There’s one thing as right as summer rain: once a year, Apple revises its line of iPods. They gain new formats, colors and features that become the stuff of dreams of thousands of gadgets aficionados like us. Among the new faces presented by Apple in early September there is the new 2nd generation iPod Touch with its sleek design and touch-sensitive interface. Playing music is just one of its features – and one of the less important ones, actually – since it doubles as a PDA, being able to browse the web, check e-mails, play games and watch videos and photos. Let’s review all these capabilities and see what’s different from the first generation.
Figure 1: The iPod Touch (2nd generation).
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The new iPod Touch is even slimmer than last year’s and comes in three different models: with 8, 16 or 32 GB memory capacity. There is a tiny loudspeaker and also outside volume controls, so you don’t have to access the touch-based interface to operate this simple feature (which is good since the interface gets frozen after a few minutes of not being used). The speaker is just as bad as your grandfather’s pocket radio but at least now you can use the iPod as an alarm clock without having to sleep with your earbuds stuck in. The corners are rounded to give it an iPhone 3G feel but, unlike its phone-capable big cousin, there’s no cheap plastic backplate to keep the final price down. The iTouch kept the sleek steel chrome backplate from the earlier model, as well as the same screen size (3,5 inches).
Figure 3: The loudspeaker and on/off control.
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Everything is operated through the touch-sensitive interface, with the exception of a set of three physical buttons: the afore-mentioned volume control; an on-off button, and the Home button that defaults to the opening interface. On the screen you can find icons for the Safari web browser, calendar, e-mail, contacts, YouTube, stock market, maps, clock, calculator, notes, settings, Apple Store, and, finally, music, videos, photos and iTunes, Apple’s proprietary iPod management software. We’ll talk about it later. The user can change the order of the icons or even include and delete some of them.
Being able to surf the web and check e-mails is the iPod Touch’s great selling point. It requires an open WiFi network, of course. Configuring it for home use was a breeze: the iTouch immediately detected our WiFi network and it was a simple matter of typing our password to be connected. Once it’s done every time we turned it on at home it got connected with no fuss. Being e-mail addicts as we are we found it useful to check our inbox as soon as we step in at home, prior to turning on our too-long-to-boot desktop. Outside it depends on WiFi hotspots. We checked our e-mails upon entering a mall that offered free WiFi on its food court, for instance. But here’s a precious tip to save battery juice: turn off the WiFi feature if you just want to listen to music or watch videos.
Rotate your iPod Touch to get a widescreen image of videos and web pages. That way you get an almost similar experience to your LCD monitor at home. The Multi-Touch interface allows the user to zoom in and out of web pages with the opening or closing of fingers over the screen. That way you can read the tiny texts and hit the correct links. Hitting something correctly, by the way, is an issue with the iPod Touch. The virtual QWERTY keyboard takes time and patience to be mastered since hitting the wrong key is a frequent mistake due to the close proximity of the virtual keys. At least there’s a “.com” button to speed the typing. The iTouch supports an autocomplete word feature supported by several dictionaries in different languages.
Figure 4: Hardware Secrets website.
Other features such as maps, weather, stock market and YouTube also require a WiFi network connection available. The maps are powered by Google Maps and, although it’s not an actual GPS, it theoretically can locate the user by triangulating nearby WiFi spots. We tried several times to do that but apparently our home network wasn’t enough to locate us. Still we were able to get a quick route suggestion from our place to the nearby sports stadium.
Talk to a layman. Talk to hardcore users. Talk to programmers. It’s a consensus: iTunes is one of the worst programs ever made. It’s a juggernaut, a resources-consuming and unfriendly application – the complaints can run several articles. But, unfortunately, you need it to run an iPod (ok, there are some alternatives on the web, but they’re usually bugged and are not accepted by the new models… yet). We almost quit buying the new iPod Touch just for fearing to go down the iTunes road again. Of course we left that thought behind us but still got a headache from running iTunes.
