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If you find yourself dazzled by the Web, video and music capabilities of Apple's iPhone but can't stomach the contract commitment, the iPod touch might be just what you're looking for.
Offered in 8GB (£199) and 16GB (£269) capacities from the Apple store -- delivered by the end of September -- the iPod touch is a premium-priced device with an attractive set of features for a midsize portable video player. Still, the touch's limited storage capacity makes it a difficult choice when held up to higher capacity products like the or Archos 605 WiFi.
The touch measures a slim and pocketable 62 by 110 by 8mm, with an all-metal-and-glass design that feels as expensive as it looks. Because nothing will ruin a portable video player faster than a gouge across its screen, we're happy to see that the face of the iPod touch uses the same scratch-resistant glass found on the iPhone.
Most users will still want to buy a protective case, however, since the touch feels a little fragile and the back is covered with the glossy, scratch-prone, smudge-loving chrome exterior common to most iPods.
There are only two physical buttons on the touch: a button on the face of the player used for calling up the main menu and a screen deactivation button found on the top-left edge of the case. The touch is controlled largely using an icon-based touchscreen navigation menu nearly identical to the iPhone's but with greater emphasis placed on music, photo and video playback.
The two design details that distinguish the iPod touch from the iPhone are the headphone jack and volume controls. While the iPhone surprised us with its difficult, recessed headphone jack, the 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPod touch runs flush with the case and accepts any standard minijack headphone connection.
In the absence of dedicated volume control buttons, the touch gives users the ability to bring up an onscreen volume slider by double-clicking the main menu button. The same volume screen offers controls for playing, pausing and skipping through tracks.
When it comes down to it, the iPod touch's most unique selling point is not its feature set but its interface. You can find products that offer more features, as well as higher quality audio and video performance but you won't find any other product that can match the feeling you get using the iPod touch interface.
In the absence of jetpacks or flying cars, the futuristic novelty of zooming photos with a pinch of the finger or flying through your music collection in Cover Flow is difficult to quantify into a bullet point but it is probably the most justifiable reason to invest in the touch.
The iPod touch draws 99 per cent of its features from the iPhone. While iPhone owners have zero incentive for buying the touch, the rest of us now have a way to get our hands on many of the iPhone's features without .
The bad news is that the iPod touch does away with more than just the iPhone's phone capabilities -- it also gives up POP/IMAP email, built-in speakers, microphone, camera, Bluetooth and a handful of widget applications such as stock monitoring and weather forecasting.
Remaining features such as a Safari Web browser, YouTube video portal, photo viewer, music player, video player and iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store still place the iPod touch on the cutting edge for portable video players, however. In fact, at the time of this writing, the only product that can even compete with the iPod touch's combination of a Wi-Fi-enabled Web browser, wireless music store, widescreen video playback, photo viewer and audio player is the Archos 605 WiFi.
One of the few notable features that put the iPod touch ahead of the iPhone is the ability to output video and photos to a television using an optional Apple AV cable, Universal Dock or qualifying third-party video accessory.
Another advantage the iPod touch offers over the iPhone is the ability to manually manage music and video content in lieu of setting up automatic content syncing rules within iTunes. We are a little disappointed that the iPod touch is the only iPod that does not support a generic USB storage mode but we doubt many users will be upset by this.
Audio format support is unchanged from previous iPods. The touch supports standard and purchased AAC, as well as MP3, Audible, WAV, AIFF and Apple Lossless. Video format support is likewise unaltered from the H.264/MP4 files playable on 5G iPods, as well as the third-generation iPod nano and the iPod classic. The touch supports video resolutions up to 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second.