Q-Review: The new iPod Touch

ipodtouch.jpg I’m in love with the concept of the PDA. The notion of having a powerful device that can, quickly, easily, and from the palm of my hand, serve as a decent surrogate for the full-featured computer that’s either on my desk or stowed inconveniently in my backpack is an attractive one.

I’ve been the excited but ultimately disappointed owner of 3 or 4 PDAs in my time, both Palm and Windows Mobile based. While all were digital and personal in nature, none of them have fulfilled the promise of assisting me in any way. For 5 years, I’ve sworn off PDAs, cold turkey. I spent too much time and money to learn the valuable lesson that they just don’t do what I want them to do.

But my abstinence ended with purchase of an iPod Touch.

The Touch? Why not the iPhone?

To many, the perfect device would be Apple’s iPhone. And while I would be hard-pressed to argue that the iPhone isn’t a fantastic piece of technology, I would have to say that the iPhone has three things going against it: A, T, and T.

Granted, I exaggerate, but the truth is that I’m a Verizon customer and I’m very happy with the quality of service I’m getting through them, and I’ve vendor-hopped enough to know that all service providers are not the same. To me it’s not worth the risk of bad reception and bad experience to switch to AT&T.

Also, since I spend 95% of my time in locations with wi-fi, I have no justifiable need for the data services. That’s $60 or $70 I don’t have to spend.

The Touch gives me nearly all the functionality that I want from the device:

  • Music, podcast, and video playback.

  • Access to the zillions of applications available on the iTunes App store

  • Wi-fi

The only thing that miss, and I would have liked to see included is a built-in camera. The iPhone has one, the Touch does not.

All that said, I can definitely see the possibility of me moving to an iPhone in the future if the cost of data plans and the total yearly cost of owning an iPhone comes down some.

The secret ingredient is the interface

What makes the Touch really fulfill my PDA needs is the interface. Gone is the stylus, gone is the Graffiti text input method. The on-screen keyboard is probably the most efficient method for input that there is. And while there’re many out there who dislike the lack of a physical keyboard, I don’t mind it. Never having used a Blackberry or anything similar, I don’t have experience with a physical keyboard, so I’m not missing anything. And I do like the flexibility of a keyboard that instantly gets out of the way when it’s not needed and doesn’t add to the bulk of the device.

Apple worked very hard to make the navigation of the Touch work extremely well. Again, the removal of the stylus works in it’s favor. Using the tip of your finger to open apps, move the cursor around, and interact with the software feels very intuitive. Flicking through lists of songs and files is very smooth and fun. Resizing images and web pages by pinching with thumb and forefinger feels natural. I don’t have skinny fingers, and yet, I don’t make many mistakes when typing or tapping on small buttons or links.

The thing is just damned fun to use.

There is a complaint

The completely on-screen interface does have a drawback. The first version of the iPod Touch had no physical buttons to speak of, save for the Home button. One had to be looking at the screen in order to play, pause, increase volume, etc.

With this second generation, apple included a set of volume controls, a rocker button on the side that can be controlled when the Touch is stowed in your pocket, but in order to play and pause, you still need to pull it out and flick at it a few times before you can pause. This is a pretty serious drawback for me, due to the way that I use my iPod over the course of the day. I want to be able to quickly pause and resume playback.

Sadly, the only solution that’s available is a special set of headphones not yet available from Apple. The phones include an in-line remote and a microphone. While I’m very interested in the possibilities that having a mic provides (voice recording and Skype?), I’m typically not a big fan of having bulky things like chunky remotes or noise-cancelling controls that add weight and snagginess to the wire. It looks like these phones from Apple are pretty streamlined, but I’ll need to see them in person to know for sure if they’d be acceptable.

Overall, iPod Touch is awesome

Despite the lack of a physical play/pause button, I’m completely in love with the Touch. I bought it for the express purpose of giving me quick access to email, the web, and text editing while carrying out the care and feeding of two small children, one (and soon both) of which is enamored with shiny devices like Macbooks and mice when used on laps or left unsupervised on tabletops. And the thing has met these needs with surprising success.
The fact that I can listen to music and podcasts and watch video on the same device is gravy.

Love it.

Apps I find useful

I’ve found a bunch of apps that I really like and use all the time.

Text editing

WriteRoom: A great, simple text editor that has a landscape mode.

Social Networking

Facebook and Twitteriffic: Pretty good mobile versions of corresponding desktop and web interfaces.

Games

Trism: A fun Bejeweled-esque game that’s a bit more challenging

Word Up!: An interesting cross between Scrabble, Boggle, and Solitaire

Document viewing

Files: This lets you copy documents (PDFs, Word docs, HTML, videos) to the Touch and view them. Seems like a feature that should be built in to the OS, but what can you do?

RSS feed reader

Google Reader: GR has a very nice and usable page design for mobile devices.