tested the old and new iPod touches side-by-side in 802.11g web browsing to see if either one loaded sites appreciably faster or slower. They didn’t, though the second-generation iPod touch occasionally seemed to have a very slight (one second or less) speed advantage on large pages.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Mail: Based upon the iPhone’s Mail application, this one provides POP3 or IMAP access to virtually any type of e-mail account you may have, as well as Microsoft Exchange or Apple MobileMe servers, and lets you both receive and send e-mails from multiple accounts. This application is useful for casual browsing of e-mail when you’re away from a computer, but between the on-screen keyboard and its lack of sophisticated folder and junk mail management, it’s neither a good replacement for a computer-based e-mail program nor for a device with a pressure-sensitive keyboard.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

iTunes Store: Added to the iPhone and iPod touch in an early software revision, the iTunes Store lets you buy music—not videos—from Apple’s 8-million-song library. Songs transfer wirelessly to the iPod touch without the need for a computer’s iTunes application as the conduit, and transfer back into your iTunes library during synchronization. Purchases are handled with credit card information stored in your Store account.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

App Store: Added to the iPhone and iPod touch in software version 2.0, the App Store lets you download free and paid applications from the applications section of the iTunes Store. Since the iPod touch uses a Wi-Fi connection, you can download applications of any size to this device without using a computer’s iTunes as a conduit; again, backups take place when you synchronize the iPod. Applications have been widely criticized as buggy and unstable, in part due to poor application programming and in part due to the iPhone’s buggy OS; the latest iPhone OS is more stable than before, but still not perfect.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Calendar, Contacts, Notes: These old iPod carryovers store information you’ve compiled on planned events, people you know, and things that you find noteworthy. They have not received major updates since their release, but all three are editable on the iPod touch with an on-screen keyboard—editing and Notes were added belatedly after the first-generation iPod touch was released.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Stocks, Weather, Calculator, Clock: These applications provide widget-like stock and weather tracking functionality, as well as an on-screen calculator and world clocks. The only major change here came months ago in Calculator, which now includes both vertical and horizontal (scientific) calculators.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Maps: Though it hasn’t seen huge improvements since version 2.0 of the iPhone OS was released, Maps includes a location finder that uses Wi-Fi signal information to roughly triangulate your location, as well as a directions feature that works roughly as well as the iPhone’s, minus the more expensive device’s GPS functionality. You can see satellite or roadmap views of locations around the world, zoom in or out to your heart’s content, and get driving directions to or from any location, including addresses in your Contacts list. You can also use Maps to lookup phone numbers and addresses of nearby businesses, which is often more convenient than using Google in Safari.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Settings: A master settings menu for all of the iPhone OS and third-party applications provides individual menus for certain programs and combined menus for others. There’s nothing remarkable or new in the iPod touch second-generation Settings menu, except for the presence of the Nike + iPod settings mentioned above, which includes an option to turn the icon on or off. We’d like to see this icon off-feature in more of the device’s menus; having the choice to separate music and videos would be great, as would be the option to turn off each of the iPod touch or iPhone’s individual icons save for Phone.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Downloadable Applications: Discussed in great detail on iLounge already, iPhone OS 2.0’s ability to download and run third-party applications radically expands the iPod touch’s ability to serve as a miniature computer or game-playing device. You can read much more about the most popular and noteworthy iPhone OS applications in our iPhone Gems articles.

