For people living in the states the iPod Touch is old news by now, but for those of us this side of the pond we’ve only gotten our hands on them this week. What Americans may also not realise is that we don’t have the iPhone over here yet, so for us, this is not just our first taste of the iPod Touch, but of the whole Apple multi-touch thing. I ordered mine the day after the ‘Steve Note’ that announced it and it just arrived today. I’m a little grumpy that it made it in to shops in Dublin before my pre-ordered one arrived but mine is engraved which it wouldn’t have been had I bought it in a shop. Perhaps the engraving makes up for the two or three day delay. Anyhow, for us here in Ireland this is not old news at all, it’s big news!

This review is going to take and odd form. The majority of it is going to be dedicated to pointing out the short-comings of the iPod Touch. That may inevitably lead people to assume I’m not happy with it, or worse still, that I hate it. I’m going to pre-empt that right now by saying that this device is superb. It rocks. It’s the most revolutionary piece of technology I’ve ever held in my hands. This kind of touch-based interface is the future, and man, what a future it is! Before today I thought I probably wanted an iPhone whenever they finally make it to Ireland, now I KNOW I want an iPhone! I’ll come back to some of the good stuff nearer the end of the review, but first I want to start with the not-so-good stuff.

[tags]iPod, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple[/tags]

The Not-So-Good Stuff

Firstly, you’ll notice is that the iPod touch is dog slow when it comes to syncing, at least compared to the hard-disk-based iPods like my old 60GB iPod Photo. I’ve never owned a nano but they probably suffer from the same problem, I think it’s just down to flash memory being slow to write to. On the old 1GB or 2GB Nanos that probably wasn’t a big deal but on a 16GB Touch it’s rather annoying. The only consolation is that you can interrupt the syncing at any time, so, when you get fed up of waiting you can just take the Touch with you and listen to what’s already synced and let it continue next time you connect it.

The second thing I noticed is that I naturally hold the Touch at too flat an angle for the tilt sensors to work properly. This means that it doesn’t do it’s cool aspect changing thing very reliably for me. If I hold it at a slightly steeper angle it cops on to itself immediately thought. This is not a big problem really but it took me a while to figure out what I was doing wrong.

Something that really needs some attention form the boffins at 1 Infinite Loop is the way the Touch deals with your iPhoto library. This has annoyed me in three ways so far:

  1. iTunes does not sync over full-sized versions of your photos to the iPod Touch, instead it adds low-res versions into your iPhoto library and then syncs those. This wastes disk space on the machine you sync from and also limits how far you can zoom in on the Touch. Sure, it saves space on your iPod, but at too high a price IMO.
  2. The Touch does not support iPhoto Events. The best thing about the new iPhoto was the fact that you no longer needed to make photo albums for everything, Events became your albums and they are generated automatically. Naturally, I make almost no albums any more with the exception of a few smart albums. On the touch I now have to scroll through all the pics I took this year or to find something I took a few weeks ago, and worse still, all the pictures I ever took to find an image older than a year! This is a real disappointment to someone like me who is big into photography.
  3. When you’re viewing a gallery there is no visual cue to tell you how to go up a level. Turns out you just have to tap the top of the screen to get back the wee menu that is there for a few seconds when you start and then vanishes without trace. Took me ages to figure that out.

Finally there is one real annoyance in the GUI. When entering a WEP/WPA/WPA2 key for the WiFi you can’t see what you’re typing. Instead you get a load of stars. This is of course generally a good idea for passwords fields, but good WiFi keys are very different to your average password! Remember, these keys should be at least 30 characters long to be secure and can stretch to a whopping 64 characters! On Mac OS X you get an option to show the pass-phrase in clear text as your type it when connecting to a WiFi network, Apple need to add this option to the Touch and the iPhone.

Update – 14 October 2007: I’ve come across three more little gripes which are detailed in this article.

An iPod Touch is NOT an iPhone Without the Phone

If you come to the iPod Touch expecting it to have everything the iPhone does apart from the actual phone you’ll be quite disappointed. The Touch is a lot less than a Phone-less iPhone. It doesn’t have the office-like-features of the iPhone. Your contacts and calendar are read-only and you have no mail app at all. You also don’t get the little widgets like the stock and weather ones on the iPhone and also no note pad. You probably won’t miss those last three much, but what you probably will miss is Blue Tooth which the Touch also lacks. Why Apple chose to do this and whether or not they were right to so is a discussion for another day. I just want to draw people’s attention to the fact that the Touch is a jazzed-up MP3 player, not a slimmed-down smart phone.

Two Common Miss-Conceptions

These miss-conceptions date back to before the iPhone’s launch and have perhaps been mostly knocked on the head by now. However, I still think it’s worth mentioning them again.

Before the iPhone had even launched there were pundits beating on it’s virtual keyboard. The way some of these guys went on you’d swear not having physical keys to type on would be the end of the world. This was give by many as the reason the iPhone would never be used by business men.

Maybe I’m some sort of freak but I took to it like a duck to water. I was expecting it to be really hard to use but I was pleasantly surprised. By the time I wrote this post from the Touch earlier today I was already using both thumbs yet I’d only been typing for 5 or 10 minutes at that stage. I don’t own a Blackberry but I have used them and I remember having a lot more trouble getting to grips with it’s strangely doubled-up keyboard than I did with the Touch’s virtual keyboard today. Apparently with practice you can really get fast on those wee Blackberry keyboards, I’m sure the same is true of the iPhone/iPod Touch virtual keyboard. Apple have put in a lot of aids to help you and from what I can see they seem to work pretty well.

I’m not in a position to categorically state whether or not the virtual keyboard is up hard-core business use on a phone, but what I can say for certain is that this is definitely the best keyboard I’ve ever seen on an MP3 player 🙂

Again, before any of them had even held an iPhone there were pundits writing it off because, obviously, the screen would get too grimy to use. Yes, it gets completely covered in fingerprints in no time at all. However, that doesn’t matter. Why? Because the fingerprints don’t obscure your view. While you’re looking at the screen you don’t see them at all. It’s only when you look at a very oblique angle or when the screen if off that you see them. I have no idea how this works, but I don’t care. The bottom line is that fingerprints on the screen are not a problem.

Why I Love The iPod Touch

This is quite a long article at this stage and the majority is negative, surely that means the Touch must suck? Well, it really doesn’t. The first thing to note is that there are no show-stoppers in there, just minor annoyances. Also, all but my first two gripes are software related and can hence be fixed by a simple firmware update.

The reality is that this is the best iPod I’ve ever used. Just the music-related features make it worth the price, but you get more than that. The web browser is stunning. You really have to try it before you can fully appreciate it. And, despite it’s problems, flicking through your photos on the Touch is still a real joy.

However, the star of the show is absolutely the interface. Multi-touch is the most natural feeling way I’ve ever interacted with a device. It’s fantastically intuitive. This is how I want to interact with all my hand-held devices in the future. I wish my Camera had an interface like this for everything but the actual shutter release, I wish my GPS unit had an interface like this, and of course, I wish my phone had an interface like this.

I wasn’t around when the mouse made it’s debut in the home, but I think this is the first big revolution in computer interfaces since then. Sure, the actual technology is not new, but this is the first time regular Joes like me can actually get to use it. Touch screen technology has finally arrived for the masses and I love it!