4G iPod Touch Review

I’ve had my new iPod for about a month. The iPod is an amazing piece of hardware. The 64GB version that I bought is overpriced compared to the 32GB version that is $100 less, but I waited a long time to get something that had 64GB, so I saved money by not getting a previous model.

The screen resolution is really amazing. It doesn’t make much difference for pictures or video, but it really makes text look sharp. On most handhelds, the standard font is Helvetica or something without serifs, but this resolution is so sharp that a serif font looks fantastic. You don’t see books printed in sans serif fonts, so it is nice to have that quality on a screen, even if it is a pretty small one. Even italics looks great.

The wi-fi is much faster than on my Palm TX since the Palm only supported the slower 802.11b standard instead of 802.11g. I can synchronize about a dozen documents on my computer in a couple of seconds rather than almost a minute.

So the hardware is great, but Apple software is pretty lousy. The browser is Safari and any application that shows web pages uses it too. But one thing that really bugs me about Safari is that you can not increase the size of the text in the browser. Instead you can zoom the entire page, but this is like using a magnifying glass and you have to scan left and right to read a line of text which is way too wide for the screen. Scrolling is pretty neat: you brush your finger on the screen vertically and the screen rolls and coasts to a stop. It’s a neat effect, but if you want to get all the way to the bottom of a long page, you just have to brush over and over and over. There is no actual scrollbar with a scroller that you can drag to the bottom to get somewhere fast. Some of this is due to the fact that rather than use a stylus like on the Palm, you use your finger which is a much less precise instrument (though they do have an alphabetical scrollbar that shows up in the music player app and some other places). Also there is no way to skip down one page at a time. It’s scroll or nothing (though some of the e-readers have a feature to turn a page). Otherwise the browser is fine.

I used the Palm as a PDA to store notes and phone numbers. These are pretty simple programs, just databases. The first Palm was introduced almost 15 years ago and it had far superior notes and phone numbers. Primarily you could categorize them both into as many categories as you wanted. And the contacts had a lot of fields for several phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and many more. There were probably too many fields honestly, but the iPod has only a couple of fields and it wasn’t easy transferring the contacts in since I had more fields than fit on the iPod. PDA’s are so 90’s that I guess Apple figured nobody wanted anything like that. But it is something basic that would help people out.

Entering or editing text is awful. Again, this is more because of the fat writing instrument (your finger), but it wasn’t a picnic on the Palm using a stylus. Just getting a cursor to the correct spot in a paragraph is no picnic. And there doesn’t seem to be any way to arrow left or right. Typing is pretty miserable too. You use a pop-up keyboard with buttons that are smaller than your fingertip. So you usually get the right key, but not always.

There was not a single game loaded on the iPod. Even my older iPods with terrible interfaces for games still included games. The 3G iPod had Solitaire even though the only controls were the select button and the scroll wheel (it was awful).

To bring videos over to the iPod I had to translate them from a pretty common .avi format to one that pretty much only Apple uses. It shows a disdain for everyday users and an unwillingness to adopt standards that they didn’t think of first. The video player itself is very, very basic. When watching a TV show, it is nice to be able to skip over the title credits and the player on my Palm let me use a button to skip ahead or back by some amount (that I could set!). No such thing on the iPod, partly because there just aren’t very many buttons (just four: volume up, volume down, home, and power). So it’s cool not have many buttons . . . until you need one. I guess they could incorporate it into the screen easily enough, but they haven’t done that either. There is a scroll bar, but if the show is an hour long, it is hard to get any decent precision on where you will end up. Even a fast forward would be something. The scroll wheel on the old iPods would let you do this.

Fortunately Apple did one really smart thing and that is they allowed developers to write software for the iPod. So you can fix some of the shortcomings that Apple built into their machine, but not all of it (you can’t change the default browser, you can’t change how scrolling works, and I don’t think there are .avi video players).

I was able to download a couple of free or very low priced games. And I was able to buy a Docs 2 Go by Dataviz which came free on my Palm and allows me to sync Word and Excel documents to the iPod (though only manually and only for one program at a time since apps aren’t allowed to sync through iTunes when you connect the iPod to the computer; but at least it can be done wirelessly). I also bought a database app called HanDBase that was originally written for the Palm but now runs on the iPod, but it seems handicapped by Apple’s interface.

With 64GB of storage, one of my favorite things is that I was able to download all of Wikipedia to the iPod and I have it available whenever I want. It takes up 3 GB of space, but it is great and the developer just made a huge improvement to the software. It is also great that I can take a substantial collection of recorded movies and shows with me now whereas I could only fit a handful of them on the 2 GB SD card in my Palm. I’m nowhere close to filling up my iPod yet, but part of the reason is I don’t want to convert all of my videos to Apple’s format (taking up more space on my computer hard drive, plus it just takes a long time to do the conversion).

The glass screen seems to be super tough. The early Palms had glass screens, but the TX I had used a plastic one that easily scratched. This glass seems to be very tough, like gorilla glass, which can’t be scratched, even by keys (though someone posed the question: what if they made keys out of gorilla glass?).

So it is a mixed bag. It is a great platform handicapped by its own genius of fewer buttons and overly simple navigation using your fingers. Today Steve Jobs was making fun of companies bringing 7-inch tablets to market, saying they should include sandpaper to file your fingers down since a 7-inch tablet has barely half the screen area of a 9-inch iPad tablet. Well, Steve, what do you think people are doing on a 4-inch iPhone screen?

5 thoughts on “4G iPod Touch Review

  1. I was warned that text editing takes some getting used to. I am now much better at inserting a cursor, rolling my finger pad, highlighting text, and typing than when I started. I have no problem firing off an email to share a link, snapshot, or photo these days.

    Wouldn’t want to write a book, though.

  2. One thing that happened to me a couple of times this weekend while I was driving around is the super-slick and shiny iPod would slide out of my pocket while I was driving. I wouldn’t even notice until I was inside a store and then panic about whether I had been pick-pocketed. The first time I came back to the car and it was right in the middle of my seat, begging someone to break my window and take it. The next time was at Fry’s and I seriously thought it had been stolen because I couldn’t find it when I got back to the car. Eventually I moved the seat all the way forward and found it under some panel under the driver’s seat.

    So I wanted to get a case for it that was kind of grippy so it wouldn’t slide out of my pocket so easily. It’s still new so there aren’t a lot of cases out yet. Amazon had some for $20. And at Fry’s they had some for $20 and up. Then I checked DealExtreme and they were $1.80 including shipping! So how could I go wrong?

  3. I got my super cheap case this week and it is pretty decent. Just a basic black rubber case that fits over the back and covers the sides (nothing for the screen). You can press the buttons on the side through the case but there is a hole for the rear camera and microphone on back and another one for the speaker grille, dock port, and headphone jack along the bottom. Not a tight fit, but not loose either. And for a tenth of the price of one in stores.

  4. Spent 3 hours last night downloading the 600 MB iOS 4.2.1 upgrade for my Touch. What did I get? Now I can do a text search on a web page (though you wouldn’t know it to look at it; you enter the text to be searched in the Google search box; not sure how it works and why that doesn’t just take you to Google). Also, the Notes app now lets me choose one of 3 fonts instead of forcing me to use the magic marker font. But with no categories to the notes, I don’t use that app anyway. There were some other things, but none of it is much use to me. Apple’s improvements are underwhelming at best. There are so many things they could improve that are just ignored.

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