For starters there is no support for our version of Windows XP – we run the 64-bit XP. There’s no version of iTunes 8.0, the new release needed to run the next generation of iPods, for our OS. Apple even hides the 64-bit iTunes 8.0 meant to run on 64-bit Vista – and no matter how much computer wizardry we applied to it, there was no way for that version to run on 64-bit Windows XP. After wasting a whole afternoon trying some harebrained solution, we just gave up and installed the software on our laptop that runs on 32-bit Windows XP. Since your notebook has only 512 Mb of RAM (it’s primarily a web-browsing, typewriting, e-mail checking machine for quick travels) the poor thing now faces an uphill battle just to open iTunes.
Then we faced the usual problems: disorderly navigation and willful synchronism of files. At first, iTunes filled up our iPod with all the music files available although we had hit the “manual synchronism” button. After deleting all of them, we started from scratch. The sneaky son of a gun did it again when we were transferring photos to the iPod even tough we had selected a particular folder (“NY trip”). Video files, especially those downloaded in the .avi format, need to be converted to MP4 (a video format for mobile devices) prior to being transferred to the iPod. We used DVDVideoSoft Free Studio that you can get here. It’s easy to operate and has low, medium and high quality video settings. Then we used iTunes (oh, boy…) to transfer the converted videos so we could enjoy a personal cable TV while traveling by subway.
Figure 6: Video playing on the iPod Touch.
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You have to be careful about battery drainage – always an issue for the iPod family. Apple says the battery can provide for 36 hours of continuous music play or 6 hours of video playback, but they usually are, shall we say, very generous about its performance. In our first week of analysis, we rode the subway watching like an hour and a half of video, played music all the time, and spent hours browsing, checking e-mail and testing its features – keeping the WiFi option always on. Overall we used half of the battery time before we attempted a new synchronization that quick-charged the iPod. Oh, by the way, as with all recent iPods, there’s no separate charging unit provided – the synchronization cable also recharges the iPod through a computer USB port. If you want to connect it to a wall socket you have to buy a separate charger.
The iPod Touch also doubles as a portable videogame. It uses the Multi-Touch interface to give players precise, fingertip control over game elements like chess pieces and cards. Even multiplatform titles like the recent The Force Unleashed have been released for the iPod. So the device goes a long way from the mere music player of the first iPods to being a multimedia gadget and PDA all bundled in a single product. It’s good for listening to music, watching videos, browsing the web and sending e-mails, while the user enjoys its easy and charming touch interface. It’s a killer product.
iPod Touch 2nd Generation main features are:
- Dimensions: 2.4″ x 4.3″ x 0.33″ (61 mm x 110 mm x 8.4 mm) (W x H x D)
- Weight: 4.05 oz (114.8 g)
- 3.5-inch (diagonal) widescreen Multi-Touch display
- Wi-Fi (802.11b/g)
- 8 GB, 16 GB or 32 GB memory
- Holds up to 1,750, 3,500, or 7,000 songs in 128-Kbps AAC format
- Holds up to 10,000, 20,000, or 25,000 iPod-viewable photos
- Holds up to 10 hours, 20 hours, or 40 hours of vídeo
- Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Audio formats supported: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV
- Suports MobileMe, Microsoft Exchange, Yahoo! Mail, Google Gmail, e AOL e-mail services, plus IMAP e POP servers.
- Suports 17 languages, 30 international keyboards and 19 dictionaries.
- Built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery, with up to 36 hours of music playback time or up to 6 hours of video playback time when fully charged
- More information: https://www.apple.com
- Suggested price in the US: USD 229 (8 GB); USD 299 (16 GB); USD 399 (32 GB)
- Touch-sensitive interface
- Slimmer than previous model
- WiFi internet and e-mail access
- Mobile gaming platform
- iPod sound and video playback quality
- Big widescreen monitor
- Requires iTunes
- Virtual keyboard requires time and patience
- Autocomplete feature more a hindrance than help
- Lacks a charger
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