Sunday, September 12, 2010

What To Expect When You're Expecting An iPod Touch! (My First Week With An iPod Touch)

The Good: Stylish, Convenient, Cute, Generally decent functionality
The Bad: No stylus, Requires a lot of setup/software, Cannot be upgraded
The Basics: A good MP3 player, the IPod Touch (8 GB) is a pain to get up and running, but is wonderful once it is!

I originally got my iPod Touch last year when I won it as part of a promotion and in the intervening time, I have used it quite a bit, but it is still not the indispensible tool others seem to think it is. Here is my experience with my first iPod product! Enjoy!

I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. So, the site I was writing on before asked reviewers to join Twitter in order to have the opportunity to win a free iPod Touch, I ignored my partner's taunts that I had suddenly become a twelve year-old girl and happily Tweeted all of my reviews on the chance to win this piece of technology that I could not afford. So, when I actually won (one hundred entries ought to count for something! ;) ) one of the 8 GB iPod Touch mp3 players, I was psyched (and I even promised my partner she could put some of her stuff on it, though, to date it remains filled with my stuff). However, in my first week with this little technological marvel, I have found it to be distracting and problematic more than exciting or even useful.

To understand better, this is intended to be the ideal layperson's review of the iPod Touch. If you've never had an iPod of any sort, this is exactly what to expect when you think the iPod Touch might be right for you. I have never owned so much as a cellular telephone, so this is VERY much the review of someone unfamiliar with mp3 players (brand name or not) and related technologies. This is somewhat an ideal review for those who are using a PC instead of a Mac, as all my interactions with the iPod Touch have been through a PC. And the short version is that I received my iPod Touch at a time when I was very busy with other things, which made it a poor time to receive something with as high a learning curve as this. Even so, the more I have played with this device, the more I have come to enjoy it. Here's how the iPod Touch has changed my last week!

Thursday, September 17 2009 - Received the iPod Touch in the mail. Completely geeked out. The iPod Touch arrived in a solid plastic case that took me about fifteen minutes to break into (determined as I was to not break the case or the iPod Touch inside). The hard plastic case revealed the very stylish looking iPod Touch, which is a 4 1/4" long x 2 1/2" wide x 1/4" deep video screen, essentially. This looks like a little monitor that fits in one's hand and is accessed using controls on the touchscreen.

The 8 GB iPod Touch is very stylish in appearance. The front is a glossy black touchscreen that made me instantly paranoid about getting scratches. The back is a stainless steel casing that has a futuristic (or I suppose, now contemporary) appearance. The back has the Apple logo etched in, along with basic information like the fact that this is an 8 GB iPod. The iPod Touch is very light - only a few ounces and has very few controls on the surface of the device. After breaking into the first hard plastic case, the next step is to get the iPod out of the inner tray. This is actually part of the psych out of the device as it comes attached to a tray with a sticker of the screen covering it. The sticker binds the iPod Touch to the plastic tray. So, once one peels off the sticker and exposes the actual screen, the tabs on either end of the plastic tray may be depressed and the iPod Touch may easily be slid out.

The iPod Touch 8 GB comes with an anemic manual at the back of the hard plastic case, along with the cord needed to connect the iPod Touch to the USB port of any computer. It also comes with the white Apple earbuds that are standard to the iPod Touch. The manual is a small pamphlet which informs users that all they need to do to get anything out of the iPod Touch is go to the iTunes website and download the latest version of iTunes. There are pictures of the iPod doing things after that, but nothing so useful as a note on how to turn the iPod on. Seriously. The iPod Touch's manual is so pointless that there are no directions on how to: turn the iPod Touch on, turn the iPod Touch off, charge the battery on the iPod Touch, use the iPod Touch, or play music, adjust the volume or anything else with the iPod Touch! Apple assumes everyone who has just purchased (or received an iPod Touch knows exactly what to do with it and how). All the manual says is "go to [webaddress] and download the latest version of iTunes to get started." This is a misnomer; it helps to know how to turn the iPod on first!

So, I began poking around the iPod Touch. This is a generally intuitive device in that there are only three physical buttons. The first is a power button on the top of the device. The power button is a small pushbutton that must be held down. After about five seconds of holding the button down, the screen lights up and the iPod begins thinking. The first time this happens, nothing happens; the iPod Touch is looking for a connection to Apple to download the iTunes software.

The two other buttons are the volume up/down on the left side and the "Home" button, which essentially acts as a "Back" button (like on a web browser). The volume buttons are a simple pair of buttons that raise and lower the volume of music being played on the iPod Touch (or the basic sound effects it plays when one is typing or the like). The ports for the iPod Touch are both at the bottom. There is a port for the USB connection (the end in the iPod Touch is a wide, flat port that appears unique to the iPod and the male end (for going into a computer) is a very standard USB connecting end. The negative end, which plugs into the iPod Touch, plugs in easily.