Conclusions

There’s a simple way to sum up our thoughts on the second-generation iPod touch: if Apple had released this device at these prices last year, we would have been thrilled. Virtually all of the first-generation model’s functional issues have been addressed—at least, partially—and the new version looks, feels, and sounds considerably better than its predecessor. While it is not a complete substitute for an iPhone thanks to its lack of phone, GPS, and camera features, the new iPod touch is a completely worthy alternative for users who just don’t need that added functionality; considering how expensive and troubled 3G data services have been for many iPhone 3G users, we’re inclined to say that the second-generation iPod touch is currently a smarter buy than the iPhone 3G overall, at least in some countries and regions.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Having said that, the second-generation iPod touch still isn’t the ideal widescreen iPod many people been waiting years to purchase: Apple’s continued obsession with thinness, and its refusal to pair a hard disk with the 3.5” display, force users once again to choose between the video-friendly storage capacity of an iPod classic or the eye-friendly screen size of an iPod touch. It’s both astonishing and aggravating that Apple continues to sell movies, TV shows, and games that are increasing in resolution and size, but doesn’t make a single pocket device that can hold and display them without constant, time-consuming re-synchronization. Is a thicker hard-drive version of the touch, comparable in size to last year’s 160GB iPod classic, really so difficult to release as a stop-gap measure?

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Until flash memory prices fall, or Apple decides to give its fans the hard-drive based touch device they’ve been asking for, users will be forced to pick between the iPod touch and iPod classic. Thanks to the new iPod touch’s better pricing, screen, battery life, and audio quality, that choice has just become a lot more difficult—unlike last year, we think that the choice between these options is now a draw, as they’re both B+ products and worthy of our strong general recommendation. Once again, the big question is whether serious video fans will be able to wait another year for the inevitably superior successor.

Updated: The Late 2009 32GB/64GB iPod touch

Under different circumstances, calling the “late 2009” iPod touch (32GB/$299, 64GB/$399) a true “third-generation” model would be easier: a look inside its casing reveals a place for a camera that, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, never made it into the final product due to last-minute technical problems. Instead, what Apple has released for the holidays is something closer to an “enhanced second-generation” model, with new hardware mostly hidden inside, some modestly updated software, higher storage capacities for the dollar, and once again, the potential for additional functionality to be unlocked in a paid software update next year. The resulting product is unquestionably better than its predecessor, though it leaves lingering questions as to whether or when its full potential will be unlocked.

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Since the core functionality of the new iPod touch is the same as the late 2008 model, we will be adding this update to our prior second-generation iPod touch review, highlighting all of the major changes, and explaining our updated ratings. In short, despite the absence of a camera, the current iPod touch lineup is at least as compelling as last year’s, due in substantial part to the ascendance of the App Store as a resource for all but unlimited, inexpensive game and application releases. At a time when the iPod classic is a dead-end for everything save storage capacity, the iPod shuffle has nothing going for it save size, and the iPod nano is a solid compromise alternative with comparatively limited video, gaming, and app capabilities, the touch has become the smartest overall way to get into the iPod family, assuming you’re willing to pay and accept a larger enclosure to enjoy its benefits.

What’s Changed: The Cosmetics and Pack-Ins

Apart from a single, minor external change, there is no way to tell the latest iPod touch from its predecessor—a fact that may cause some confusion for those wondering which 32GB model they’re purchasing. The minor change is this: engraving.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

The back of the late 2008 iPod touch has four lines of engraved text, which sit between an “8GB,” “16GB,” or “32GB” badge and a collection of electronic certification logos. The engraved text starts with a serial number and ends with the words “All rights reserved.” By comparison, the back of the late 2009 32GB and 64GB iPod touch models has a noticeably smaller “32GB” or “64GB” badge, and only two lines of engraved text before those logos. The text starts with the phrase “Designed by Apple in California” and ends with the serial number. Otherwise, the units are indistinguishable from one another when their screens are turned off.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

