iPod touch (32GB) review

While the touch is the most striking iPod in Apple’s range – and with its internet functions it’s the most progressive too – it initially came with some disappointments.

Thankfully, Apple is starting to address the complaints. Firstly, capacity. The release of the 32GB version shuts up the people who think Flash-based iPods are only for kids and joggers. It’s pricey, but put it this way – until the classic came along, 30GB was pretty big for an iPod – and the touch offers a lot more than just music and movie playback.

Which leads us to the other main complaint with the original iPod touch. It had the same interface as the iPhone and appeared to use the same technology, but its features fell rather short of the iPhone’s. Apple’s made steps to sort this out now, too.

A recent update to the iPod touch has added virtually all the functionality from the iPhone. The touch now offers Mail, Google Maps, Weather and Stock Reports, Notes and full Calendar functionality. And, of course, it’s an iPod, so let’s not forget that it also plays music and video. All new iPod touch units come with the extra applications installed. Annoyingly, people who snapped up an iPod touch before the new applications were launched in February will have to pay £12.99 via iTunes to get the new apps and functionality.

Aside from the applications and feature-set, it is the much-touted ‘multi-touch’ interface that is the star attraction. Ditching the scroll wheel that became the iPod’s defining feature, the device sports two buttons, a lock/unlock button at the top and a home button at the bottom of the screen. The Accelerometer that gauges whether it is being held vertically or horizontally is also present and adjusts the screen accordingly.

You use the virtual on-screen buttons to navigate the device. A new feature enables you to move around the icons on the home page and add new web-based applications. You simply hold down any button for longer than a second to make the icons jiggle around; then drag and drop the icons into their desired position. Click the ‘X’ button that appears alongside an icon to remove it.

Apple plans to make third-party applications available for purchase and download from the iTunes Store later this year, so soon there’ll be even more ideas added to the iPod touch’s functionality. It really is a little hub with a load of information customised and presented just for you.

Touched by greatness
Selecting the Music option brings up a list which you can scroll up or down with a flick of the finger. This is possibly the most elegant aspect of the iPod touch, the way in which scrolling through music is fluid and natural, coming to a slow halt rather than stopping abruptly. To the right of each list (of songs, artists, albums etc) sits the entire alphabet, enabling you to skip straight to items in that area. Selecting sub-menu items brings up a back-arrow in the top left, while in the top right sits the ‘Now Playing’ icon.

Of course, all of this assumes that you’re holding the iPod touch vertically; flip it on its side and you’ll instantly enter Cover Flow mode, which shows all of your album covers. Select one to flip it round and see the track listing.

The interface is stunning – it’s not as intuitive as the original iPod click-wheel model. It certainly takes more explaining to a newcomer than the classic clickwheel.

There are also other niggles, such as the slider used in songs and videos, which lacks the accuracy of the scroll wheel. But once you get the hang of it, it’s easier to find and select songs than before.

The video aspect of the iPod touch is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The screen is large and the 480 x 320 display (163ppi) is crisp and clear. Playback is smooth and syncing through iTunes simple.

Now that Apple has teamed up with the BBC to offer video clips for sale in the UK, the iPod touch’s widescreen display may well come into its own. It’s certainly the first time that an iPod has had a screen large enough to make watching videos on the move more than just a novelty.

On the iPod 5G this wasn’t really an issue (mostly because the screen was so small that video playback remained, for most people, a little-used novelty). Users of the iPod touch may soon find themselves in the shady world of downloading BitTorrents, converting DivX videos into Apple’s H-264 format and ripping DVDs with HandBrake (http://handbrake.m0k.org) to MPEGs (again, playable with the iPod touch). Apple could make all of this a lot easier by including DivX playback (through the XviD CODEC now used in QuickTime), but seems to be holding out – we presume because of pressure from the film and television industry. It makes sense to get a recording device, such as one of Elgato’s EyeTV range.

WiFi wonder
After the widescreen video and multi-touch interface, the big news with the iPod touch is the addition of WiFi. Unlike Microsoft’s Zune, which uses WiFi to sync with your computer and share music with other Zune owners, the WiFi on the iPod touch has more innovative uses: Safari web browsing, Mail access, Google Maps, and Stock and Weather reports, YouTube playback, and access to the iTunes Store so you can purchase music on the move.

Having the full Safari web browser on your iPod is possibly the most exciting and – as it turns out, useful – function of the iPod touch. Ostensibly the Safari browser has been placed on the device to enable you to log on to password-protected services such as The Cloud, T-Mobile, and the wide variety of hotel-based WiFi zones that use a web page interface to log on. Thus enabling you to access the iTunes Store and YouTube when away from your home WiFi network. When you’re at home, incidentally, logging on really couldn’t be easier – it works in a very similar way to AirPort on the Mac.

Words can’t really convey how much better Safari is on the iPod touch (or iPhone) than on any other mobile device we’ve ever seen. You can pinch two fingers to zoom in or out, and double-tap to zoom into a page element (such as a picture or area of text). Text entry for URLs or text entry boxes is via the same keyboard that comes up on the iPhone, and there’s also an excellent touch for drop-down menus – these now appear as larger separate menus that you can scroll through in much the same was as you do for music.

Broken link
There are also a number of fantastic website applications, such as Facebook and live BBC podcasts, that work through Safari when you’re online.

However, Safari on the iPod touch isn’t the full-on experience that Apple would have you believe. The browser doesn’t possess Flash, so you can rule out watching video embedded in sites. It also struggles with some of the more advanced web 2.0 sites.

While the Safari mobile web browser hasn’t descended from the heavens to be the complete web experience we are all praying for, it remains the best mobile web experience there is. And not having to pay £35 per month for it on the iPhone makes the iPod touch a particularly compelling purchase.

The new Mail application is a fantastic addition to the iPod touch. Like the iPhone it is a breeze to set up Gmail, .Mac and other email accounts and enables you to check and send emails using the iPhone’s much touted intelligent keyboard. It always seemed odd to us that Apple didn’t include this from the start, and was the only real block to us from outright recommending the iPod touch.

It is a shame, however, that Apple is charging £12.99 for older iPod touch owners to upgrade to the new applications. Google Maps is a great addition, but it works much better on the iPhone thanks to its ‘always on’ network access.

Touching tunes
The most awkward aspect of the touch is when you stop watching videos or using the internet and start using it as a music player. Despite the superb audio quality and the touch screen ‘wow factor’, the iPod touch requires more of your attention than the old iPod, and it’s trickier to use when you’re on the move.

There’s really no way to use this music player one-handed, and doing quick selections (different track, volume adjust) involves removing the player from your pocket, clicking the unlock button, moving the slider to actually unlock the screen, and making the selection (which itself can be one or more clicks and slides depending on what you want to do).

Add to this the fact that several times we didn’t really want to get the iPod touch out in public for fear of attracting too much attention and it is fair to say it is crying out for a remote control on the earphones.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re looking at the iPod touch as an either/or decision with the iPhone, at £199 for the 8GB model, the iPod touch is perhaps the better choice. Certainly with the iPhone lacking that all-important 3G functionality, it may be wise to go for an iPod touch now, and wait for the second generation of iPhone. Now that the iPod touch has the applications from the iPhone, it comes heartily recommended.

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