When a company sets out and makes something really good - like a touch user interface that works - it is no surprise to see them trying to cash in on it. After all, why put so much effort into the iPhone, when you can’t transfer all that goodness over to your music players as well? As such, the iPod touch was born, or in this case, born again, as the second generation is something of a refresh rather than new entity.
The device is based around the 3.5in touchscreen, which as you’d expect from Apple is astonishingly crisp, giving you 480 x 320 pixel resolution. The user interface is the same intuitive and easy-to-use solution found in the previous generation, and in the iPhone, and it works very well, whether you are familiar with it or not. Besides the touch interface you get three buttons, a front home button, a volume adjuster on the left-hand side and the top sleep/wake button.
The second-gen touch has been slimmed down slightly from the last incarnation, with that distinctive minimalist black screen surround and one-piece curved metal back, giving it that oh so familiar look from the iPhone.
As this comes under the iPod banner, let’s look at the music features. We tested the 32GB model, so whilst not the largest capacity player you can buy, it’s a pretty sizable chunk of music to be carrying around, about 7000 songs. It is worth considering that if you are a fan of video then you’ll get through this faster than you might think. Format support includes AAC, Protected AAC, MP3 , MP3 VBR, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV, for music, whilst video gives you MPEG4 and H.264. Apple have been criticised for not widening format support, but for most this will suffice.
You get the normal Cover Flow option so you can flick through your album art and you really can give it some welly so if you have a large collection of music it isn’t too much of a chore. The normal menu will let you jump to each letter anyway, so it is never too hard to get to your music. Cover Flow is automatically selected when you hold the touch in landscape when in the music menu.
The sound quality, as we’ve come to expect from iPods, is very good. You’ll find the 3.5mm headphone connector on the bottom of the device, whilst the bundled headphones are the normal lacklustre Apple affair. But the real difference here from the first generation is the inclusion of a speaker. This means that you aren’t dependent on headphones, but can also share videos and music easily, making it more of a communal device. The quality is nothing to get excited about and it won’t reach the volume of some phones, but it is a nice addition to round out the package.
You also get Apple’s new Genius feature, found lurking in the playlists, allowing you to create playlists on the fly from a particular song. This is a new feature to iPods and iTunes and we are fans already because it is so simple. But things take a step further with iTunes because the iPod touch features Wi-Fi, allowing you to go straight into iTunes and buy songs. The inclusion of Wi-Fi also opens a door into another world which makes the iPod touch’s status slightly ambiguous.
Wi-Fi is simple to connect and we were connected to our home network in seconds. From there you can really take advantage of the Safari browser and other connected apps, and the touch becomes a new class of device. The browsing experience is good and fast and that crisp screen really adds to the experience, compensating for the fact that this is the Internet in a small format. As has often been pointed out, the lack of Flash support means the web experience is limited, however, sites like YouTube and BBC iPlayer work well enough.
Of course you also get App Store access, so you can add all sorts of extras expanding possibilities even further. You’ll also find Nike+iPod support out of the package for those that want this function, however it has to be said that a large touchscreen device is not what you want with you whilst running, but we reckon the inclusion is more to do with Apple being able to, rather than people wanting it.
But it isn’t just all about entertainment, you get more serious features like calendar, contacts and email support at which point you start to wonder exactly what the iPod touch wants to be. Whilst you are within a Wi-Fi zone, it is pretty much an internet device, but if you only have Wi-Fi at home, it’s an over-the-top music player. The more we used it, the more we started to think of it as a disconnected PDA, rather than a music player.
You get a polishing cloth in the box which is nothing of a surprise, because you’ll be forever cleaning the thing. You also get the dock insert and cable for syncing music and charging. The battery will give you a reported 36 hours of music or 6 hours of video, but for most people it is going to be somewhere in the middle.
And this is where we don’t like the iPod touch. Whilst technically the interface is a masterpiece, we can’t help feeling that the touch doesn’t really know what it is supposed to be. That touchy-feely interface means you can’t be shifting tracks in your pocket, so it is less of a commuter device than it might want to be. Yes, it will be the envy of all on the train, but in terms of practicality on the move, it’s beaten by its siblings.
The design, whilst slick, is also a bit of a pain. Whilst it is great for slipping into the inside pocket of your Harris Tweed jacket, if you are serious about watching TV, you’ll have to hold it because you can’t prop it up to get a decent viewing angle without it sliding away across your tray table. Unfortunately we’d suspect that many will opt for a cover that will get round this problem, whilst hiding the aesthetic magnificence of this device.
So what do we think of the iPod touch? There is no doubting the feature set and the range of possibilities on offer here, but without the mobile phone connection it is less useful whilst on the move. Coupled with the size it is beaten both on price and practicality as an MP3 player.
However, there is also no doubting that the iPod touch has the wow factor in abundance and those who are lucky enough to always be within a Wi-Fi zone will really get the most out of what this device has to offer.
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