Monday, September 17, 2007, 08:00 am
An in-depth iPod Touch review
Safari, YouTube, and Photos
Apart from the new debug option, Safari on the Touch is identical to the iPhone. It syncs over desktop bookmarks via iTunes, allows you to load multiple pages at once, and zooms in and out of web pages with the touch of a finger. The only thing more impressive about the Touch is that the web browser is in a device 60% thinner than the iPhone. Of course, the other limitation is that pages only load in the shadow of a WiFi hotspot; on the iPhone, you can use the slower EDGE nearly everywhere.
Safari can also be used to play live audio and video podcasts that are published according to the standard iPod file formats. Simply search Google for podcast URLs, and Safari will use Apple's servers to parse the RSS feed and present a listing of content you can listen to directly from the web, anywhere you have WiFi access.
The custom Google YouTube client is similarly identical between the Touch and the iPhone, apart from lacking the iPhone's button to share a clip, which emails a URL. It's easy to browse through and play videos, although once again it only works when a WiFi network is within range. The iPhone can download lower quality versions of YouTube videos over EDGE at reasonably decent speeds, although it is far more enjoyable to watch them over a much faster WiFi connection.
The Photo features of the Touch are identical to the iPhone, apart from the fact that you can't take photos, mail them to others, or send them to a .Mac Web Gallery. Photos copied onto the Touch can only be viewed in the elegant multi-touch, flick to browse, pinch to zoom, flip to landscape photo browser, or set as wallpaper. Oddly enough, while you can create a Contact and assign them a picture from your photos, you can't assign the photo from within the Photos application, as you can on the iPhone.
Calendar and Contacts
As noted earlier, the Touch's Calendar is identical to the iPhone's apart from the critical problem of not being able to enter new events. This is a real black eye for the Touch, because it will appeal to a lot of users who already have a mobile phone, and want to use the Touch as their Mac-friendly accessory for everything else. There is also a significant international audience interested in the Touch as a way to get as much of the iPhone as they currently can.
Any premise that the iPod 'can't enter calendar events because it is only an iPod and was never designed to be a PDA' is weakened by the fact that it has the full Contacts application, and can enter and edit contacts identically to the iPhone. At the same time, at least the Calendar is there; there is no provision for Notes at all, which is a bit odd as iPods have had the special notes feature since the third generation iPods. It may be that the Touch inherits a revised Notes after the release of Leopard, but the conspicuous lack of Calendar events does not hold great promise.
Clock and Alarm Sounds
Another app carried over from the iPhone is the Clock, which provides a multi-time zone World Clock display. As with the iPhone, it displays four user-defined clocks on the screen, or an unlimited number of clocks that can be flicked though as a listing. It also has an Alarm, Stopwatch, and Timer function. The only real difference over the iPhone is that the Touch only provides a half dozen very simple beeping sounds to use as alarms, as opposed to the two dozen realistic sound effects the iPhone provides.
The reason for the limited selection of sounds is that the iPhone has a real speaker with adequate sound output, while the Touch only has a a little piezo speaker that can only reproduce simple click-like beeps like a Palm Pilot. That difference is noticeable from the first time you unlock the Touch, as it outputs a weak little chirp rather than the iPhone's more substantial snap sound. When put to sleep, the iPhone similarly plays a shutter snap sound, while the Touch again just chirps. When plugged into a dock, the iPhone emits a synthetic, futuristic glink sound, while the Touch only plays a simple trio of tones.
While the iPhone offers support for new ringtones within iTunes, the Touch does not. There's no reason or need to copy over ringtones, and the speaker can't play special alarm sounds anyway. The music label's egregious contract on iTunes' ringtones stipulates they only be used on the iPhone, and only to announce calls.
The Calculator is similarly identical to the iPhone's apart from having a slightly different icon. It is also identical in features to the Dashboard calculator in Mac OS X. One of the most common requests among iPhone software feature improvements I hear from readers involves expanded calculator features, whether the user is asking for a financial calculator, a programable math function calculator, or a utility to convert measurements.
Apple could really add some welcome sophistication to the Touch and the iPhone by including or at least offering a calculator that does more than fourth grade math. This is particularly puzzling given that Apple bundles Grapher, a sophisticated 3-D graphing calculator, in Mac OS X.
Music and Videos
Sitting in the dock in place of the iPhone's Phone and Mail are new icons for Music and Videos. On the iPhone, both functions sit behind "iPod." On the Touch, Music is identical to the iPhone's iPod link, apart from the fact that there's no way to bring up Videos. Even when using the Edit button to customize menus, there's no way to restore a link to Videos. Similarly, on the Touch there are no shortcuts to play music from the Videos menu.
Having Music and Videos as separate apps actually makes more sense, unless you've already gotten used to going through the iPod icon to get to those functions. Once you begin playing music or videos, the experience is identical to the iPhone. Music plays songs against their album art, and when turned horizontally it automatically goes into widescreen Coverflow mode. Videos play in landscape orientation only, with a button to shift between widescreen and fullscreen playback.
I found the sound quality to be very good, and the volume went well beyond what earbuds can deliver before distorting. At 80%, the output was painfully loud. A top limit on volume can be set and locked under Settings/Music, along with the sound check for balancing out volume between songs and the familiar equalizer settings from the iPhone. It doesn't have the new EQ graphics of the new Nano and Classic.
The Touch has no external speakers for sound, so it only works with headphones. I find the iPhone useful as a desktop music player when I don't feel like wearing headphones, but its external speakers are only of fair quality, so the absence of any speakers on the Touch isn't a real strike against it. Anyone who wants to use it for desktop music playback has a variety of good quality iPod speaker docks to choose from.
On page 4:Apple's new WiFi iTunes Store.
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