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Review: Apple's second-generation iPod touch

The 2008 iPod touch inches closer to the iPhone line while retaining its iPod branding. It gets new audio input and recording features, volume controls, a speaker, and a full assortment of bundled apps, including Nike+ support.

Missing features on the first generation touch

When the iPod touch debuted last year, we warned that it wasn't really the "iPhone without the phone" that many assumed it would be. Apple seemed to be too wary of creating any product confusion between its new iPhone and the existing iPod line, and made a series of compromises on the touch intended to create artificial differentiation.

The original iPod touch, like all previous iPods but unlike the iPhone, lacked an audio output speaker and subsequently also had no volume rocker buttons or a silent switch. Instead, it just provided a simple piezo speaker capable of only making simple beeps. It also lacked the iPhone's fourth conductor on its headphone jack, making it unable to work with the iPhone's mic-integrated headphones for both audio recording and the play, pause, and 'click to skip' remote control features.

The first generation iPod touch also lacked the iPhone's Mail app, and provided a read-only Calendar. It also lacked Google Maps, Stocks and Weather, and Notes. Apple addressed these missing software features in a $20 package of apps that it offered months afterward, and later bundled the apps on all new iPod touch units.

Apple also differentiated the iPod touch from the iPhone by changing the home screen dock to appear more like the Mac OS X Leopard dock, complete with reflections (below: first generation iPhone and iPod touch). Those differentiations were later removed and the touch is now identical to the iPhone.

iPod touch

The second generation touch feature rundown

The new second generation 2008 version of the touch not only leaves the software gaps filled, but also rounds out the missing hardware features. There's still a few differences; the new touch lacks a camera, GPS, and of course has no mobile data network features. In other areas however, the touch catches up to the iPhone and even ups the ante with a few new tricks up its sleeve.

From the front, the iPhone 3G and new iPod touch appear virtually identical, as this comparison between the touch and the thicker and slightly longer white iPhone 3G indicates (below).

iPod touch

Audio output

The loudest change on the touch is its new integrated speaker. While it doesn't deliver great sound, the new speaker is serviceable for listening to music and decent for listening to podcasts in a reasonably quiet environment. It also enables the touch to play the same alarm and alert sounds as the iPhone, rather than just the simple beeps of the original touch.

Unlike the iPhone's speakerphone, the new touch lack any obvious hole for the external speaker (below), so sound appears to be coming out through its metal back. While the iPhone 3G can be nearly silenced by placing a finger over its speakerphone hole, the volume on the new iPod touch barely even gets any softer if you cover the dock connector and headphone jacks with your hand.

iPod touch

The sound output appears to be a bit of a mystery: it seems to radiate out the metal back, and certainly can't come through the solid glass front. Its speaker sounds tinnier and less pleasant than the one in the iPhone 3G, although it is about as loud. This may be because audio has to rattle past the metal back and (apparently) through the dock connector rather than being directed through a ported speaker opening as on the iPhone.

The new touch also lacks the iPhone's earpiece speaker and integrated mic, as it isn't intended to be used next your your face. For the same reason, it also lacks a proximity detector, so the screen won't turn off if you slap it upside your head. The touch also lacks the iPhone's silent switch, but does include a volume rocker switch (below).

iPod touch

Audio input

While it lacks the iPhone's integrated mic next to the dock connector, the new touch now supports audio input via the headphone jack using the same four conductor headphone port as the iPhone. However, the software for audio recording apparently isn't finished yet.

Apple lists the second generation touch as being compatible with the two new sets of mic-enabled headphones due next month, but unlike the 4G nano or 120GB classic, the touch lacks the ability to record audio presently, even with the iPhone's mic/headphones, because there is no software support for it on the touch yet.

Once Apple ships the headphones, the new touch will require a software update. Most likely, the headphones aren't ready because of the software still being unfinished rather than the other way around. Note that earlier iPods, including the first iPod touch and the 2007 3G nano and classic, will never work with mic-enabled headphones because they lack the fourth conductor mic support on their headphone jacks.

Apple hasn't said anything about not releasing audio recording software for the iPhone at the same time, and it would be monstrously stupid if if Apple arbitrarily chose not to offer that.

On page 2 of 3: Battery Life; Bluetooth; Display; iPhone Design; Physical features; and Nike+