One other difference we noted is one that may or may not hold up throughout the lifespan of this particular model: screen color tint. On pure or mostly white screens, the late 2008 iPod touch has a slightly yellow tint, while the late 2009 model is closer to neutral white, but with a slight pink tint, nearly identical to the display in the iPhone 3GS. The newer touch model has a very modestly more shallow off-center viewing angle than its predecessor before it begins to create “negative blacks,” a problem that seriously impacted first-generation iPod touch screens but was virtually remedied in the subsequent model. For that reason, we would not characterize the new screen as definitively better, but we do prefer its color balance. Viewed directly on center, or even somewhat off-center, the new iPod touch’s screen is bright, colorful, and exceptionally watchable for videos and games; it remains the iPod family’s very best standalone display, and easy to watch entire movies on assuming that you’re willing to hold it or buy a stand to keep it upright.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Another difference is in pack-ins. Unlike its predecessor, the new iPod touch includes Apple’s Earphones with Remote and Mic, which are also packed in with the iPhone 3GS. Like the 3GS version and models that have been shipping since mid-2009, the iPod touch’s Earphones include a hard plastic headphone plug shell that is thinner and more slippery than the prior, thicker soft rubber coating shown in our earlier review. Otherwise, they look, sound, and work the same, providing two volume buttons, a multi-function play/pause/track skip central button, and a microphone that can be used for voice recording and other purposes. While this accessory also works with the late 2008 iPod touch—not the original iPod touch—it can do a little more with the new model, as noted below under What’s Changed: The Software.

What’s Changed: The Hardware

Over the past year, Apple has turned its iPod touch releases into opportunities to cash in twice on hardware changes: once when it sells the device with specifically identified new features, and then again when it offers a paid $10 “software update” that unlocks previously undisclosed capabilities. For the new iPod touch, Apple has promised only two specific hardware changes: “up to 50 percent faster performance” and “support for even better graphics with OpenGL ES 2.0.” Though the company doesn’t discuss the specifics of its components in iPod or iPhone devices, this has been accomplished by a replacement of the prior model’s CPU and graphics processor with newer, faster parts, upping the device’s clock speed to approximately 800MHz and adding new special effects to its graphics arsenal.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

For users, these abstract changes do have concrete, though not exactly critical consequences. Install the same game on the old and new iPod touch models and you will notice a difference in loading times. The new iPod touch is faster at loading titles, especially big ones, where the difference can amount to several seconds—you can be starting to play a game on the new model while the old one is still loading up. It’s even faster at loading than the iPhone 3GS, which was itself faster than the old iPod touch, a performance boost that is also manifested in slightly zippier transitions from Home screen to Home screen.

iPod touch 3G versus iPod touch 2G:

 

 

Loading aside, the new model’s impact on game performance varies a lot from title to title, even on ones that push the prior iPod touch’s graphics hardware. In the case of Ngmoco’s Star Defense, which we tested on the iPhone 3GS and prior-generation iPhone model, the game both loads faster and benefits from a slightly better frame rate—greater speed and smoothness as you’re rotating around the 3-D planets it presents on screen. Firemint’s Real Racing, another title we’ve tested on multiple platforms, has noticeable improvements in load times but less obvious benefits in frame rates; the difference between the late 2008 and late 2009 iPod touches is marginal at best. And id Software’s Doom Resurrection has an initially faster load time but no apparent difference in frame rates between the devices; once you get into each game, the playing portions look and feel the same.

iPod touch 3G versus iPhone 3GS:

 

That having been said, the new iPod touch is the second Apple pocket device to include hardware support for OpenGL ES 2.0, a newer graphics technology that debuted in the iPhone 3GS. OpenGL ES 2.0 gives developers the ability to use programmable “shaders” to create more impressive and realistic looking visual effects than the first two iPod touch and first two iPhone models were capable of generating. The upside of this new feature is that future games will look better on the new iPod touch and iPhone 3GS than on earlier models; the downside is that only a handful of games, and then mostly mediocre ones, have been released with support for the new graphics feature. As of the date of this review, one wouldn’t even install on the new iPod touch.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Eurocenter’s Adrenaline Golf Online is an example of a title that works on all of these models, offering superior, shader-assisted graphic performance on the iPhone 3GS and new iPod touch while falling back to the less advanced capabilities of older iPod touch and iPhone models. Load Adrenaline on the new and old iPod touch and you’ll notice that the new touch loads the game faster, and then displays reflective water effects that aren’t found on the old one. But in a sign that it hasn’t yet been optimized for the new iPod touch, the frame rate—the smoothness of changes to the polygonal graphics—is actually a little lower on the new model, and the same game actually loads faster on the iPhone 3GS, the only title we’ve seen to do that. This is not a reflection of the touch’s performance, but rather, a sign that games will need to be optimized by their developers to do more than just load faster on the new model. Give interested developers a few months and the performance curve should be pretty stable: old iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPod touch hardware will continue to be slower than the late 2008 iPod touch, which will lag behind and have fewer cool special effects than the iPhone 3GS, which will lag modestly behind the new iPod touch.

