The BIG iPod touch review

The BIG iPod touch review

Summary: A few weeks ago I got my hands on two 16GB iPod touch devices. Having spent a lot of hands on time with these devices it's time for a comprehensive review.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, Mobility

A few weeks ago I got my hands on two 16GB iPod touch devices.  Having spent a lot of hands on time with these devices it's time for a comprehensive review.

The iPod touch was for me the first Apple device to come out when I eagerly awaited the release day.  I wanted one as soon as Steve Jobs announced it and was disappointed to find out that I'd have to wait a few weeks for it to be released.  I found the idea of an ultra-portable The BIG iPod touch reviewmedia player that had WiFi capability and a built-in browser a very attractive package indeed. I even made a pilgrimage to my nearest Apple store to try to pick one up when they got stock in and was upset to find when I got there that they were all sold.

Anyway, eventually (with a little help from my wife and Amazon) I got my hands on them.  I eagerly unwrapped them (forget the whole unboxing porn thing) and hooked them up to a couple of PCs to charge up and within an hour both were showing full charge.

Initial thoughts ... and a problem

What struck me about the iPod touch once I'd freed it from the packaging was how small it is.  OK, it's not as small as the nano but nonetheless it's Despite being small and light, it feels surprisingly ruggedquite portable and easy to slip into a pocket.  It's also very light, weighing in at 4.2oz (120g).  But despite being small and light, it feels surprisingly rugged and I don't feel the need to continually worry about whether it's safe or not.  Having the rigidity of that glass screen seems to make all the difference.

When I tried hooking them up to iTunes I had my first problem.  I could get one to work just fine, but the other was playing up.  However, the problem wasn't with the iPod but with the USB hub built in to the front of that PC.  It's fine with every other device but it just doesn’t like the iPod touch and will drop the connection between the iPod and the PC within seconds of trying to sync.  Lesson #1: If you're having problems with the iPod, try a different USB port, preferably at the back (because some out front USB ports don’t connect directly to the motherboard in the same way).

The iPod touch in action

With both iPods loaded up with audio, it was time to use them.  The redesigned iPod interface is, in my opinion, very nice but a little rough round the edges.  For example, take Coverflow for viewing album covers.  I like this feature a lot but why it is only available when the iPod is in landscape mode?  Given that Apple have crammed Coverflow onto the new nanos, surely the screen of the touch is big enough?  Another aspect of the interface that bothers me is how tiny some of the onscreen buttons and controls are.  I do feel that in switching from the clickwheel over to a touchscreen Apple has given too much thought to style and not enough to function.  I was perfectly happy using my nano without having to look at the screen while I did it (unless I was looking for a particular track) but with the iPod touch I feel that my eyeballs have to be on the screen the whole time while I'm using it.  For example, with the nano it was easy to adjust the volume from inside my jacket pocket, say on a crowded train platform where I’d rather not advertise what valuables I’m carrying. There's zero chance of doing this with the touch.  If you’re going to use an iPod touch you have to be prepared to put it on display, so I won’t be retiring the nano any time soon (sorry kids won’t be getting Daddy’s old nano yet awhile).

On the plus side, the screen is a joy to use and clear as anything.  In fact, compared to the cheap and nasty screens on most devices, the screen on the touch is like ice cream for the eyes.  I've left everything on the default settings and I never feel that the screen is too dark or too bright.  Also, if you have thousands of tracks on your iPod, the touch makes finding the ones you want a lot easier. 

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New Features

OK, enough about the old features, let's look at some of the new features, starting with the web browser.  The mobile version of Safari shipped on the iPod touch manages to be both one of the high points and low points of the device.  The browser does a great job of The BIG iPod touch reviewdisplaying most web pages and the pinch action used to zoom in and out is very intuitive, but the browser is also very much a work in progress (or so I hope) and lacks a number of features critical to a browser - such as a password manager and a Flash plug-in. Also, while you can have multiple pages open in the browser there’s currently no way to open a link in a new window.  If you already use the Safari browser on the desktop or notebook, be prepared to be disappointed when you start using Safari on the touch.  I’m not a huge fan of Safari on the Mac OS or Windows, but somehow Apple has managed to make Safari on the iPod even worse.  The pages are not cached so go out of wifi range and even pages you have already viewed are inaccessible.

