With the second version of the iPod touch Apple takes another step to close the gap between iPod and iPhone by adding those two desirable physical features: external volume controls and an internal speaker.

When the revised Apple iPod touch appeared alongside the fourth-generation iPod nano, it was easy to see it as simply a poor man's iPhone 3G. It now looks almost identical, bar the phone earpiece slot, and has most of the functionality, when you discount the ability to actually make phone calls or surf the 3G airwaves. But for people who want a device for the principal use of playing music, the iPod touch has one major benefit - it sounds better.

Compared to the original version, this new Apple iPod touch feels slimmer in its sleek new stainless-steel back. There are now fixed controls on the left to control volume, making it much easier to make quick adjustments of earphone level on-the-fly.

Less welcome to long-suffering commuters may be the inclusion of a built-in speaker, but thankfully its maximum volume is even more limited than its fidelity. Compare this with the iPhone 3G's speaker, which actually gives a good passing facsimile of music, at a surprisingly higher volume.

Where the Apple iPod touch does score highly over its cellular phone counterpart is in simple sound quality. A quick comparison between the two suggests they both hit the same notes, yet the Apple iPod touch does not suffer the degradation that's almost inevitable from squeezing in so much radio-frequency (RF) comms circuitry inside a music player. Insiduous RF interference is an inevitable threat to good sound where delicate audio signals are concerned.

In place of the iPhone 3G's slightly sketchy rendition of orchestral strings, for example, the touch has a sweeter tone, more realistic and certainly more relaxing in long-term listening.

And with more dynamic material you can the Apple iPod touch has a better grasp of level changes, from quiet background ambience where you can follow the gentle decay of sustained piano chords, or the reverberation of a hall, to the hard slam of bass beats and drum skin strikes.

In short, with its wider stereo sound and richer, more natural timbre, the Apple iPod touch has the upper hand for its core audience of music lovers.

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When Apple first released the iPod touch, it was - with its Wi-Fi capabilities and touchscreen interface - much more than an iPod.

Yet originally lacking applications such as Mail, Stocks, Maps, Weather, and Notes (and a Calendar application that allowed you to create events) and eschewing external volume controls and a built-in speaker, the iPod touch was also far less than an iPhone.

With software updates, Apple brought the iPod touch's applications in line with the iPhone. With the second go-round of the iPod touch - introduced Tuesday as part of Apple's annual fall iPod line overhaul - Apple takes another step in the right direction by adding those two desirable physical features: external volume controls and an internal speaker.

Along the way, the company also slimmed down the case and, rounding the iPod touch's edges in style not unlike the iPhone 3G's.

The price for the iPod touch has been slimmed down as well. Where the 8GB, 16GB iPod touches once cost £199 and £269 respectively, the latest model can be had in these capacities for £169 and £219, and the 32GB model costs £289. They also ship with the latest iPod touch 2.1 software.

NEXT PAGE: volume controls and speaker

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With the second version of the iPod touch Apple takes another step to close the gap between iPod and iPhone by adding those two desirable physical features: external volume controls and an internal speaker.

Volume controls and speaker

The second-generation iPod touch's new external volume controls are welcome and perform exactly as they do on an iPhone. Press the top of the rocker switch and the volume goes up. A press at the bottom of the switch causes the volume to decrease. As on the iPhone, applications that bear volume sliders reflect the change in volume by moving up or down as you press the switch.

Speaking of iPhone, if you have the headphones that accompany the iPhone - Apple's headphones that carry the Play/Pause switch and microphone - you'll be pleased to know that the Play/Pause switch works with this version of the iPod touch. (It doesn't on older iPod touches, even with the new 2.1 software.)

The second-gen iPod touch speaker, however, is regrettably nothing like the iPhone's speaker. As Steve Jobs said, this speaker is for "casual listening", which we'd suggest is a fairly generous description. Unlike the iPhone's speaker, which clearly sits on the bottom left of the device and is fairly directional, the sound from the new iPod touch comes from no particular location - it seems to just seep out of any holes on the device.

We attempted to watch 'Chinatown' while listening to the audio only through the second-gen iPod touch's built-in speaker and we had a difficult time discerning the dialog even with the volume turned all the way up. (I had hoped that I could pass this iPod to the back seat so my daughter could watch her favourite movies on long car trips as she now does with my iPhone. Not going to happen. Couple the speaker's tinny, very low fidelity with the whoosh of car noise and I can't imagine she'd get much out of it.)

The existence of the speaker is reflected in the Sound setting (called Sound Effects on the original iPod touch). Here you'll find the addition of the New Mail, Sent Mail, Calendar Alerts, Lock Sounds, and Keyboard Clicks entries - sounds that play through the speaker. You'll also hear a camera sound when you take a screenshot of the display by pressing Home and Sleep/Wake.

NEXT PAGE: the display, and the Genius

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With the second version of the iPod touch Apple takes another step to close the gap between iPod and iPhone by adding those two desirable physical features: external volume controls and an internal speaker.

