iPod Touch Review

Introduction

Ok so I’m not going to go in to a super detailed review of every application and how it works in this review because chances are you already know. If you don’t then may I suggest that you watch Apples guided tour it lasts around 15minutes but gives a good run through of each application and usage of the iPod touch.

Background

A couple of years ago I experimented with ‘going Apple’ I had two PC’s one for gaming and another for general use; the general use machine was rather noisy and getting old so I decided to get a MacMini. Initially I was impressed, there is a lot of seamless integration and the machine was nice and quiet. I decided to buy a 5G Video iPod 30 GB to sync with it and again was impressed it was great to have all my music on the go and with little effort. As time passed I had several issues firstly despite the pretty UI just beyond is Unix and its mind numbing commands to get it to do what you want. The final straw was about a year in when I had to restore several gigs of data after trying to merge a folder with 2 files in it to a folder of the same name with 100 files in it. In Windows this gives you a folder with 102 files, In OSX it erases the 100 files and puts the 2 files in the folder by themselves. Why have I just mentioned all this? Simply to point out that while I do like some of Apples products I’m not some ultra ‘fanboy’ defending their every move.

December 2006 I moved back to Windows, this time Vista. iTunes and Vista did not get on – at all! When paired with the iPod many BSOD would show up at random it was extremely aggravating. Fortunately Apple and MS seemed to have worked together and sorted it out and for the last 3 months iTunes + iPod and Vista have been working well together.

I have used my iPod a lot, I have several thousand tracks on it, plus all 7 Harry Potter audio books and numerous Podcasts, I’d never bothered with Videos as the screen is just too small to be useful. Then the iPhone came along!

iPhone

Yes that’s right the iPhone, announced in January 2007 it was – to me at least – a revolution. Ok it’s not perfect the then lack of custom ringtones, no 3G, no expansion port, poor camera, no corporate email abilities, rubbish keyboard all major oversights. However the look of the device and way the software is designed was striking.

In the past I’ve used Windows Mobile with its tiny onscreen buttons you have to tap with your fingernail or the bugs that mean the phone doesn’t even ring when it’s called. Mobile operators often bundle rubbish software on them that makes them even more unreliable. Where I work we have around 30 Palm Treo’s and the first thing every user is shown is how to press the reset button. It shouldn’t be like that!

I was very tempted by the iPhone, of course that didn’t matter, the iPhone requires an AT&T contract and wasn’t for sale in the UK, another issue I had with it was the pathetically small disk space, 8Gb is just too small for me to use as an iPod. Another issue I had is that I very rarely use a mobile phone! I have a Nokia 6230i for work, by modern standards it’s rather chunky but it fully co-operates with my cars built in Bluetooth phone kit so I’m willing to put up with it. So there I was along with thousands of others who really like the iPhone but didn’t want the phone bit, just more storage space. The beginning of September 2007 we finally got what we wanted…

iPod touch

Apple announced the iPod touch, a device that looked very similar to the iPhone, but slightly slimmer more memory but with several iPhone applications removed along with the Phone and the Bluetooth. I have to admit I was rather excited as Steve Jobs stood on stage going through the specifications, ok there was no email but I have hosted Exchange so I can always use Safari, then no Notes, ok that was slightly more irritating, especially because the 5G iPod has a notes viewer and this has nothing. Then we hit on the snag, memory size, I had hoped that it would have a Hard Drive and maybe 30 GB or 40 GB, instead it has flash and it’s only 16 GB. This was a big issue to me as my music collection was already around 17 GB so it wouldn’t all fit.

Despite this I decided to go ahead and pre-order a 16 GB iPod touch anyway, there were a couple of weeks before delivery so I had the option to cancel should I want to. To my surprise my mate Kainz, who always loathed iPods pre-ordered one as well. A couple of days after the announcement some people in America started getting their iPod’s early, and a big issue cropped up straight away. It seemed that a lot of the units had dodgy screens; apparently any blacks in videos showed up in negative form and to fix required the user to hold the device at a jaunty angle. This concerned me as I intended to use the iPod touch as a video player to save me carrying around my PlayStation Portable when travelling for work. Fortunately it seems to be an early teething issue as the more recently manufactured units don’t exhibit this problem.

I spent a week or so setting up a smart-playlist in iTunes so that I could sync the music I wanted, this involved me setting it to sync any music I’ve listened to in the last 6 months and has been given a rating of 2 stars or more. I also went through and removed some of the music I was less than proud of much to Kainz amusement!

