iPod Touch (Second Generation)
At a Glance
With its latest iteration of the iPod Touch, Apple has added two highly coveted features--external volume controls and a speaker--and lowered prices, too. However, the Touch's physical changes are incremental, and they don't bring the device up to the level of its sibling, the iPhone 3G.
To be sure, the lower prices make the Touch a more attractive purchase than before, coming in at $229 for 8GB (previously $299), $299 for 16GB, and $399 for 32GB (down from $499). The prices are more in line with what Apple and AT&T charge for the iPhone 3G: $199 for 8GB, and $299 for 16GB. (You don't have to pay a monthly fee to use the Touch, though.) While the amount is still more than what you might pay for competing media players, you get more with the Touch, too.
Let's begin with what stays the same. This version of the Touch continues to share many characteristics with the first-generation Touch and with the iPhone 3G. All have a bright, gorgeous, 3.5-inch, wide-screen multitouch display with 480-by-320-pixel resolution at 163 pixels per inch. All have 802.11b/g wireless support. And all sport the same operating system software that allows for easy navigation, a host of useful apps (Safari Web browser, calendar, e-mail, contacts, Google Maps, YouTube, weather, clock with multiple alarms and stopwatch, ordinary and scientific calculators, and notepad), and the ability to expand your device through Apple's App Store.
Playing music remains a breeze. Press the home button below the display to activate the screen, and then select Music from the dedicated buttons along the bottom of the screen. In vertical view, the music's cover art dominates the display; orient the player horizontally, and it switches to Cover Flow view, which lets you page through the cover art as if you were viewing a flip book.
In addition to easily setting playlists on the fly, you can now use the new Genius autoplaylist creation feature directly from the Touch. First you must enable this feature on iTunes 8; but once enabled, it makes creating a playlist from songs in your music library a snap. Genius won't work for every song--for example, if the song is not on iTunes' radar, or it lacks complete ID3 tags--but the feature is certainly a convenient, almost category-focused addition to the iPod Touch's repertoire.
Audio sounds adequate through the included earbuds, but you may want to consider upgrading, either to Apple's forthcoming, step-up $80 earphones or to a high-quality pair from a third-party vendor. The earphone jack remains at the bottom of the Touch, just as on the first-gen model; that's in contrast, oddly enough, to the iPhone 3G, which places the jack at the upper left of the unit.
You have good reason to upgrade your headphones: According to our tests, the second-generation iPod Touch improves its audio output dramatically, jumping up a notch to receive a rating of Superior on the PC World Test Center's suite of audio tests. The Touch, together with its new Nano sibling, are our new leaders in our audio output results.
According to Apple, the new Touch's battery life is significantly better for music playback: 36 hours, as compared with 22 hours for the first-generation model. Video playback is only a bit improved over the previous model, rated for 6 hours versus 5.
The Touch's physical design is slightly altered. The original model measured 4.3 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide and 0.33 inches deep; the new edition retains the height and width but shrinks the depth by a barely perceptible 0.03 of an inch (or half a millimeter). The new Touch is a smidgen lighter than the old, coming in at 4.05 ounces versus the first gen's weight of 4.2 ounces.
Leading the new hardware features for the Touch are the external volume controls. The rocker-like buttons are positioned along the upper-left side of the Touch, just as they are on the iPhone 3G. On this device, however, the buttons are made of a sharp, inexpensive-feeling black plastic. Though they're a welcome addition, I wish they better matched the overall feel of the metallic Touch. (Another button gripe: The home button feels chintzy when pressed, as it makes a clicking noise. The iPhone 3G's button operates far more smoothly, with no noise.)
The second-generation Touch also adds a speaker to the base of the unit, much like the iPhone 3G. But, again, the Touch is subpar in comparison: The sound is tinny and thin next to the audio emanating from the iPhone 3G; whether that is due to the iPhone 3G's differing construction (the iPhone has a plastic back, and is slightly deeper than the Touch) or owing to the speaker itself is unknown.
The third new hardware feature sees the integration of the Nike + iPod software and receiver (for capturing your movement data) into the Touch itself. Simply add the extra-cost Nike + iPod Sensor for your shoe, and the Touch becomes an appealing workout companion.
Still missing from the Touch are an integrated camera and GPS--both features found on the iPhone 3G. Also, it still lacks a voice recorder (a feature added back to the new iPod Nano) and--like all iPods--an FM tuner, although you can download apps (some at extra cost) to fill the voice-recording void and to gain Internet radio support (when you're connected over Wi-Fi).
Arguably, beyond the price drop, the big news about the Touch has nothing to do with the hardware and everything to do with the continuing evolution of the App Store, which offers plenty of games (700 and counting) among its arsenal. With the addition of games, the Touch widens its position as an entertainment platform.
The Touch remains a tremendous and innovative device, with enticing features, unparalleled ease of use, and plenty of expandability through the App Store. As attractive as it is, though, I still believe it has room to improve. New features coupled with lower prices increase the second-generation model's appeal, but this version of the Touch doesn't supply enough incentive for existing owners to upgrade.