The display

When the iPhone 3G shipped, some noticed that its display had a yellower cast than that of the original iPhone. The second-gen iPod touch's display is yellower still. Placed side by side with an original 16GB iPod touch with the brightness cranked up on both, the new iPod's display appeared slightly dingy in comparison. Take the old iPod away, however, and you quickly adjust to the look of the new one.

The Genius playlist

One of the marquee features of the new iPod nano and second-gen iPod touch is the Genius playlist - a scheme for selecting a track in your iTunes library or iPod and intelligently creating a playlist of related music. (Read more about the Genius feature in our review of iTunes 8.0.) This feature is implemented in a couple of ways on the iPod touch.

Most obviously, tap the Music icon at the bottom of the Home screen, tap Playlists, and at the top of the Playlists screen you see a Genius entry. Tap that entry and a list of all the tracks on your iPod appear. Tap a track and the iPod creates a list of 25 related tracks and starts playing the track you originally selected.

You also have the option to create a different Genius playlist based on that same track. Just tap Refresh and the playlist is created. If you like what the Genius has come up with, tap Save and the iPod saves that playlist by the name of the original track - Helter Skelter, for example - lists it in the Playlists screen, and puts the Genius icon next to it to indicate it's a Genius-generated playlist. When you sync your iPod with your computer, any Genius playlists you've created are synched to the computer and appear under the Playlists heading in iTunes' Source list.

You can later select this playlist and edit it by tapping the Edit button. When you do, a screen scrolls up that reads Refresh Playlist and Delete Playlist. Just how much the playlist is refreshed depends on the tracks on your iPod. If the Genius feature feels it doesn't have much to choose from you're going to see a lot of the same tracks appear in the refreshed playlist.

Note that it's possible to stump the Genius. For example, we selected Ethiopian artist Gigi's Abay on our iPod touch and were presented with a dialog box that read "Try Again. This songs does not have enough related songs to create a Genius Playlist."

The Genius feature is also available from within the Now Playing screen. When playing a track, simply tap on the display to reveal the timeline panel. Below the timeline you'll find the Genius icon. Tap it and you create a Genius playlist based on that track. This playlist works exactly like other Genius playlists.

NEXT PAGE: the software, and battery life

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With the second version of the iPod touch Apple takes another step to close the gap between iPod and iPhone by adding those two desirable physical features: external volume controls and an internal speaker.

The software

The new iPod touch includes the iPod touch 2.1 software update - a free update for those who've purchased the 2.0 software update and a $10 update for those running the older 1.x update. In addition to adding Genius playlist creation, Apple claims this update fixes some annoyances in the original 2.0 software. While we haven't had a chance to see the benefits of all these changes, we can say that Apple wasn't kidding when it claims that the update provides "faster installation of third-party applications".

We launched the App Store on an original 16GB iPod touch running software version 2.0.2 and the new iPod touch running 2.1. We asked both to update The Iconfactory's Twitterific to version 1.1. The new iPod with the latest software did it over our Wi-Fi network in 20 seconds. The old iPod touch with the older software version took an interminable 5 minutes and 2 seconds. We obtained similar results with other software updates.

More to come

Apple claims that the second-gen iPod touch offers better battery life than the original touch. We haven't had the iPod long enough to test its alleged audio playback time of 36 hours and video playback of 6 hours, but will as we delve deeper into the device in preparation for a more full review.

Macworld.com

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Apple iPod touch 2G 8/16/32GB: Specs

  • Solid-state storage music and video portable
  • 3.5in Multi-Touch widescreen (480x320) display, 163ppi
  • 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities
  • 802.11b/g wireless
  • Apple dock connector to USB 2.0 cable
  • 3.5mm headphone jack with mic-in capability
  • audio: AAC, DRM AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible formats 2, 3 and 4, Apple Lossless, WAV and AIFF
  • video: H.264 up to 2.5Mb/s 640x480 30fps, MPEG-4 video up to 2.5Mb/s 640x480 30fps
  • 110x62x9mm
  • 115g
  • Solid-state storage music and video portable
  • 3.5in Multi-Touch widescreen (480x320) display, 163ppi
  • 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities
  • 802.11b/g wireless
  • Apple dock connector to USB 2.0 cable
  • 3.5mm headphone jack with mic-in capability
  • audio: AAC, DRM AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible formats 2, 3 and 4, Apple Lossless, WAV and AIFF
  • video: H.264 up to 2.5Mb/s 640x480 30fps, MPEG-4 video up to 2.5Mb/s 640x480 30fps
  • 110x62x9mm
  • 115g

OUR VERDICT

Apple has begun to reinvent the iPod touch as the ‘funnest’ vehicle for playing games, websurfing and email when in Wi-Fi range, and even as a keep-fit companion with its Nike+ jogging monitor. But in spite of its shortfall in making phone calls, we liked the iPod touch for its irrepressible ability to play good music.

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