There are also a couple of undisclosed hardware changes in the new iPod touch that may or may not be unlocked in a later software update. A teardown has revealed that the 802.11 Wi-Fi chip inside the new model is capable of not only its currently unlocked 802.11b and g wireless standards, but also the faster 802.11n standard. Users with 802.11n-only home networks, including us, would love to be able to stop maintaining slower, 802.11g-friendly networks for slower Wi-Fi devices like the touch; for now, the touch’s ability to use 802.11n networks is locked. Additionally, the hardware also has the locked capability of both receiving and transmitting FM radio, which means that the new iPod touch could conceivably serve as an FM radio receiver like the fifth-generation iPod nano, and even broadcast its own content wirelessly to car stereos and other FM radios. Unfortunately, 802.11n, FM receiving, and FM transmitting are all unsupported by the current iPod touch system software (3.1.1), so they’ll only work if and when Apple releases a software update for the touch, most likely for $5 or $10. History suggests that this won’t happen, if at all, until the middle of 2010.

What’s Changed: The Software

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

 

Though the second-generation iPod touch was originally released with version 2.0 of the iPhone OS, both that model and the newer one currently run version 3.1.1 of Apple’s iPhone OS, which keeps them almost in lockstep in software features. We have exhaustively detailed the changes Apple made from version 2.0 to 3.0 in our Complete Guide to iPhone OS 3.0, and the subsequent changes from 3.0 to 3.1 in Instant Expert: Secrets and Features of iPhone OS 3.1. In brief, the new software activated a Bluetooth feature capable of stereo audio streaming and iPod-to-iPod/iPhone wireless game playing, a Voice Memos application for voice recording with connected external microphones, a system-wide Spotlight search feature, Google Street View for Maps, and widescreen keyboards for virtually every keyboard-capable application. The iPod touch can also serve as a remote control and keyboard for Apple TV, amongst many other features enabled by downloadable applications.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

The new iPod touch does gain two iPhone 3GS-specific software features that are not supported on the earlier second-generation iPod touch model. First is Voice Control, which enables the user to hold down the included Earphones’ central button—not the touch’s own Home button—to activate a mode that lets you speak commands such as “Play Songs By The Beatles” or “Shuffle,” and have the iPod touch automatically follow those commands. As with the iPhone 3GS, though Voice Control isn’t perfect at analyzing voice commands, and will initially appear to be pretty terrible if you don’t follow the required syntax, it does do a very good job when you speak the commands properly. Obviously, the “dial” commands found on the iPhone 3GS have been removed here, and though the prior iPod touch models have also received 3.1.1 software updates, they do not support Voice Control.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Another feature is Accessibility, which provides screen color-inverting, magnification, and VoiceOver reading of on-screen text for those who are visually disabled, as well as a Mono Audio downmixing mode for those with hearing in only one ear, merging left- and right- channel audio into both headphones. The omission of this feature from prior iPod touch and iPhone models continues to be a disappointment to us, and there are elements of its performance—particularly the facts that triple-clicking the Home button can activate either color inversion or VoiceOver but not magnification, and that inversion may actually make the Home screens less readable while improving everything else—that will not totally satisfy those who need help seeing the device’s tiny pixels. Imperfect though it may be, Accessibility is on balance a welcome addition to the iPod touch family.

Notably, one minor new iPhone 3GS specific feature that we really like, the “Battery Percentage” option, is not available on the new iPod touch. This feature enables very precise measurement of remaining battery power, which is useful both for managing real-world use of the device and for performance testing. Our hope is that this feature winds up in a near-term software update.

