Steve Jobs calls the second-gen iPod Touch "the funnest iPod ever". While we're not keen on his phrasing, we would have to agree with the sentiment. With its reduced price (AU$329 for 8GB; AU$419 for 16GB; AU$549 for 32GB), smoother contours and a surprise speaker, the new Touch is a cheaper, more cheerful version of its already sleek precursor.
Looking at the first-gen Touch, it doesn't seem like it would be possible to increase its chic factor. But place it next to the new version and the original suddenly looks a little tired. The second Touch has the same footprint as its predecessor, but a few subtle design tweaks make it feel a lot slighter in the hand. The main change is that the Touch has softened up a bit, its edges transforming into iPhone-esque rounded contours. This makes the player feel a lot more comfortable to hold, but can also make it slightly slippery when it comes to navigating lists one-handed.
The other notable design change is the addition of dedicated volume keys on the left side of the Touch. Black and unlabelled, the dual button is a larger version of the on/off key that sits on the top edge. It's unobtrusive but easy to find when the player is in a pocket, making it easier to ward off hearing damage if a song in your playlist suddenly assaults your ears.
Then there are the minor, cosmetic alterations: the Wi-Fi antenna is now shaped like an ellipse rather than occupying a corner chunk, and the headphone port is partially recessed — but unlike the original iPhone, it will accept the contours of non-Apple headphone plugs.
Apart from the aforementioned, the Touch retains its original design, including its lush 3.5-inch (8.9-centimetre), 320x480-pixel widescreen display. The circular home key beneath the screen is as unassuming as ever, and the dock and headphone sockets are in the same place. Basically, it's the Touch as you know it, but with softer edges.
Crammed beneath all the polished stainless steel and brushed glass is Apple's iPhone 2.1 software, which plonks an App Store onto the player and adds iTunes 8's Genius playlist creation. (The new software is also available to first-gen Touch owners through the iTunes Store at a cost of AU$12.99.)
The home display of the original Touch looked like it was missing a certain something: with only 11 menu icons lined up on the screen, there was a lot of black space to contend with. It's a different story with the Touch Mark II, which fills the void with the App Store, Email, Maps, Mail, Stocks, Weather and Notes. Icons can be rearranged by dragging them with your finger, and you can swap out the ones in the quick-launch section at the bottom. This is a welcome level of customisation from Apple, which tends to rank low in the personalisation stakes when it comes to MP3 players. (Compare recent offerings from Samsung and Creative, which allow you to change fonts, alter display colours and apply menu themes.)
Curiously, it's still impossible to enable disk use on the iPod Touch. This means that files can't be dragged and dropped to the player within Finder on a Mac or Windows Explorer on a PC. In a world where USB keys are sold at the post office for a few bucks each this might not seem like a big deal, but the storage feature has long been available on Classics and Nanos. What makes the Touch so special? The cynical among us would suggest that it's a ploy to get users to sign up for data storage via Apple's AU$119 MobileMe service.