October 22, 2007
The new Wi-Fi-enabled iPod is a "touch" disappointing.
Product: Apple iPod touch
MSRP: 8GB, $299; 16GB, $399
Cons: Not enough wireless features, sluggish menus
The long-awaited Wi-Fi-enabled iPod is finally here, but it's taken a different form from what most of us would have guessed. The iPod touch doesn't resemble a classic iPod at all, but is instead a stripped-down, slimmed-down iPhone. While having Wi-Fi on board is nice, Apple isn't breaking any new ground with the wireless features.
Like every Apple iPod before it, the iPod touch offers completely simple installation. If you store your music and videos with iTunes already, just connect the iPod touch to your computer with the included USB 2.0 cable. If your media library is bigger than the device's 8GB or 16GB capacity, you'll need to select what you want synched.
The iPod touch also powers up through the USB cable. iPods used to come with a wall charger, but that became a paid extra several generations ago.
The iPod touch is nearly identical to the iPhone, but much slimmer (4.3- by 2.4 by 0.3-inches). We wish Apple hadn't stripped quite so much away. Missing are the external volume controls that sat on the iPhone's left side, and the internal speaker. After testing the iPhone for a few weeks, we'd love to have those features here, as well.
The iPod touch is meant for video, so it's all screen. The 3.5-inch diagonal widescreen is great for watching videos on the go, for browsing through album art, or for showing off your digital photos. Most of the controls are on the touch screen itself. The only physical controls are the Power button on the top and the Home button below the screen.
If you've already got an iPod case that you love using, you'll be disappointed to see that you'll need a new one for the iPod touch. It's both taller and slimmer than the previous models.
The iPod touch might wow people with big-screen video playback, but it's Wi-Fi abilities won't get any kudos. You can buy songs or albums wirelessly with the included version of iTunes, provided you have an open 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connection, but you can't share songs with other users or even synch your songs over a home Wi-Fi connection. For wireless abilities, the iPod touch trails the Microsoft Zune.
You can also surf the Internet with the iPod touch, again assuming you have a Wi-Fi connection, and browse YouTube clips with the included app. But that's where the fun ends: mail and weather apps found on the iPhone are missing here, even though they would have added some much-appreciated utility. Perhaps Apple was afraid the iPod touch would take away iPhone sales. At least the iPod touch will be able to run native third-party apps just like the iPhone, when the apps become available in February.
The iPod touch offers a different interface for selecting music than the iPods before it. Tap the Music button and you'll get a music selection interface with tabs running along the bottom of the screen. Making a selection is easy, but it's now harder to scrub through tracks or to skip ahead to a certain section of a track: the wheel on other iPods is much better suited to jogging backwards or forwards.
The iPod touch came though our performance tests with great results. Music sounded crisp and clear, and watching video was a pleasure on the large, bright screen. We boosted the Brightness controls for a brighter image, although that takes a toll on battery life. The iPod touch is rated for 22 hours of audio playback or five hours of video, and we found those numbers to be accurate. Our only performance issue was that the iPod touch was slightly sluggish when opening music menus. We had to wait a second or two for the songs to appear.
The iPod touch isn't everything a Wi-Fi aficionado could want, but it extends the iPod's usefulness in interesting new ways. If you've got a huge music library, you'll probably prefer the iPod classic, which offers an amazing 160GB for $349 and also displays video (although on a smaller screen). But, if you want to get the big picture, and shopping for songs wirelessly appeals to you, get the iPod touch. We're looking forward to the second generation, which should offer more storage and hopefully more wireless options, as well.
Troy Dreier is a regular contributor to Web Video Universe, PDA Street, Intranet Journal, and Laptop Magazine. He also writes a weekly consumer technology column, which is published in the Jersey Journal newspaper and distributed by the Newhouse News Service. His first book, CNET Do-It-Yourself Home Video Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn't Know You Could Do, was published by McGraw-Hill in August.