If you already use the Safari browser on the desktop or notebook, be prepared to be disappointedThe bugs don't help either.  For example, Apple have included a built-in magnifier for the address bar (press and hold your finger in the address bar to get it up), unfortunately, more often than not the text that you want isn't shown in the magnified area and is off the screen at the top, and even when the text is displayed, you realize that it's not an awful lot bigger.  Another bug that annoys me is that visited links are the same color as unvisited links, a gaff that's so basic there's no excuse for it.  Apple could have done a lot better here and chose for one reason or another not to, and as a result the user experience falls pretty far short of what it should be.

An application that I've made use of a lot over the past few weeks is the YouTube app.  I was never a big fan of YouTube and I've probably watched more videos on the iPod that I ever did on the PC.  It's quick and easy to use.  But again, this feature is incomplete and buggy.  For example, there's no way for regular YouTube users to log in, and there’s no way to distinguish unviewed videos from viewed ones.  You can't rate videos and you can't comment.  Again, limitations imposed by Apple make the experience very one way.  Again, I can but hope that things improve.

The interface is also far too locked down for my liking.  You can't seem to change or customize anything of importance.  For a company that continually berated Microsoft for locking users into a single way of working, it's somewhat hypocritical of Apple now to be doing the same. 

As for the other applications - calendar, contacts, clock and calculator - well, there's not much there that's caught my eye.  There’s stacks of untapped potential, but that's it I'm afraid.  The iPod touch is in serious need of good applications. Left up to Apple, I think that the iPod touch will be obsolete before we see anything impressive, so that leaves open source and commercial apps.  I hope that after Apple releases an SDK that good apps will follow.

What about the Web apps that are available?  There are online applications that you access via an active WiFi connections and are displayed in the browser.  I've taken a look at what's on offer and come away disappointed.  There are quite a few apps to check out, but most are poor quality and border on useless.  There are a few half-decent games but that's about it.  Everything feels a little rough and reminds me of DHTML web sites from the late 1990s.

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Gripes – Games and keyboard

One big gripe is the lack of onboard games.  If you find yourself out of wifi coverage then there’s nothing to do with your iPod touch beyond thumbing through your photos.  The iPod nano had several onboard The BIG iPod touch reviewgames that even though they were fiddly and hard to see on the tiny screen, they were nonetheless something to do in those niggly bored moments. 

Before I finish talking about the software, I feel that I should mention the software keyboard that the iPod touch and the iPhone is famous/infamous for.  My experience with the keyboard on the iPod touch ranges from The virtual keys are too small and the when the keyboard is combined with my “hot dog” fingersabysmal to atrocious.  The virtual keys are too small and the when the keyboard is combined with my “hot dog” fingers, the experience is far from a pretty one.  Mistakes are very common and fixing them frustrating (cursor keys would be useful).  On top of that I find the predictive feature a major letdown as all it ever offered me are stupid suggestions – and once you’ve typed it once the predicted word tends to stick so it changes what you typed to the same stupid suggestion every time.  The keyboard on the iPhone is exactly the same in this respect.  After weeks of using the iPod touch I don't feel that things are getting any better either.  Luckily, you don't make much use on of it on the iPod touch.

Typing in passwords is especially excruciating because the characters you type are obfuscated and there’s no option to reveal them.  And to make matters worse the visual feedback for the screen keyboard shows you only the capital letter of the key you pressed, so typing in a mixture of upper and lower case characters in a strong password of an encrypted wifi connection is tortuous to say the least.

