So having had an iPod Touch to play with for a couple of days, I thought I’d give my first impressions.
Firstly, being an Apple device, the integration between the iPod Touch and the Mac is great. Effectively all you have to do is plug the iPod Touch into the computer and you can sync music from iTunes and pictures from iPhoto straight down onto the device. Needless to say, in my situation where both databases are much larger than the capacity of the device you need to take some level of manual control, but compared to getting stuff onto the Nokia N770 it’s a lot more straightforward. By way of comparison, putting music onto the Nokia involved a bit of care with file formats – and also remembering that anything protected probably wouldn’t work, putting on pictures you’d have to manually ensure they were the right dimensions – with the iPod that is all automatic.
Once loaded onto the iPod the slick experience continues. You can browse through music either in familiar list form, or alternatively turning the device to a landscape orientation automatically activates cover flow mode where you can flip through albums via their album art. Pictures are similarly presented, again allowing you to flick through the images.
All of the interface operates through a touch-screen – in total the device has only two buttons, the ‘power’ button on the top, and a home button that always takes you back to the main menu. Unlike almost all similar devices there is no stylus – you operate the interface with your finger. Flicking through photographs or songs is all carried out by sliding your finger across the screen. Surprisingly there isn’t too much of a problem with finger marks on the screen either – although the metal casing shows them up, the screen is readable even after quite heavy use of the screen.
The other great feature of the interface is the momentum. When you flick, much as if you push an object in the real world, it carries on moving and slowly decelerates. If you are scrolling down a long list of tracks for example you can also catch the list by touching the screen, which brings the scrolling to an immediate halt. Comparing this to other interfaces where you’re repeatedly pressing an arrow key to scroll down, or that come to an immediate halt, it is much more intuitive, and even though I have over 2000 songs loaded onto it is still relatively quick to locate them.
The momentum in the interface also extends to the built in web browser, which in part goes towards making the iPod Touch far and away the best mobile browsing experience I have come across. The Nokia N770 may have the best screen (well at least until it failed), but the iPod more than makes up for it with the ease with which I can move around a web page and zoom in and out onto content. Hitting links accurately with a finger rather than a stylus takes some work, as does typing on the on-screen keyboard, but it is still streaks ahead of anything else.
Perhaps the only disappointment is the YouTube application. Whilst it does manage to make videos from YouTube look considerably better than they do on the web, it has one major flaw – when it is running it hogs the machine, and if the flow of data from the site stalls, so does the application. It doesn’t actually crash the iPod, but it does render it unresponsive until the data stream settles down again.
Looking at other things you can do with it, one of the big criticisms when compared to the iPhone was the lack of an e-mail application. Whilst you can add mail by copying the app over from an iPhone, you can do it without hacking the device using a site called Mail Coaster. This very simply provides an iPod Touch style web interface to whatever mail server you specify. It’s not the most feature rich application, but for a simple mail check it is fine. Google Reader is also among the sites that now also have an iPod Touch friendly user interface.
By far the most impressive thing about the whole device, especially having used Windows Mobile, Symbian and the Nokia N770 is how rock solid the whole device feels. That’s not to say there aren’t bugs – the aforementioned problem with the YouTube application for a start, and on one occasion it has inexplicably lost the wi-fi connection – but it has yet to properly crash, unlike the multitude of mobile devices I’ve owned from the other stables. It also doesn’t suffer from the annoying and inexplicable pauses that those suffer too, aside from the YouTube problems everything moves along at a nice responsive speed.
It may be being marketed purely as a music player, but alongside this Apple have converged enough with the features of the PDA that they’ve produced a pretty good stand-alone PDA too!