What’s Changed: Battery Life

When Apple released the second-generation touch, it made considerable improvements to the earlier model’s battery life, The first-generation touch promised 22 hours of audio time, delivering 28.5, and 5 hours of video time, which it matched; the second-generation promised 36 hours of audio time and delivered 39.75, and 6 hours of video, delivering 5 hours and 41 minutes. These were major improvements, and unusually, Apple retreated a little from them for the late 2009 iPod touch: only 30 hours of audio were promised, alongside the same 6 hours of video. This was worrisome, and we expected that the new model would underperform its predecessor.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

During our testing, the new iPod touch ran a looping playlist of test 640×480 videos for 7 hours and 52 minutes before expiring, a two-hour boost over the prior version that put this model in the same league as last year’s iPhone 3G and the 120GB iPod classic for video playback—with Wi-Fi off. By comparison, when we ran an audio runtime test with Wi-Fi on—the way Apple measures it—the new touch ran for 30 hours and 20 minutes before expiring, just surpassing the company’s 30-hour promise. Oddly, we found that Apple has changed its performance estimate for the second-generation iPod touch to claim the same 30 hours. In any case, the device does match or outperform the company’s claims when used purely for media playback purposes, and when Wi-Fi was turned off, audio run time jumped by 2 hours and 4 minutes to 32 hours, 24 minutes.

With the iPod touch, however, it must be noted that “pure media playback” may not represent the standard usage model, at least, for audio. As noted, our iPod touch testing assumption is to disable Wi-Fi during video playback, because there’s no way to browse the web, send e-mails, or play games while watching a video; leaving the Wi-Fi antenna on does little more than keep checking your email and Push Notifications while you’re doing something else, and generally won’t be something you do when watching videos in a plane, train, or car. Audio is a different story; put music on and you can still use all of the iPod touch’s other features except for video playback. These features will drain power simultaneously with the iPod music player, as will the use of the Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi antennas, often considerably reducing the battery life. Apple doesn’t publish multi-function battery life estimates for a number of reasons, but it suffices to say that the more you try to do with the iPod touch at once, the faster you’ll need to recharge the battery.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

After 30 minutes of playing the graphically-demanding game Doom Resurrection on the third-generation iPod touch, running at 50% brightness and 50% speaker volume, a third-party application called Battery Life claimed that 15% of the battery had been consumed—in other words, the battery would be completely drained in less than 3.5 hours of playing this game. An exactly identical test of the same levels and the same settings on the second-generation iPod touch led to a claim that 10% was consumed, questionable because the application only provides updates in 5% increments; if accurate, however, this would suggest that the second-generation iPod touch could run the same game for roughly 5 hours before dying. Our suspicion is that the two units are more similar than that, but in any case, playing games and using some other apps will unquestionably cut your battery life by a greater margin than watching movies or listening to music.

What Hasn’t Changed (For Now): Audio, Video, and Nike + iPod

Three core things that haven’t changed much in the new iPod touch are its audio, video, and the Nike + iPod application. Though there are plenty of other things that also have remained the same between models, we point these items out for specific reasons.

Audio: As noted in last year’s review of the second-generation iPod touch, a major improvement in sound quality was achieved when Apple changed audio chips—the audio chip was “cleaner, with a nearly non-existent static noise floor that’s as well-suited to audiophile-grade earphones as free pack-ins.” The same is true for this year’s model; using very high-end multi-driver earphones, we couldn’t detect any difference between the two iPod touches when listening carefully to the latest audiophile-polished remastered Beatles albums, amongst other tracks, and this is a great thing; independent of all of its other abilities, the new iPod touch remains an excellent audio player. Its integrated speaker has not changed in any apparent way from the one in the prior version; it is capable of letting you hear audio up close, and works adequately for game playing and video viewing, but does not perform music with great volume or fidelity.