The hardware

Coming to the hardware, I'm again torn because some aspects of the device are simply brilliant, while others aren't.  The touchscreen is excellent and an absolute pleasure to use.  When it comes to screens currently fitted to mobile devices, the iPod touch and the iPhone are without rival.  But just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, hardware is only as good as the poorest part.  The weakest link in the iPod touch chain is the battery.  Apple say that you can expect 22 hours of audio playback and 5 hours of video, but I'd say that in reality you get closer to 17 hours of audio and 4 hours of video playback on a single charge.  If you have WiFi on then this falls dramatically to something like 14 hours for audio and 3 hours for video.  Start using the WiFi connection and things get worse.  I'd say that you get about 2.5 hours of web browsing and maybe as little as 1.5 - 2 hours of YouTube usage out of a single charge.  I'm sometimes charging my battery two or three times a day and this makes me seriously worry about how long it'll last before it needs to be replaced.  I don’t know how Apple came up with the battery figures posted on the website because I can’t come anywhere near to them.  Maybe I’m doing something different, maybe between the test being done and the device going into mass production something changed, or maybe Apple just ran the test while the touch was laying on a bed of four-leaf clovers … but whatever the reason I just can’t get anywhere near the 22 hour/5 hour figure quoted.

The device is also a smudge and scratch magnet.  The touchscreen is robust and resists scratches but the metal case at the back isn't, and the finish being far less durable than that of the nano (the shiny finish on the iPod touch is a lot prettier but also a lot more fragile than the finish of the metal parts of the iPhone).  The cleaning cloth is a nice touch and does initially wipe off most of the dirt off the screen, but once it becomes saturated with gunk it just moves around the grease about the screen.  The cleanest you'll ever see your iPod touch is when you take it out of the box.

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Rounding up

All this sounds like I’m very critical of the iPod touch, and perhaps that’s a little unfair on the device, after all, it is still quite new and does suffer from the “1st gen blues,” but that’s no excuse.  The problem The BIG iPod touch reviewwith the iPod touch (and the iPhone I fear) is that Apple are promising a platform but in reality delivering something which is far less than that.  It feels like Apple is forgetting what works.  Here’s a company that fought hard to make Macs and the Mac OS relevant (partly by adding a dash of cool and style to things, partly by making computer ownership easier, partly by concentrating on reliability instead of broad hardware and software support, and partly by bundling useful applications such iLife with new Macs). But when it comes to the iPod touch and the iPhone, all this is put on one side because there devices will sell on hype alone.  The iPod touch is still waiting for that reason to be relevant.  I have a 7 year old HP iPAQ that will do 90% of what the iPod touch can do, and about a couple hundred more besides.  Sure, I’ve had to upgrade it, add more hardware and buy software, but I don’t care because I recognize that the iPAQ is a platform.  The touch is not a platform but a convergence device, and it suffers from the same affliction that plagues 95% of other convergence devices on the market – a lack of flexibility.

The touch is not a platform but a convergence device, and it suffers from the same affliction that plagues 95% of other convergence devices on the market – a lack of flexibilityBut, despite all its downsides, I do love my iPod touch.  It's far from perfect but it is very useful nonetheless.  The 8GB boost in capacity from what I’m used to on the iPod nano is much welcomed (especially since I carry a lot of audio books around) and the web browser is also very useful, despite all its shortcomings.  And that’s the catch with the iPod touch (and undoubtedly, the iPhone).  The more you use it, the more the device grows on you.  I still notice its faults (and spot new ones regularly) but none of them really halt you in your tracks, so you’re still getting more and more hooked.

I expect third party applications will start to appear for the iPod touch (and the iPhone) pretty soon once the SDK is released and these will breathe new excitement into the iPod touch and hopefully make it even more of a mobile web platform than it is. 


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Topics: Apple, Hardware, Mobility

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  • You too?

