Review: iPod touch 2nd Generation

The revised and updated iPod touch offers a slimmed down profile and bulked up features. While the change is more evolutionary than revolutionary, it makes using the player a lot more pleasant.

It’s odd that Apple’s marketing has dubbed this version the “funnest iPod ever” in ads, since all the fun features it’s showcasing—the ability to download games, a built-in accelerometer, multi-touch controls—aren’t new with this version. Still, there are plenty of new features to get excited about.

The Outside
Pick up the iPod Touch and you’ll notice immediately that it’s thinner than its predecessor. All versions are just 0.33-inches deep (as well as 4.3-inches tall and 2.4-inches wide, with a weight of 4.05 ounces). The back is now gracefully rounded, so it feels better in the hand.

The iPod touch has gained a few worthwhile physical features already found on the iPhone. It now has external volume buttons on the top left, so users can nudge the volume up or down without unlocking the screen. The touch also now has a speaker—an iPod first—so users can listen without headphones or earbuds. It doesn’t provide the fullest, richest sound, naturally, but it’s a helpful addition for those times when you want to share a song with some friends.

The Inside
The iPod touch comes with iPod software version 2.1.1, so you won’t need to upgrade the software to get access to the online App Store. (Older iPod touch owners had to pay for the upgrade.)

That means this iPod touch also supports the new Genius feature, which enables the iPod to create playlists based off one starter song. In our testing, the Genius feature performed amazingly well, creating playlists that captured the mood and style of the original song, while still offering some variety. We spoke to an Apple representative who said that the algorithms behind the Genius feature analyze the playlists of millions of iTunes users, examining how they combine songs. They also consider iTunes Store purchases, seeing which songs are bought together. Contrary to what we expected, it doesn’t create playlists by matching genres or beats-per-minute.

This iPod touch also offers Nike+iPod support, a feature also found in the iPod Nano. Nike+iPod allows an iPod to receive data from a Nike+ sensor (sold separately), which is intended to be worn in a special compartment in a Nike+ running shoe. Previously, users had to attach an add-on receiver to an iPod Nano to use the running sensor, or use the Nike+SportBand. The integrated receiver makes using the Nike+ system simpler. Apple has confined the Nike+ system to flash-based iPods with displays. An Apple rep told us that Nike+ connectivity couldn’t be added to older iPod touches or iPhones, since it wasn’t a software-only solution. He declined to comment, though, on what type of antenna or receiver is built in.

The iPod Touch 2nd Generation
Son of iPod: The iPod Touch 2nd Generation

As with other Nike+iPod software, you can designate one song as your “power song,” tapping a button to hear it when you need a little extra boost.

Our only complaint is that the software directs you to choose a playlist to accompany your run, but won’t let you select a particular artist or CD. For that, you’ll need to start the music from your regular library first, then open the Nike+iPod app.

As before, the iPod touch offers Wi-Fi 802.11b/g connectivity, so you can use it to Web surf or check your e-mail over any open network. The iPod’s Mail app works with Apple’s Mobile Me, so you can have your mail, contacts, and calendars synched automatically with a subscription ($99 per year). We wish the iPod touch offered more Wi-Fi features: automatic iTunes synching would be a pleasure.

Even though it’s thinner, this iPod touch offers better battery life than the original, with 36 hours of audio or six hours of video playback.

Finally, the iPod touch is cheaper than before, which is certainly a welcome improvement. The 32GB model sells for $399, the 16GB for $299, and the 8GB for $229. That means the top two models are $100 less and the 8GB model is $70 less than before.

The iPod continues to evolve with more features and a more budget-friendly price tag. With even greater versatility—music, photos, video, games, and running software—the iPod touch keeps its place as the best portable around.

Apple iPod Touch, 2nd Generation
Price: 8GB, $229; 16GB, $299; 32GB, $399
Pros: Thinner; external volume buttons; speaker; supports the iTunes Genius tool; Nike+iPod support; improved battery life; lower price
Cons: Niki+ software offers limited song selection options; Wi-Fi synching could go farther

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