So, my partner and I went to the local library to set up the iTunes account and "synch" the iPod Touch because our computer - being on dial up - is slow as anything. Following the on-screen directions, we soon had the iPod Touch loaded with the appropriate software, which was free. The iPod Touch's OS is 3.1.1 and my first gripe about this product is this: why doesn't the iPod Touch come with its OS already loaded?! It is a big pain in the butt to have to start by downloading software into the iPod Touch when it could come with everything one needs right in it and eliminate any problems with the initial transfer of information to the iPod. However, the first upload seemed to go well: our iPod Touch was reactivated, synched and the opening menus popped right up. For some reason, we also received a dozen songs which allowed us to prove the iPod Touch actually worked.

Turning the iPod Touch on, we found little graphics on the screen for the various applications. I immediately figured out how to turn the Nike application off (not a fan) so when the main screen came up, Nike wasn't there. I was proud of myself. Next, we tested the music. Touching the "music" button, a songlist came up of the few songs that were now on the iPod from the connection we made to iTunes initially. Tapping the individual song, the song began to play. It sounded c.d. quality and the music was decent. The interface was simple, with universal-symbol controls and a fairly easy to use navigation system.

We also decided to try the "Notes" application as that seemed like it would be simple. My partner and I passed notes to one another by touching the application button and a notepad was brought up. We found this application easy to use as a small keyboard came up and we could poke at it. The keys on the keyboard are approximately 1/2 cm. around and they are difficult to hit. It made me instantly wonder why the iPod Touch did not come with any sort of stylus to make typing easier.

We also discovered that when the iPod Touch is plugged into a USB port, the battery will be recharged . . . so long as the computer is able to recognize it as an iPod. This means that our library's computer easily began to charge the iPod Touch's battery, but that when we plugged the iPod Touch into our home computer, it would not charge. We put the iPod Touch up for the night having loaded only the OS and played with the notes program on it.

Turning off the iPod Touch is another study in redundancy. After holding down the On/Off button for five seconds, a slide button appeared on the screen to actually turn the iPod Touch off. In other words, there is a hardware and software control one must activate in order to turn the iPod Touch off. After the first few hours with the iPod Touch, I was still excited. My partner and I talked about putting all of our c.d.s onto this device and then freeing up all sorts of shelf space for the future. We were psyched.

Friday, September 18 2009 - Eager to get on with the backing up of all our music, we plugged the iPod Touch into our PC. It would not recognize it. So, we went to the library and uploaded the iTunes software to our flash drive and brought it home. We were informed our PCs needed a Service Pack for Windows in order to run the installation of the iTunes software. With the library closed and the Service Pack being a bit larger than we liked, we decided to wait until we could get the software from the library the next day.

The Notes program became a nice way to flirt with one another while we waited.

Saturday, September 19, 2009 - Got the Service Pack from Microsoft and rushed home to install that and the iTunes software. Everything installed correctly on both my PC and my partners! Both computers now have iTunes (very exciting). Neither computer recognizes the iPod Touch. Yes, both our computers know that the device attached to the computer is an iPod Touch, but neither one has the drivers for it so that the iTunes library may interface with the actual iPod. In other words, our computer and iPod Touch cannot talk with one another. Not so happy anymore.

Sunday, September 20 2009 - Spent an hour and a half looking for drivers for Windows 2000 systems for the iPod Touch. Found many articles online informing me of similar problems people had, no solutions evident from either Apple or Microsoft.

We went to lunch and afterward purchased a skin for the iPod Touch so it would not get scratched up. While at the store, we learned that there is no way to upgrade the memory on the iPod Touch. The iPod Touch 8 GB has eight gigabytes worth of capacity and there is no way to change that. Want to make it a 16 or 32 GB iPod? Too bad! You have to buy another. FYI; most places will not allow you to exchange an iPod 8 GB for a model with more memory unless you bought it there and have not removed it from the package.

We begrudgingly used the iPod Touch to time our nightly walk. I grumbled about how our $200 device was doing the work of a dollar store digital timer. My partner shut me up by playing a Beethoven track from the iPod Touch.

Monday, September 21, 2009 - I wasted more time trying to find the correct patches which would allow our iPod Touch to use iTunes on our Windows based systems. We did not find any. So, I tried to begin the process of using iTunes on our computers to start backing up our c.d. collections. Instead, I managed to create a massive, disorganized folder on my computer of EVERY media file present on the computer. Every song, video and the like was plopped into the iTunes folder in a jumble that is massive and terrifying (I don't even know where some of these files came from!). Clicking the "Import CD " button on iTunes many, many times did absolutely nothing, so I gave up for the night.

I refused to take the iPod Touch with us on our nightly walk.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 - I awoke early to go to the library to truly delve into the iPod Touch.  I trudged off to the library to begin opening the iPod Touch up and writing this very review.

With my entire c.d. collection on my back, I headed out and I brought a DVD as well. Plugging the iPod Touch into my library's computer, I had to once again install iTunes 9 onto the library's computer. That was not a problem. So, then , I began doing my experiments. It took me literally one hour to download the Digital copy of Watchmen into my iTunes folder. And now that the film is there, it won't play. I felt happy; simply plugging the iPod Touch into the computer while iTunes was activated began a synch of the device and the file library on iTunes. All of a sudden, my copy of Watchmen was on my iPod Touch. I tapped "Movies," there was a picture of the movie poster. I tapped it and the screen went dark and I was delighted that it was about to play. Only, it didn't. The screen said "This movie could not be played." The librarian glared at me when I began to swear.

