Monday, September 17, 2007, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)
An in-depth iPod Touch review
The Touch is Not an iPhone
With the subtle differences in styling, Apple appears to be saying that the Touch is not an iPhone, it's an iPod. Users who expect the Touch to be an iPhone without the mobile features will be upset about a number of other limitations of the Touch.
Missing in comparison to the iPhone is internal support for Bluetooth. It may be technically possible to add Bluetooth support via the dock connector, but the lack of built in support means that it won't be as easy to use Bluetooth stereo headphones when they become available, or sync data over Bluetooth, or use a Bluetooth keyboard. Of course, you can't do any of those things with the iPhone yet either, but the potential is there. It's not on the Touch without adding a dongle.
The Touch also lacks some of the iPhone's software. Obviously there's no Phone apps or SMS, but its curious that there is also no Google Maps, no Stocks and Weather, and no Notes. None of these apps are really phone oriented, as they are most useful over WiFi. Using Google Maps over EDGE on the iPhone is possible, but its a lot more desirable over WiFi. It's not at all possible on the Touch.
Instead, the Touch is presented solely as an iPod. There's no Mail, which would be slightly less useful without an always-on data connection, but Safari isn't much use without a WiFi hotspot either. Without Mail or SMS, it might seem that Apple should have at least put an iChat client on it. The marketing message is clear however: the Touch isn't a mobile messaging tool, it's an iPod for watching videos and playing music.
It's also clearly not a PDA. Even so, the Touch — which splits out Contacts as a standalone app; on the iPhone it hides within the Phone section — does allow you to enter new contacts. However, it doesn't present a way to enter Calendar items, only offering a read-only view of what was synced over from your computer. This is going to upset a lot of people who feel there really isn't any acceptable reason to hamstring the Calendar app, even if the Touch is not marketed as a PDA.
Clearly, Apple is trying to differentiate the Touch from the iPhone. The company claims users have never been able to enter calendar items on the iPod, so they wouldn't expect to on the Touch. Well, they've never had a touchscreen keyboard on the iPod either, and that's the main reason why the iPod's calendar features have languished; it's simply not practical to enter calendar items with a click-wheel.
While this review intends to compare the Touch against its advertised features and not just compare it to the iPhone, users will; Apple really needs to address this because a read-only calendar isn't a great product differentiation. It's like buying a computer and finding that it is not only offered as different hardware models, but that it is also artificially segregated into different levels of software features, so you can't join a network or have media center features without buying the right edition of software. Apple should take note of the fact that Microsoft's strategy with Windows Vista isn't pleasing customers.
Video Output Differences
Conversely, the Touch does a few things that the iPhone does not yet do, despite having the hardware. The most obvious is video output to a TV. The new Touch includes a similar style of video output features as the Nano and Classic with an important difference.
While previous video-enabled iPods offered composite video output from a video iPod Dock or via an "iPod AV Cable" that plugged into the headphone jack, the new Classic, Nano, and the Touch now use a new set of dock connector cables that support either composite video or new component video for use with a HDTV or modern standard definition TV. Component video delivers a higher quality picture.
All the new iPods now lack any option to output video from the headphone jack. Instead, Apple sells both composite cables for use with all video-capable iPods and component cables that only work with the new Classic, Nano, and Touch. Both cables plug into the iPods using a dock connector. They also come with a USB wall power adapter and cost $50. Apple also sells a $50 "Apple Universal Dock," which provides an IR remote control. It requires one of the above cables to plug into a TV or HDTV set.
The new iPod models may not work with some third party devices that extract video from the Dock connector. However, the Touch differs from the revised new Nano and Classic in that it will only work with the new dock connector type cables, using any dock; only the Nano and Classic iPods still work with the previous "iPod Universal Dock" when used with the headphone jack to composite video "iPod AV Cable" designed for the previous video-capable iPods.
In other words, the Nano and Classic work with any video output cables as long as a dock is involved; the Touch will only work with the newer dock connector cables, whether a dock is used or not. Specifically, the Touch does not work with the headphone "iPod AV Cable," even if a dock is used.
Apple hasn't yet begun selling the new dock-connector type video output cables, so I was unable to test the video output features of the Touch. It is important to note that the existing Apple iPod AV Connection Kit does not work with the Touch. When the new cables are made available, I'll review its video output features and compare them to the other iPods; note that all iPods, including the Nano and Classic, continue to work with the iPod AV Cable as long as a dock of some kind is used.
New Touch Software
There are also a variety of subtle software differences that distinguish the Touch from the iPhone, software wise. It runs a new system software version, OS X 1.1, that's not yet available for the iPhone, which as of this writing, still runs 1.0.2. There are a variety of enhancements in the new system. Among them:
A setting in Settings/Keyboard to type a period shortcut by double tapping the spacebar, and a method for choosing one of a dozen different localized keyboards.
A setting in Settings/International to choose one of several languages for the UI and use different regional formats for dates, times, and phone numbers.
A setting in Settings/Video to "start playing where I left off," a way to turn on Closed Captioning, and settings to output video as NTSC or PAL and widescreen or fullscreen.
A setting in Settings/Safari to activate a developer debug console to troubleshoot web page errors.
Apple hasn't yet announced plans to activate video output functions for the iPhone, but it appears they are imminent. It has described its video cables as compatible with the iPhone in advertising. Until then, the Touch is the only OS X device able to output video like the earlier iPods.
Closed caption support is new, and also recently appeared as a setting on the new Nano and Classic. It appears Apple will be adding support for captions to iTunes downloads soon; there is currently none. This is a great accessibility feature for the hearing impaired, as well as a useful feature for users watching foreign language films.
The Touch also supports a new double-click feature for the home button. Its default action is to popup a translucent overlay with music playback controls for the current song. This welcomed improvement allows for skipping a song, adjusting the volume, or pausing music playback while doing something else, without having to go in and out of the music playback menus. It also offers a quick shortcut for jumping to the Music section.
Another new software difference in the Touch is its new dock, which looks a lot like the one depicted in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. While the iPhone has four icons sitting in a light grey gradient band of a dock that fully surrounds the icons, the new Touch has a more subtle, Leopard-like dock that appears to be a lighly frosted sheet of glass indirectly illuminated and tilted at an angle. The dock icons even cast reflections onto it.
On page 3:Safari, YouTube, and Photos; Calendar and Contacts; Clock and Alarm Sounds; Calculator; and Music and Videos.
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