    [i]I have a 7 year old HP iPAQ that will do 90% of what the iPod touch can do, and about a couple hundred more besides.[/i]

    Yup, I laugh and I laugh and I laugh when the Apple zealots speak about how new and innovative their touch screen, wifi, web browser, media player is while I'm browsing the web and listening to music on my 6 year old HP iPAQ. We'll also just ignore the fact that Apple has yet to release a single SDK while the iPAQ has its original SDK + .NET. DivX, Xvid, FLAC, Ogg, AAC, WMA, WMV, MP3 can all be played back on my 6 year old iPAQ but the poor iPod can only handle a fraction of that.
    • listening to music on my 6 year old HP iPAQ

      "listening to music on my 6 year old HP iPAQ"

      that's rather sad!
      • It is sad

        It is sad that my 6 year old HP iPAQ is a better media player than a brand new iPod Touch. Codec support is [b]abysmal[/b] on the iPod but great on the 6 year old HP iPAQ. Yes, that [b]IS[/b] very sad!

        Now onto what is [b]funny[/b]! I find it funny that open, caring, loving Apple restricts you to their 1 or 2 codecs while mean, abusive, restrictive MS lets me to listen to FLAC, OGG, and XviD. The funny thing is that MS is the open one and Apple is the restrictive, abusive, monopolistic one.

        snicker, smirk :)
        • What is truly sad is Microsofts Zune ,,,

          It's been out for quite sometime and it still isn't denting the iPod market . Well it
          seems as the Windows zealots won't touch the ZUNE . How goes your ZUNE market
          Ballmer ? Non-Zealot won't even bother with your Zune , and he is your number one
          fan .
      • No seriously he still looks cool at the chess club meetings!

        He talks about codex like anyone gives a rat's behind but hey it's geek speak so it's
        cool right?

        Pagan jim
    • Different device

      What is the interface like?
      • What would you like to know?

        The interface works well enough so I can turn it on and be listening to music within 5 seconds. The interface works well enough so I can change songs with one click of a button, change the volume with one click of a button, navigate my music collection with finger sweeps while using thumbnails of the album art as my reference. It Just Works.
        • Does it work better than Microsoft's Zune ?

          Inquiring minds want to know ?
    • I remember the iPaq. Do they still make it?

      How well did it sell? Was it a hit? I frankly can't remember much about it. It seemed
      to come and go....a flash in the pan if you will. But to be fair I'm not a fan of those
      early pocket PC's. My whole theory is a "function" is not so much if it's complicated
      or difficult to use. Sure people can learn but hey life's too short. That is what the
      whole Pocket PC thing struck me as...kinda cool but functioin rich and usable poor.
      So I never kept up with it nor did I explore it. So how is it doing the iPaq I mean?

      Pagan jim
      • I believe they do

        [i]How well did it sell? Was it a hit?[/i]

        To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe you refuse to buy anything unless everyone else is buying it too but I consider that to be quite a pathetic way to shop. I'm curious, does that attitude creep into other aspects of your life? Do you find that you must follow the crowd at all costs, must wear the same clothes they are wearing, must listen to the same music they listen to? How sad. :(

        I find the device that fulfills my needs and where it is in the Amazon top 50 is of no concern to me.
        • Now you sound like a bona fide Mac user/owner!!!

          Still my question was more related to the aspects of "function"? My contention is
          "IF" as you say this device is all that and a bag o chips why and where is it? Heck
          even at it's worst Apple never went totally away.....just hunkered down for a bit..:P
          As for my stuff. I did not own the first few generations of the iPod cause frankly I
          did not get it. I eventually bought one but for an external firewire hard drive and
          found that it's original purpose did work very nicely for me but to be honest that
          was purely an accident. Don't own a lot of Apple stuff and never have like the
          iPhone for instance or the iPod Touch. You've obviously never seen my choice of
          clothing...ha! Style is not my middle name and my 1989 Honda Civic Hatch Back
          is a loud and proud statement to that effect the ole rust bucket but hey it works.

          Pagan jim
  • Throw it away

    I haven't visited ZDNet in a long time but I thought I
    would check back to see if anything had changed.

    it hasn't.

