Friday, May 2, 2008


Yes, it's true... Until today I never owned an actual Apple iPod. Not that I necessarily dislike them, but my music collection is in a format that isn't supported by the iPod at all. So for the most part the whole series of iPods has been useless to me.

As part of the PPOS project (see my earlier post "I'm up to no good") we are planning on developing a mobile phone friendly web site for store owners and managers to check in on things remotely. We know that iPhones are becoming more and more popular, but no-one on the development team has one -- we all use Windows Mobile devices for their real-time email synchronization capability, and none of us like AT&T -- so I got the next closest thing and got a 16GB iPod Touch with pre-loaded software upgrade. That way we can create those web pages and test them in the same browser that the iPhone uses.

So what do I think? As a video player, it's pretty good. As a web browser, it's as good as it gets on a mobile device. For games, it has a lot of potential if jailbroken. For email, it's passable. As a music player, well, it kind of stinks.

Why does it stink? Well, because it doesn't have any buttons for selecting tracks, pausing, etc. So if you are listening to a song and decide you want to change the volume or go to the next track, you have to pull it out of your pocket, wake it up by double-clicking the Home button, then find the (small) buttons on-screen to adjust volume, or change tracks. Certainly not something you could do blindly, or even quickly; the lack of tactile buttons is a real issue here. When watching a video it isn't a problem because you're already looking at the screen. But most people don't stare at the screen of their music player while listening to their favorite tunes. Hopefully a future version of the Touch will add volume control buttons at a minimum, but knowing how Apple does things, I doubt that will ever happen (though the iPhone has them).

Thankfully I won't be listening to music on it. I'll be primarily using it to browse the web. And it does that pretty well. Not perfectly, as it doesn't support Flash and some other internet file formats, but pretty well overall. Most sites I have tried have worked nearly as well as they do in Safari on OS X. In a few cases I ran into iPhone-specific sites, and they, of course, work great.

As for some of its other functionality: for viewing photos its kind of useless without a memory card slot, or a way to receive them wirelessly from a camera, at least for me. The Google Maps application is cool, but I already have that on my phone, so nothing new for me there. Watching YouTube videos is nice because they are in higher quality than when viewed from the web. If only there was something good to watch on YouTube.

I've had a couple other issues with it. My iTunes has shut down spontaneously a couple of times while syncing, and if I try to set it up to synchronize my email contacts and my calendar the Outlook sync module crashes. A handful of Quicktime videos I've tried to play on the web haven't worked either, including some in the iPod section of And this thing is the biggest fingerprint magnet I have ever seen, bar none.

The form factor is cool -- its really thin, and it feels very well built, with just enough heft to let you know you've bought a quality product. The headphones are, well, awful, but I won't be using the ones that came with it; that's what my Shure E3s or Sony MDR-7506s are for. The screen is surprisingly washed out for a modern LCD, with true blacks being nonexistent: the darkest you get on the screen is a definitive backlit gray, and while watching videos in landscape mode (the way they are all shown) you have to get the viewing angle just right or darker areas of the picture invert and start to turn lighter colors. I've heard the iPhone's LCD is better, but I haven't taken the time to make a side-by-side comparison.

There are other things that are very well done. The user interface is pretty snappy, especially when compared to other small devices with this level of flexibility (e.g. Windows Mobile). It is also very well thought out, and for the most part once you learn a few basics you can find your way around quite easily. I find myself wishing for a "Back" button though, because sometimes you get moved from the browser to the video player, or something similar, without a way to easily go back. Battery life looks like it is going to be very good, and I'm sure a huge part of that is because it has no spinning hard drive to power. I do wish the storage capacity was larger, mostly for other owners, because I won't be storing enough music on it to matter to me. Flash memory is still just a little too expensive for these things to be an affordable solution.

At some point I'll jailbreak it and start installing some fun software. But I'm so busy with PPOS and other programming projects that I don't really have time to mess with that just yet.

If I were to ask for any changes other than the ones mentioned above, the first would be the addition of Bluetooth. This would allow wireless headphones to be used, and if Apple would be really kind, they'd also let us use Bluetooth to connect to the internet through nearby cell phone. But that would eat into their iPhone featureset and revenue, so I doubt we'd ever see that.

Overall, though, if someone just wants to watch videos and browse the web, this is a great device to do it on. But for playing music, it's pretty 'meh.' They really should have called it something other than iPod, since iPod is virtually synonymous with music playback device. This is a device that supplements a regular iPod, not replaces it. iVid, anyone?

1 comment:

Robby and Christy said...

Hi Doug,

I'm making a comment on your blog because Christy says the same thing, no one ever says anything on ours. That's interesting about the iPod, I would have figured you have the latest and greatest ages ago. It's only a matter of time until you invent something better though.

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