Video: Once again, the new iPod touch has the ability to display videos on its own 3.5” display, or on an external television screen when connected up using overpriced Apple and third-party video cables, as well as certain other accessories with video-out functionality. The iPod touch models look the same when outputting to a TV, and continue to enforce the same restrictions on files: 640×480-maximum MPEG-4 or H.264 videos, nothing larger except when using certain anamorphic encoding tricks. That having been said, the iPhone 3GS has already been discovered to be capable of outputting high-definition video at resolutions of up to 1080p, and as the new iPod touch has equivalent or superior graphics capabilities, the possibility of a future Apple software-based unlock for higher-resolution video support is there.

Nike + iPod: Despite changes to the fifth-generation iPod nano that saw it gain an integrated pedometer to calculate the user’s footsteps, and support for an as-yet-unannounced Nike+ accessory called the Heart Rate Monitor, the new iPod touch hasn’t gained either feature; it remains capable of linking to Nike’s $19 Nike+ Sensor to track your movement as you run, and can also be used with Nike wireless remote control wristwatches for purposes of music playback control. It’s unclear as to whether Heart Rate Monitor support will appear in an Apple software update, but it’s certainly possible. Moreover, the iPod touch’s support for numerous non-Nike fitness applications guarantees that it is capable of doing more out of the box than the iPod nano.

iPhone 3GS Versus the New iPod touch: A Few Thoughts

Though we prefer to compare iPods to iPods, an obvious question that many users will ask in light of the “$99” iPhone 3G and “$199” iPhone 3GS is how the new iPod touch models stack up, and what we’d recommend purchasing given the choice between an iPhone or an iPod touch. In short, here are the differences between the new iPod touch and both current-model iPhones.

Communications Features: Obviously, both the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS include cellular phones for telephone calling, absent from the iPod touch. We are big fans of the phone capabilities of the iPhone 3G and 3GS; our editors live in places where dropped calls are extremely rare, coverage is great, and call quality is uniformly comparable to land lines. In major metropolitan areas, this is not always the case. Tethering, or the ability of the iPhone 3G and 3GS to serve as modems for computers, is not yet supported by AT&T in the United States, but is available outside of the country for an additional fee. Both the phone and tethering capabilities make the iPhone a potentially stronger pick for those who need such features and are willing to pay for them. By comparison, we consider SMS and MMS messaging to be all but irrelevant in an age of instant messaging and e-mail, but some may feel otherwise.

Mapping Capabilities: Without additional software, the iPhone 3G and 3GS can both serve as powerful mapping devices, though separate apps unfortunately continue to be required in order to turn them into automated turn-by-turn driving tools. Both have GPS chips, missing from the iPod touch, which only roughly approximates your current location intermittently using Wi-Fi signals for triangulation. The iPhone 3GS includes a magnetometer, or compass, which roughly determines the device’s magnetic orientation to assist in GPS calculations; the iPod touch and iPhone 3G do not have this feature.

Camera Functionality: The iPod touch was supposed to receive at least a video camera in 2009, but did not, leaving the iPhone 3G and 3GS as better options for those who want to snap photos—and in the case of 3GS, record videos—without using separate devices. Though you could buy an excellent camera or camcorder with the money you’d save in buying an iPod touch instead of either data plan-required iPhone, you wouldn’t be able to send the pictures or videos directly from the camera to the Internet as you can with the iPhone.

Everything Else: The iPod touch and iPhone 3GS both include Nike + iPod support, while the iPhone 3G does not. In terms of raw processing horsepower, the iPod touch bests both the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 3G, a difference which will lead to marginally better-looking graphics on future touch games than 3GS games, but significantly better graphics on both the touch and 3GS than the iPhone 3G. Finally, there’s the price difference; once you buy the iPod touch, you needn’t spend another dime unless you want more apps or updated Apple system software, but both iPhones carry two-year, $30 per month data service contract obligations on top of however many minutes of talk time you purchase. You can decide for yourself whether these expenses are justified by the features; as iPhone users, we generally believe that they are, but not everyone can afford these prices.