    This place is ridiculous.
    • You are right, Mac zealots are still here

      [i]to see if anything had changed.

      it hasn't. [/i]

      Yup, any review of any Apple product that doesn't conclude that Apple and its products are perfect result in an immediate swarming of Apple zealots who proclaim that the reviewer is an M$ $hill.

      Predictable and pathetic. I'm sorry to hear that those Apple zealots bother you so much but don't leave, stay and fight them! Tell them that the iPod Touch [b]isn't[/b] perfect and that it is okay to point out its weaknesses so Apple can learn and improve. Send a message to Apple that not everyone will apologize for Apple's faults. Otherwise, Apple will never get any better and that isn't good for consumers.
      • NonZ, you are getting boring

        Stop spamming these strings. I have Macs. I have Windows. I prefer the Macs. Call me a Mac zealot. I am honest about it. Apple is far from perfect. Their devices have many flaws and weaknesses. I wish Apple would correct them as soon as possible.

        Despite all that, they are better than anything Microsoft has produced. Now, go spam some other site.
      • NonZ, you are getting boring

        Stop spamming these strings. I have Macs. I have Windows. I prefer the Macs. Call me a Mac zealot. I am honest about it. Apple is far from perfect. Their devices have many flaws and weaknesses. I wish Apple would correct them as soon as possible.

        Despite all that, I prefer them to anything Microsoft has produced. Now, go spam some other site.
      • NonZ, you get very boring

        Stop spamming these threads. I have Macs. I have Windows. I prefer the Macs. Call me a Mac zealot. I am honest about it. Apple is far from perfect. Their devices have many flaws and weaknesses. I wish Apple would correct them as soon as possible.

        Despite all that, they are better than anything Microsoft has produced. Now, go spam some other site.
  • In Defense of the Review

    I thought it was a fair review. Especially astute (in that, um, I've thought the same
    thing about my iPhone) were the comments about needing to look at it and
    revealing it in situations where discretion is advised. I suppose the review raises
    the question as to whether Mr. Kingsley-Hughes views the Touch as an iPod with
    browsing capability or a browser that's a music player.

    Certainly browsing, mitigated though it might be by gestural zoom and pan, with
    the small screen size and omitted plug-in option isn't the same browsing
    experience we are used to with our laptops and desktops. (Some of this may be
    related to security compromises and delayed sdk release.) I can respect the advice
    to hold off, wait for 2.x.x and see if the browsing improves, if browsing is the killer
    app for the Touch.

    Any way, I'm hearing the 6 year old HP iPAQ is an excellent product for listening to
    music, watching video/films, and reading text web pages. I'm surprised HP lets
    Microsoft and Apple own the advertising channels.
  • No One is Recommending MS products here

    Chill! The piece is rather objective. It presented the good as well as the not so good, what's wrong with that? Shredding the Touch, where did you get that idea? I have to agree with some of the negatives, Safari IS hard to use, and the virtual keyboard is virtually impossible for those of us who don't have tiny fingers. It's still cool though no doubt, but definitely NOT PERFECT.
    • let me explain what i mean by bias..

      the touch is an mp3 player, when a feature is reviewed, like safari, you don't go
      knocking it because it doesn't have a password management system. Jeesh, the
      zune couldn't access any password protected network at all, the touch allows you
      to type in a password, but when the zune came this site raved about its wireless
      capabilities, though they were minimal.

      so the reviewer, instead of praising the capabilities of the touch, finds a way to
      denigrate it, even though no other similar product can't touch it.
      • So the iPod Touch is a better web browser than the Zune?

        Okay, I guess. That is like saying the Prius is a more fuel efficient car than the Corvette. The Zune has 10 times the storage of the iPod Touch so does that mean the iPod Touch sucks? No, it means that storage isn't a selling feature of the Touch. The Zune competes more with the iPod classic which... if I remember correctly... doesn't even have WiFi!!! HAHAHAHA!!!!

        Of course, if you [b]really[/b] want a browser, and storage, and the best touch screen in the world, buy the Archos 605. It [url=] blows the Touch out of the water. [/url]