It finally arrived on Tuesday 2nd October 2007 my first day back at work after my holiday. As usual with Apple products it’s neatly packed, the iPod is covered in plastic cellophane to stop it getting scratched and even the inside of the lid is covered in foam to protect it. In the box are the following items:

  • 16Gb iPod touch
  • Apple Universal dock adapter
  • Synchronisation and Charge cable
  • Apple Headphones
  • iPod touch stand
  • Cleaning Cloth
  • Quick Setup guide

Noticeably absent is a CD for iTunes, this is only available via a download. Kainz complained about a lack of power plug to charge however I already own a power plug that supplies a USB power output to charge devices. I also already had the Universal dock for my old iPod and was pleased to see that I would not need to buy a new one great foresight by Apple.

Physically the iPod looks amazing; extremely thin it’s hard to believe they managed to cram so much in to it. The screen is bright but fortunately only when it has to be, there is a light sensor in the device that adjusts the screen brightness as per lighting conditions. I like this as I was always fiddling with my 5G iPod between minimum brightness for when I’m listening in bed to full brightness when sitting on a train. There does however seem to be a bug in the latest firmware as sometimes when switching on the screen won’t automatically adjust.

The unit features only two buttons, one on the top puts the iPod to sleep or wakes it up, if you hold it down there is an option to shut the iPod off fully. The other button is the home button; press it to return to the main applications screen, during musical playback you can double tap it to bring up music control in any application instead of having to switch from say Safari back to Music. I was disappointed by the lack of hardware volume controls as it means you have to drag the iPod out of your pocket, switch the screen on, and adjust the volume via the screen. To make matters worse the iPod Radio Remote that Apple sells which connects to the docking connector doesn’t work with the iPod touch. A complaint I have seen made is that the headphone socket is located on the bottom of the iPod rather than the top, personally I can understand this as if the headphones plugged in to the top the wire would hang across the screen, and on a touch screen device that is not ideal.

Upon switching on the iPod for the first time it loads pretty quickly but after that you must connect it to a computer so that iTunes can activate it, without the activation you can’t use the device so if you are impatient make sure you have an iTunes ready computer to hand! After activating you are presented with the main screen which contains the following applications:

  • Safari
  • YouTube
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Clock
  • Calculator
  • Settings
  • Music
  • Video
  • Photos
  • iTunes

The first thing I did was setup iTunes to synchronise my music across. iTunes is quiet good at synchronising only specific items. I told it to only sync my iPod touch smart playlist and the recently added playlist. I moved on to TV Shows and told it to sync only unwatched TV Shows, I moved on to Movies and Music Videos and told it to sync a select few items. Set Podcasts to sync only a select number and finally to the final tab where I could sync my Contacts, Calendar and Bookmarks. The only thing I didn’t like was that the TV Shows sync options are rather limited, for example you can’t sync only the latest season of a TV show or only certain episodes it all of the episodes, unwatched episodes or the last X number of episodes. The process to copy over all the data took longer than I expected but it was not unreasonable.

As I said at the beginning I won’t go too in-depth over the applications, you can watch the Guided Tour video to get a good idea on how they all work, I will though give my opinion on each application.

Safari
A very impressive web browser, Safari loads even complex web pages quickly and easily. Navigating them is also a very simply process; tap an article on a web page and it will automatically zoom in on the column of text meaning there is very little need for horizontal scrolling. If you rotate the iPod into landscape then Safari will automatically rotate to fit. Safari supports RSS feeds – sort of, opening an RSS feed on the iPod takes you to a .mac webpage with the RSS feed formatted as needed, you can then bookmark this, however it won’t be available offline. Safari also offers multi page surfing so you can have several pages all open at the same time. Safari doesn’t support Java or Flash

YouTube
You might be wondering how YouTube works if the iPod doesn’t have flash. The answer is that YouTube recode their videos to MP4 format as well, this is why YouTube runs as a separate application. The application runs well and there are many of the useful options such as most popular, most recent and also a search option. However the big failure in my opinion with this is not down to Apple but YouTube, the problem is that not all of YouTube’s videos are available as not all of them have been converted to MP4 format. This limits the application in other ways for example you can’t login to your own YouTube account to either upload videos, check subscriptions or existing favourites nor can you browse individual users profiles. Ironically you can browse Dailymotion (one of YouTube’s competitors) and all of their videos come in either Flash or QuickTime format and can be watched straight from the website

Calendar
There is a simply description of this application: purposefully crippled. Apple in all their great wisdom seem to have removed the ability to add, edit, or delete entries in the calendar, all you can do is synchronise it with Outlook. It stinks of Apple trying to sell you up to an iPhone to get the full PIM functionality but I don’t need a bloody iPhone!

