capsule review

Review: iPod touch with 1.1.1 update

A pattern seems to be emerging. Apple releases a new iPod model with a variety of features that look compelling on paper, yet in practice, the iPod doesn’t perform as well as it might. A few weeks later, Apple releases an update for the iPod that addresses the major performance issues. This happened recently with the 3G iPod nano and iPod classic. It’s occurred again with the iPod touch.

When the iPod touch ( ) was first released, some models offered very dark or out-of-contrast video performance. But even touch models that did not have display problems couldn’t match the brightness and clean contrast of the iPhone. Apple released the iPod touch 1.1.1 update that fixed the former problem, but, regrettably, not the latter.

We had three iPod touches in the Macworld offices the day the update was released. One exhibited the negative video problem. Another didn’t have the negative video problem but still lacked detail in dark scenes. The third did a bit better job with those dark scenes but couldn’t produce the same level of detail as the iPhone. After applying the update, two of the three iPods offered improved video performance. The iPod touch that had the worst video problems was still a bit darker than our “best” iPod touch, but the artifacts completely disappeared. The middle iPod touch was as good as the best one, and the best one didn’t appear to change at all.

With the update we took the opportunity to retest the battery to see if underwhelming audio playtimes improved. The results were mixed, but not impressive either way. In our press-play-and-walk away audio tests, a touch with its Wi-Fi capabilities turned on played audio continuously for 16 hours and 55 minutes, up from 16:14 in our test with the original software. Turning off the Wi-Fi increased battery life to 25:56 (compared to 26:15 in the first test). The video results barely changed. Continuous video with Wi-Fi on went for 5:09 versus 5:03 when we first tested the touch. And with Wi-Fi off, the touch played video for 5:27 compared to 5:37 the first time around. So even with the new software, the iPod touch fails to play audio for the 22 hours straight (at default settings with WiFi) that Apple suggests it should.

The lowdown

In my original review I suggested that the iPod touch’s video quality was a deal-killer. With the 1.1.1 update that quality has improved somewhat—enough to warrant a half-mouse uptick in our rating. But the touch’s feature set remains arbitrary, the touch still won’t support old video accessories, and no software update could ever add the physical volume controls that would make it possible to operate an iPod touch from the comfort of your pocket. In short, the iPod touch is a bit better, but still far from perfect.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen writes the iPod Blog and is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, second edition (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Web browsing and YouTube video on an iPod
    • Beautiful and intuitive interface
    • ITunes Wi-Fi Music Store is fleet over fast Wi-Fi and very convenient
    • Extra applications useful

    Cons

    • Video and photos not as bright or as clearly defined as they are on an iPhone
    • No calendar event editing
    • Unimpressive battery performance
    • Incompatible with old video accessories
    • No external volume controls or support for remote control
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