When Apple first introduced its iPod Touch—a media player that uses the same cool touch technology as the breakthrough iPhone—I was both intrigued and disappointed. While I didn't care much for the iPhone itself, the notion of a touch-based device that focuses just on movies, music and Wi-Fi Web access called to me. What gave me pause, though, was its limited storage capacity and price. So, is it worth it? Is having access to the Web, and potentially an entire digital music collection, in a pocket-size device with a slick touch interface worth $500? I decided to test the 32-GB iPod Touch and give it a try.
If you've seen or used an iPhone, then you now know what the iPod Touch looks like. It's the same design—a simple black screen on the front, with a single button at the bottom, and chrome back. It’s a little thinner than the iPhone, and about as wide and long as a playing card. You control the iPod Touch almost exclusively with your fingers on the screen. There are just two physical buttons on the device—the one at the bottom of the screen, used to bring you back to the home screen, and another on the top edge, used to turn off the Touch completely.
The Touch's latest software lets you edit the position of the icons on the home screen, or even make additional screens filled with icons. To do this, you just press and hold on a single icon, and all of them start wiggling in place. You then use a finger to move them around. The Touch comes with new goodies, which include email, weather and stocks applets, as well as Google Maps. It connects to the Internet via a simple Wi-Fi control panel. If you're in range of a connection and the Touch's Wi-Fi radio is turned on, you’ll be prompted to connect.
At the heart of the browsing experience is Safari, Apple's browser, brought to the Touch and the iPhone from the Mac OS. It's probably the best mobile browser out there, but it has enough quirks to make it maddening at times. The application I most like on the Touch is Google Maps. It now includes a killer feature that will tell you where you are within a few hundred metres. It does this by triangulating your location by looking at the Wi-Fi signals around you. Of course, if there are no access points in your vicinity, it's useless. For playing music and movies, it's almost unsurpassed. The touch interface is wonderful for scrolling through albums, songs and artists. The audio is very good—in fact, it sounds better than my iPod, which has good sound. The screen is great for watching video, though I prefer the display on Microsoft's hard-drive-based Zune 80 for video. Overall, I think the 32-GB iPod Touch is the best media player in its class, as well as the best hand-held Web-access device. It's not, however, the best value. I'll stick to my current iPod for now.
©2008/The New York Times