Contacts
It is handy to have the contact details at easy reach again since I stopped using a PDA a few years ago. This program oddly does allow for adding, editing, and deleting entries which makes the situation with the calendar even more confusing. Usage wise it is extremely efficient, the text and options are nice and chunky so you can access them quickly and the keyboard automatically adapts to the fields it is in, for example phone numbers only show you the numbers, switching to the postcode field enables caps lock, and the email field includes the @ and .com.

Clock
Does pretty much what it says on the tin, you can add World Clocks to a list, there is also an Alarm, Stopwatch, and Timer. Due to the lack of an internal speaker there is a component in the iPod that can produce basic noises for alarms; I think however they would be too quiet to wake me up.

Calculator
A basic calculator, no scientific functions though.

Settings
Here you can customise the iPod, interesting elements here are setting the wallpaper (even from your Photos), auto-lock settings, UI sound effects and international settings. An annoying feature or bug in the International setting means that when it is set to United Kingdom the clock is fixed in 24hour format. I hate 24hour clocks! Hopefully this will be fixed in a future update.

Music
Yes the iPod also plays music! All old iPod menus are here, Playlists, Albums, Artists, Songs, Genres, Composers, Compilations, Podcasts, and Audiobooks. The main menu bar at the bottom of the screen gives you any 4 of these the rest can be accessed from the ‘more’ option. An immediate issue I found was that truncated names are not scrolled like they are on the old 5G iPod; this is extremely annoying as some tracks are similarly named but the ends are cut off and you cannot see which is which. A good example of this is Chris Moyle’s – The Difficult Second Book, the audiobook is split in to three 2 hour tracks they are each called “The Difficult Second book (Unabridged) Part X” on the iPod touch however they all read as “The Difficult Second book (Un…” even when I play them they don’t reveal what the full name is. Podcasts are slightly improved as now the text used in the chapters is visible behind the album art, an annoyance is that despite the Wi-Fi now included you can’t get the latest Podcasts directly from the iPod, this would be very handy to me as I don’t typically synchronise my iPod with iTunes unless I know I’ve added a new track

All the menus apart from Podcasts and Playlists have a quick search A-Z menu, simply tap on the letter and the list will scroll down to that letter, oddly the 5.5G iPod’s text search feature seems to have been removed. The only other major change from the old iPods is the On-The-Go playlist, previously to add tracks to the on-the-go playlist you browsed your music then pressed and help the select button on any song, album, or artist to add them to the playlist. Now you must first navigate to the on-the-go playlist and add songs from within it, if the on-the-go playlist is empty you fill be presented with the usual menus but this time tracks will have a blue icon next to them, tap it and the track is added to the playlist. This change now means you must consciously intend to create an on-the-go playlist where as previously you could be browsing and create one on a whim, not a big deal and I suppose it depends on how you go about creating playlists.

Sound quality – It sounds fine to me, and it honestly doesn’t sound much different to my old 5G iPod which didn’t sound much different to my old iRiver H320, however check Kainz’s review on that subject as he likes the sound so clear he can hear the secretary lips smacking as she talks on the phone in the reception of the recording studio! I do need some new earphones and I am on the lookout!

Videos
I quite like this application; the page is split in to 4 sections, Movies, TV Shows, Music Videos, and Podcasts. How these are arranged depends on how you organise them within iTunes. I tried ripping and adding the entire series of Spaced on to the iPod and after some problems with converting the DVDs to MP4 files I was able to add them fine, when they are synced over to the iPod they show as a single entry which can then be expanded in the same as Albums to songs. There is also a nice fuzzy logic behind it that when I synchronised only two episodes of another show it kept them split rather than require me to make extra taps to get at them.

ipodvideo.jpg

Picture quality wise I was impressed, I’m still experimenting with Nero Recode and Vision to get the best size to quality ratio but the video are clear with no obvious blur on fast moving scenes. The iPod touch does seem quite particular on its videos however on a video of the finale of Six Feet Under which I encoded with no problem and plays perfectly on the PC in VLC, QuickTime, and iTunes on the iPod though about half way through the video the picture breaks up for a few seconds then the sound drops and it exits back to the Videos menu, I can skip past that point and the remaining video plays fine.

