Appletell review – iPod touch (2nd generation)

Sections: Features, iPod, iPod touch, Reviews

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ipod touch 2nd generationProduct: Music/video/game player and internet device
Developer: Apple, Inc.
Minimum Requirements: Mac or PC with USB 2.0, Mac OS X v10.4.10 or Windows Vista or XP with Service Pack 2, iTunes 8
Retail Price: $229 – 8GB; $299 – 16GB; $399 – 32GB
Availability: Out now

The most amazing thing about the iPod touch is the user interface, because, like all of Apple’s best products, it is both amazing and obvious. Well, obvious now that someone’s done it. Steve Jobs famously hates buttons on a mouse, and now he’s eliminated not only the buttons, but the mouse itself. You touch, you flick, you drag, you pinch, and the iPod doesn’t just obey, it reacts.

Drag a page past the bottom, and it will bounce back up. Long playlists of music will accelerate if you flick through them quickly. It’s hard to realize how astonishing this is until you’ve used it, because it makes the iPod feel more, well, real, like you’re not interacting with computer icons, but with actual objects within the tiny device. It’s the first handheld computer I’ve owned where the interface was fun to use. It’s easy to navigate, find what you want to do, and use the programs. Typing can be a bit cramped, especially in portrait mode, but a combination of getting familiar with where you need to tap to hit the right key, and the iPod’s text predicter, can eliminate most of the problems.

You might also be interested to know that it runs programs, too! So, how does the new iPod work as a, you know, iPod?

The new iPod “Music” interface takes some getting used to after the simplicity of the click wheel. It’s more like a version of iTunes, smooshed down, giving you everything you’re used to from an iPod—playlists, artists, songs, genres—but in a different way. I honestly miss the simple left-right, up-down interface from the older iPods; this is more of a hunt and peck style, forcing you to move your fingers, and with more delicacy, to get the song you want. One complaint I have about the Music app is that if you tilt the iPod into landscape mode, it switches to album view mode; but, it doesn’t list the albums in the playlist you’re looking at, it lists all the albums on the iPod, meaning you can very quickly jump out of the playlist by accident.

iTunes is a completely different application on the iPod, and by “iTunes” I mean “iTunes store.” You can use it to wirelessly purchase songs, applications, etc. without the need to sync to a computer at all. That’s fine, and although I personally don’t need to have instant access to “Wheel in the Sky,” it is useful for letting you know when there’s an update to an application you have installed. Click a button, and the iPod installs the new version.

Apple has, of course, moved beyond just music on the iPod. And, as a video player, you’ll get a sharp, vibrant picture on your tiny, tiny screen. You wouldn’t want to watch Lawrence of Arabia on it, but it’s good for passing the time on a bus trip. Beyond purchases from the Apple Store, you can even put your own videos on it…provided they’re formatted absolutely perfectly. It’s not just a matter of having the right extension (.mov, .mp4., .m4v), everything has to be exactly right (down to the codec used to encode it), or the iPod will reject it. You’ll almost need Quicktime 7 Pro, although I’ve had great success with the (free) Mpeg Streamclip. But even if you get video on and playing, there’s no guarantee: my iPod touch just one day refused to play a video it had no problem with before, saying the filetype wasn’t supported.

Mail is a breeze to set up and has presets for several of the major providers: Gmail, Yahoo, etc. Likewise, synching your contacts and address book (for Mac users, anyway) is a snap.

So is anything wrong with the iPod? Well, let’s start with the Photos application, which works fine, allowing you to display pictures that you’ve synched from iPhoto on one computer, and only one computer. Because while you can grab music from several Macs, backup and merge your applications, you can only put photos on your iPod touch by synching through iTunes, and if you want to grab photos from another computer (say, going from your desktop to a laptop), you have to erase all the photos already on your iPod to do so. Why be so picky about that? I have no idea.

Safari, which othewise does a great job as an on-the-go browser, is lacking support for Flash. There’s a great deal of debate on this web about how well flash has been programmed, but the simple fact of the matter is that Flash is a major piece of the web and many sites use it as part of their interface. I’m not sure why it’s missing—perhaps to encourage people to buy video rather than watch it on the web (Youtube, notably gets a workaround in their own application)—and I’m not sure how long Apple will be able to stave off the need for this.

And here’s an obvious problem: screen smudges. It’s hard to appreciate watching hi-def video on a vibrant (though small) screen when its covered with the oil from your fingers.

But these are minor complaints. Carrying the iPod touch makes you feel like you’ve got the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on your pocket. If you don’t have a wireless connection, the device can feel a bit crippled (especially once you’ve loaded it up with some of the great applications that take advantage of the internet), but then you remember that it’s not just a web interface, it’s still the best music player around.

Appletell Rating:
iPod nano 2G

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