Conclusions

When the second-generation iPod touch was released last year, it was on the fine edge of our high recommendation: Apple had fixed so many of the issues with the first-generation model that the biggest thing holding us back from greater enthusiasm was the second-generation’s weak storage capacity for the dollar. At $229, the 8GB touch commanded an $80 premium over an 8GB iPod nano, yet was too weakly equipped in capacity to hold the music, videos, and apps that would inevitably come to be in the typical user’s library. At its new price of $199, the prior 8GB model’s premium has dropped to only $50, and though the capacity remains too low, it’s easier to recommend as a great starter iPod for younger users, and represents a far better value for its price than an iPod nano of comparable capacity. This isn’t to say that the nano lacks for advantages, particularly the video camera and smaller size, but the value of more games and apps, the bigger screen, Wi-Fi, and numerous integrated computer-like features—Safari web, e-mail, Google Maps, and direct iTunes/App Store access—make the touch an even more valuable device in almost every way. At its current pricing, even in the absence of enhanced functionality, the 8GB iPod touch is worthy of our high recommendation. For the time being, the fact that it’s not as fast as the newer iPod touch is trivial; months from now, with proper software, the more expensive model’s superior capabilities may matter more.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

That brings us to the late 2009 iPod touch. There is no question in our minds that something went wrong this year at Apple, and that a camera—possibly more—wound up excluded at the last minute from a device that could certainly have become more capable. Moreover, Apple’s continued tick-tock policy of releasing iPod touches and then subsequently charging for later software upgrades to unlock the hardware they have inside has become nothing short of annoying; readers have made clear that they feel they’re being ripped off, even though numerous non-hardware-specific improvements are offered at the same time. In any case, the fact that the new model ships with new hardware that isn’t being properly exploited by Apple or third-party software—except for faster loading times—is not a huge draw at this point in time; like the company’s Snow Leopard operating system, the new iPod touch is being pitched largely on the promise of better things to come in the future, and the added storage space you’ll gain. Had the new touch arrived with more of its capabilities unlocked at the start, it would have merited more excitement and a high recommendation, without question.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

Having said that, the new $299 and $399 iPod touches do represent better values than last year’s models. The 32GB version will give most users more than enough space to keep a lot of music, a bunch of videos, and quite a few apps or games handy, and the 64GB version has inched one step closer to the magic 128GB storage capacity we’ve been waiting for since the first-generation iPod touch arrived on the scene in 2007. As attractive as the 8GB model might be to price-conscious users, the 64GB version will unquestionably entice many—not all—of those who have been holding off on transitioning from a hard disk-based iPod or iPod classic because of storage concerns. Should Apple do the right thing and boost capacities again next year, the need for the iPod classic will be all but gone, and we won’t shed a tear.

 

Review: Apple iPod touch 2008 (8GB/16GB/32GB) + 2009 (8GB/32GB/64GB)

For the time being, Apple’s late 2009 iPod lineup has two clear standout products—the iPod nano and iPod touch—with the classic and shuffle falling behind them to varying degrees. Though we really like the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, particularly because of their integrated cameras and near-anywhere access to the Internet, the extra $700+ they require in data service plans is a non-trivial expense that only some users will be willing to tolerate in exchange for their extra features. If we were voting with our own pocketbooks and preferences, and in need of buying something right now, we’d pick the iPhone 3GS or a late 2009 iPod touch over any other iPod, even though the lower prices of the prior iPod touch and new iPod nano will surely make them bigger sellers. On the other hand, we wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to wait and see what happens next; the new iPod touch has a lot more under the hood than is currently apparent, and like its predecessor, will truly come into its own when better software is released to exploit its capabilities.

Our Rating

A-
Highly Recommended

iPod touch 2G 8GB (As Re-Rated Late 2009)

B+
Recommended

iPod touch 2G 8GB/16GB/32GB (As Rated Late 2008)

B+
Recommended

iPod touch 3G 32GB/64GB (As Rated Late 2009)

Company and Price

Company: Apple Computer

Website: www.Apple.com

Model: iPod touch (Late 2008/2009)

Price: $199 (8GB), $299 (32GB), $399 (64GB)

Compatible: PC/Mac

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