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Monday, September 17, 2007, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

An in-depth iPod Touch review

The iPod Touch delivers an advanced new generation of the iPod using technology developed for the iPhone. However, it's not an "iPhone without the phone," and that reality is likely to upset lots of users who want it to be. For everyone else, the new Touch is an amazingly thin and sexy new media playing, web browsing, photo viewing, widescreen, multi-touch member of the iPod family that simply changes the game in handheld media players.

Physical Features

As presented in the iPod Touch unpacking tour and first look photos, the Touch is only 8mm deep, just 60 percent of the thickness of the iPhone, and only a scant 1.5mm thicker than the new iPod Nano. It is the same width as the iPhone, but slightly shorter: 110mm tall rather than 115mm. That makes it still a bit taller than the standard iPod Classic, which is 103.5mm tall, but gives the Touch an outline and form factor that feels slightly closer to an iPod than the iPhone.

The overall body shape is different too. Like other iPods, the Touch has a flat face and a rounded, polished stainless steel back. In contrast, the iPhone has a round beveled edge on both the front and the back. That results in the iPhone's screen being tightly framed on either side by a curved chrome rim, and gives it an aerodynamic profile coming and going. The Touch has a nearly flat metal face plate on the front, giving it a sharper edge.

Apple iPod touch


Apple iPod touch


The Touch has the same sized display, but lacks the iPhone's chrome or a similarly rounded replacement; instead, its metal face creates a 2.5mm black anodized metal rim surrounding an identically wide matte frame around the screen, under the glass face. Combined, the two make a roughly 5mm dark frame around the screen, creating an optical allusion that suggests that the Touch's screen is slightly smaller than the iPhone's, but that its case is wider. It also appears that the screen is floating deeper under the glass than with the iPhone.

In reality the screens are identical in size, although Apple says the Touch uses a 163 pixel per inch display, while the iPhone uses a 160 pixels per inch model. The difference isn't visible; both screens deliver an identical screen resolution of 480 x 320.

Apple iPod touch


Compared next to each other, the Touch seemed to have a slightly bluer cast over the neutral grey background areas, but photos and videos I examined in still frames and in motion appeared identical, and I could not see any noticeable difference in color accuracy, brightness, or contrast. The background difference I noticed on the Touch could be related to the fact that it uses a revised version of OS X (as noted in more detail below), but could also be related to the dark, wide mask surrounding the screen. Identical objects against different backgrounds can appear not to match; when I masked off the screen with white paper, I could not see any difference between the two displays.

The dark margin around the Touch's screen is, if anything, less distracting than the shiny chrome of the iPhone, making it well suited as a media playback device. However, the sharper edge of its face is less comfortable to grasp in the hand, making it a good thing that it's not a phone. Included in the Touch box is a small plastic stand that holds the Touch horizontally like a digital picture frame, for casually watching movies or podcasts while at a desk. The purpose-driven, differing designs of the Touch and the iPhone indicate that a lot of thought went into the shaping of each.

Apple iPod touch


Battery

The Touch has a solid and rigid feel, with a perfectly flush fit and finish between the back cover and the face plate. As with all iPods, the battery hides behind its back cover, and taking the unit apart requires some expertise. That exacting construction is a large part of the reason why the Touch doesn't have a removable battery; if it did, it would be considerably thicker and sport a cheaper plastic lid instead. At some point in the future, this device will need a new battery. The good news is that millions of other Touch users will also need new batteries by then, and the cost of replacing it will be as marginal as today's iPods, which commonly cost $20 or less in a do it yourself kit.

The Touch battery is rated for 22 hours of audio or 5 hours of video playback. It rapidly charges to 80% in about an hour and a half, while a full charge takes about three hours. That's slightly less than the iPhone, which Apple says will playback 24 hours of audio and up to 7 hours of video, but the iPhone is also significantly thicker and has other features consuming its battery. Browsing the web over WiFi, the Touch has a realistic lifespan of about 4 to 5 hours.

Buttons and Controls

The Touch has a single home button on its chin just like the iPhone, although the button is slightly smaller and not as deeply recessed. It also has a power wake button on its top edge like the iPhone, but it's on the left edge rather than the right. That appears to be to make room for the WiFi antenna window, the black plastic corner on the back side of the Touch that allows radio signals through the otherwise all metal body.

There are no other controls on the unit; it lacks the iPhone's rocker volume control and its silence switch, which it doesn't need because there is no real external speaker. It only has a piezo speaker for making simple beeps; any audio playback requires headphones. Also unlike the iPhone, there is also no mic, no camera, and obviously no GSM card slot.

The headphone jack is at the bottom end of the Touch, just like the Nano, next to its standard iPod dock connector. It doesn't have the iPhone's deeply recessed headphone plug, so it works with any standard aftermarket headphones. While it can play audio through the iPhone's headphones, there are only three conductors on the Touch headphone jack, so it can't support the click-to-skip button or the mic. It also can't support the four pin AV output cables designed for earlier video-capable iPods. That means any support for a mic input or video output has to use the dock connector.

The Touch also lacks the somewhat clumsier remote control cable of earlier iPods. Without the iPhone's integrated click-to-skip button, this means there's no easy way to jump to the next song or pause playback without directly interacting with its face. Users looking for an iPod that plays from a pocket might prefer the small Nano or large capacity Classic; the Touch is really designed to interact with, making it much better at video and interactive information browsing but not as exceptional as a hidden away MP3 player. No remote control is a significant missing feature.

On page 2:The Touch is Not an iPhone; Video Output Differences; and New Touch Software.