Photos
I’ve seen the videos of people using this however I have yet to synchronise any images to the iPod, I need all the space I can get!

iTunes
This is probably the feature that will bankrupt me and have Steve Jobs laughing all the way to the bank! I’ve bought music previously from iTunes but I have an issue with it in that my car has an MP3-CD player so I can burn a hundred plus tracks on to a CD in MP3 format and listen to them, the stereo obviously does not support DRM protected iTunes music so I have to then burn it to a CD-RW and rip it back which is a right pain. It is so convenient to sit in bed browsing the iTunes stores over Wi-Fi on the iPod, I believe that in the 10 days I’ve had it the “Purchased on Jonathan’s iPod” section in iTunes now has more music in it than the “Purchased [on iTunes]” section! As far as I can see all the music from the desktop iTunes is available on the mobile version and it’s extremely easy to browse.

The main options are the Featured section which includes the latest releases, what’s hot, and specific genres. The Top Ten section lists are pretty addictive, there is one for all of iTunes but the rest are split in to their Genres making it easy to browse for things you are actually interested in beyond all the big names. The third option is search and lets you search for anything an auto suggestion list shows up below the search or you can force search to return a more detailed list.

You can preview a track in the same was as you can on desktop iTunes and if you wish to buy just tap the price you will be asked to confirm then it asks you to provide your iTunes password, once that is complete the track or album moves to your downloads section. When you reconnect the iPod to the desktop iTunes automatically transfers the track back to the desktop.

Mobile iTunes does offer iTunes+ which is the DRMless version of music which although better quality it is slightly more expensive as you have to pay 99p rather than 79p. Irritating is the lack of Video and Podcasts both of which I regularly view on the desktop.

Pros & Cons

To sum up the pros & cons of the iPod touch:

Pros

  • The Screen  – Excellent quality and size
  • Wi-Fi – This really opens possibilities for the iPod
  • Safari – Excellent web browser fast and easy to use
  • iTunes mobile – Easy and addictive to use
  • iTunes+ – DRMless tracks are very handy
  • Contacts – Good design makes it easy to view and edit entries
  • Video – Thanks to the big screen videos can look great
  • OSX – If Apple ever release 3rd party software for it or using hacks to load software
  • Multi-touch – Simple to use and no tacky membrane to tear or mess up
  • RSS Feeds – It would have been easy to quietly drop this but the extra feature is appreciated
  • Size – Smaller than any of my PDAs and can easily be slipped in a pocket

Cons

  • Limited video support – MP4 only, would have been nice for DivX or XviD
  • Calendar – Essentially useless without the ability to add, edit or delete
  • YouTube – Crippled by YouTube’s failure to offer all videos in MP4 format
  • OSX – Ultra locked down to prevent useful 3rd party software
  • Lack of hardware buttons – Would a volume up and down button have been too much?
  • Aluminium back plate – Apple stop this! It looks awful after a few weeks, use brushed aluminium instead
  • Podcast – Let me sync Podcasts on the go
  • No Pause/Play in Cover flow – When in cover flow mode you can’t adjust the volume or pause a track
  • No Lyrics – They took the lyrics window out! I like to occasionally sing like an idiot to my favourite tracks, now I have to look them up in Safari.
  • Bugs – Like 24hr clock when International set to UK and the automatic backlight not always adjusting plus other random glitches

Conclusions

Overall I’m very pleased with the iPod touch, the majority of the applications are well made and integrate well, there’s lots of eye candy with clever visual effects which make it feel even more well made and designed. The lack of hardware volume buttons is annoying but I’m hopeful that Apple will release an updated version of their FM remote which should ease the problem.
I also genuinely hope Apple allow some method of 3rd party software, even if it has to be bought off iTunes and approved by Apple there is so much scope with OSX and the recently hacked iPhones show what could be.
I believe my biggest concern right now is that in 6 months time Apple will announce a new iPod touch with Email, Notes and an editable Calendar, and then not release a simple update to the old ones, MS get big kudos from me for updating their first generation Zunes with the second generation software, I hope Apple follow their lead.

Source

Apple iPod touch 16 GB
Apple: www.apple.com

Price: £245

The ramblings of PR