So, I've begun copying my c.d.s to my iTunes folder here at the library. I started in alphabetical order. So, my first take was with the Fiona Apple album Tidal. With iTunes properly installed, each time a c.d. was placed into the cd drive of the PC I was on, iTunes acknowledged it as a new device. By clicking on the c.d.'s title, a track listing was brought up and from there, I "Select All" in the window and drag the contents to my music file in iTunes. Each c.d. is copied and iTunes even looks up the album covers for each album, which is pretty cool. Backing up a c.d. takes about five minutes on the system I am using. Every few discs, I close iTunes, plug my iPod Touch back into the computer and open iTunes again. This starts a synch and all of my new files in my iTunes folder are placed on my iPod Touch. As of right now, I have eight albums that have been successfully placed on my iPod Touch.

Those eight albums represent 97 songs and 842 megabytes of space taken up on the iPod Touch. Along with my malfunctioning copy of Watchmen (almost 3 GB) this seemed alarming to me. It was then that I discovered that when one imports c.d.s iTunes, the default setting is for AAC format, which plays perfectly in the iPod Touch, but is annoyingly bulky as far as files go. With AAC files, my iPod Touch would be lucky to hold seventy albums worth of c.d.s or about 800 songs. I thought this was strange and went into the help files online to try to fix this. The iTunes Help section actually had a place to correct this. So, I started to import all of my c.d.s as MP3 files. The difference is this: the nine albums I now have on my iPod Touch have 137 songs and occupy 648.8 MB (a total of 3.96 MB is currently left because the OS takes up almost 200 MB of space). For an even better example, one song in AAC format was 10.5 MB; in mp3 format it takes up only 6.3 MB. The only annoying aspect of this conversion is that all of the original files (from the discs I had already loaded onto the iPod Touch) remained present after the conversions were done and had to be manually deleted (i.e. the songs were present in iTunes in both AAC and MP3 formats until I deleted the AAC versions). Converting the formats took about two minutes on the computer.

So, listening to Tidal while I continue to convert files into MP3 files led me to notice no differences between the c.d. and MP3 versions of the songs. I tend to notice more differences between playing music on stereos as opposed to anything with headphones and that holds true here. The audio quality is quite good on the iPod Touch. As well, the interface is very easy to use. With the flick of a finger, I can move between albums, artists or an alphabetical listing of all of the tracks on the iPod Touch. Volume control is easily maintained through a slide control at the bottom or by adjusting the physical buttons on the sides.

Now that I have those wrinkles ironed out (I'm still awaiting a call from Apple to fix my Watchmen video and figure out what is going on there!) the process is going much smoother. Outside the occasional hiccup (like a track from a Sheryl Crow compilation suddenly appearing as its own album) the process is now going much smoother and by tonight, I anticipate I shall have my entire c.d. library on this little device.

So, other things about the iPod Touch. The battery. The longest I have had this disconnected from the computers has been 35 minutes. The rest of the time, it has been charging through the USB transfers. In that time, the battery indicator went down by only a few pixels - so little that my partner denied it even recognized a change (I saw it, though). The earbuds are hard, plug into the bottom and work fine. In addition, the iPod Touch 8 GB has a wireless modem. The wi-fi connection works wonderfully even with the casing over the sensor. The internet is actually faster on the iPod Touch than it is on my dial up PC. The iPod Touch also has a neat little function which is that when one turns it, the screen turns for a widescreen presentation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - Deleted Watchmen from the iPod Touch in order to get it fixed/make more room for music (still have 5 gb space and I'm only about a third of the way through my c.d. collection!). The process is going smoothly now.

I also downloaded my first digital download. That process was made remarkably easy through the iTunes store. After the digital download (Imogen Heap's new album) was downloaded to my iTunes, I had to remember to move it over to the iPod, but that was no problem.

What is a problem is capacity. I now have 1508 songs on my iPod and it is not my entire c.d. collection. This is a big disappointment as I had been hoping to have my entire musical library on the iPod Touch and still be able to do other things with it. This is not the case.

Also, I thought it would be worth noting that the iPod Touch does not have a camera on it. I mention this because with the wi-fi connection and the ability to connect Bluetooth technology to it, it can essentially become a phone. But, it does not have a physical camera in it, so it cannot be used as such.

It is also worth noting that when the earbuds are removed while playing music, the iPod Touch pauses the playback of music. This is a cool feature and one I did not expect.

All in all, the iPod Touch is a cool device, but it has a much, much higher learning curve to it than any other Apple product I have ever used. The software is irksome, the interface would be much easier to use with a stylus and I would have liked a way to upgrade without having to buy an entirely new iPod. That said, this is a cool little device and I am grateful to have it. For those just getting into the whole iPod thing, though, this may offer way too many options with too little support initially.


For other electronics reviews of mine, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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