The Safari Web browser found on the iPod Touch is more or less the same great browser found on the iPhone, minus a few features. For instance, when using Safari on an iPhone, street addresses, e-mail addresses, or phone numbers displayed on Web pages can instantly launch a location map, phone call, or impromptu e-mail anywhere with mobile phone reception. On the iPod Touch, however, maps and e-mail functions require Wi-Fi reception, and phone calls are obviously out of the question. Our major complaint using Safari on both the iPod Touch and iPhone is its incompatibility with Flash-based Web objects, such as embedded video players and music players.
Despite these few limitations, using Safari on a small mobile device like the iPod Touch is still fun and useful. The intelligent touch-screen keyboard and multiple browser window management are a big plus. Beginning with firmware Version 1.1.3, iPhone and iPod Touch users can now use Safari to save bookmarked Web pages as menu screen icons, providing quick access to commonly-used sites.
Both the iPod Touch and iPhone allow users to browse, preview, purchase, and download music from the new iTunes Wi-Fi music store. The store is limited strictly to music downloads--no movies, TV shows, podcasts, or games--at least, not yet. You'll have to hop onto an available Wi-Fi Internet connection to take advantage of the wireless music store, but once connected, you can search for any artist, album, or song in the iTunes catalog, as well as browse by genre, top sellers, featured artists, and new releases. Store purchases require you to enter your iTunes password as a security measure. Once the download is complete, the song is immediately available to listen to and will transfer to your computer's iTunes music library the next time you sync the device. The feature seems to work without any kinks. Even interrupted downloads pick up once a Wi-Fi connection is re-established.
Apple has also announced a partnership with the Starbucks coffee chain that will allow iPhone and Touch users the ability to access a Starbucks-branded version of the iTunes Wi-Fi music store when the device is used at participating cafes--without paying to use the hot spot. We doubt that anyone will purchase the Touch based on this added functionality, but it bears mentioning.
Firmware 2.0 improvements
Launched in July 2008, version 2.0 of the iPod Touch's firmware adds support for many third-party applications available in the iTunes App Store. Developed primarily for the iPhone 3G, many of the iTunes App Store applications let you extend the functions of the iPod Touch to include features such as streaming Internet radio, sophisticated video games, and instant messaging. You can download App Store applications directly to the iPod Touch using a new App Store menu icon, or load them through iTunes after connecting the Touch to your computer.
Some of our favorite music-related applications for the iPod Touch include AOL Radio and Pandora, which let you stream music directly to the iPod Touch over Wi-Fi. Apple released an application called Remote which transforms your iPod Touch into a full-featured remote control for your computer's iTunes music library or a separate Apple TV system.
Complaining about the iPod Touch's lack of FM radio or voice-recording features feels like complaining about a Porsche's lack of cup holders. Still, there are some missing features on the iPod Touch that we would have enjoyed. High-capacity SD memory card expansion is at the top of our list of most-wanted features for the Touch. We could easily forgive any PVP's limited built-in memory capacity if the option of SD memory card expansion was available (the Archos 405 or Creative Zen are perfect examples of video players that give us the option to expand).
We'd also love to see embedded Flash support in the otherwise fabulous Safari browser. Whether video content from sites like DailyMotion or Viddler or music from Web sites like iMeem and Muxtape, embedded Flash media content is a big part of the Internet media experience. And while we're being picky, we also stereo Bluetooth transmission and the ability to use the Touch as an external storage drive like the iPod Nano and iPod Classic.
Putting aside the Touch's sleek design, futuristic interface, and innovative feature set, the quality of its audio and video playback rank only slightly above average. The iPod Touch reportedly uses the same audio chipset as the iPhone, but a different one than the iPod Classic. The Touch offers good audio quality, but not the stellar audio we were hoping for in an expensive product. The audio issue is compounded by Apple's long-standing history of preventing iPod users from defining their own custom EQ settings. Apple's 20 built-in equalization presets are handy, but there's just no substitute for rolling your own five-band EQ curve. With the Touch's emphasis on video playback, it would have been especially useful to have a surround-sound emulation effect similar to the Cowon A3's or Sony NWZ-S610's.
We've heard some complaints about the iPod Touch's video performance, but we found the overall quality to be good. Viewing angles are less than great, producing some color and contrast shifting from even slight tilting. We also found that the glossy glass screen kicks back a lot of glare. Still, despite the common complaints, the Touch is unquestionably the most video-worthy iPod yet.
Apple rates the iPod Touch's battery life at 22 hours for music playback and 5 hours for video. Our CNET labs found that the iPod Touch lasted an average of 23 hours for audio playback and 6 hours for video--which is better than expected, and more than adequate for a few in-flight movies.
We think the iPod Touch is a great product with lots to offer, but its premium price tag should give some shoppers pause. Don't assume that Apple's most expensive iPod is the best solution for your needs. If you're planning on watching a lot of video, high-capacity products like the iPod Classic or Archos 605 WiFi will allow you to load entire seasons of your favorite TV shows. Also bear in mind that if you're not around an available Wi-Fi network, features like the Safari Web browser, Internet radio, e-mail, iTunes Wi-Fi music store, and YouTube video portal won't mean much at all. While the iPod Touch may not be the slam dunk we were hoping for, it is an unquestionably cool product that continues Apple's legacy of sleek, innovative design.