The second-generation iPod touch has only a few features that differentiate it from its predecessor, but it's still a worthy upgrade from the original. Notable improvements include dedicated volume buttons, a built-in speaker, and longer battery life, but we also like the new contoured back, which makes the device feel even thinner in our hand. The new firmware (2.1) and iTunes 8 also offer some new features, though most are available to first-gen iPod touch owners, too.
Design and New Features
Like the original, the new touch has the same dimensions (4.3 x 2.4 x 0.3 inches), a 3.5-inch multi-touch display (still our favorite), integrated Wi-Fi, and a built-in accelerometer. Capacity options are still at 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB of flash memory, and there's only one color design available--black front with stainless steel backing.
The touch's cross-platform integration with iTunes software is still tops. The new Genius feature generates playlists based on the current song when you tap the screen and then touch the Genius icon. During testing, the feature worked well, with very few inappropriate tracks making their way into lists.
Thanks to the latest firmware, backups are quicker, too: what used to take 20 minutes to an hour now takes less than a minute. Fortunately for first-gen touch owners, this firmware is available to them as well.
Audio and Video
The iPod touch's stock white earbuds aren't bad, but we plugged in our Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones and got excellent sound when playing all types of music. Bass in Bob Marley songs, like "Exodus," thumped, while vocals and cymbals came through very clearly in acoustic jazz like Anita O'Day's rendition of "Old Devil Moon."
We appreciate the addition of the built-in speaker, but it's not very powerful. It's hidden inside the dock connector port, and it sounded very tinny, producing significantly less volume than the iPhone's speakers. Nevertheless, the speaker is useful for many apps and also for watching videos.
Superbad looked great on the gorgeous screen, and the audio was perfectly synced. When browsing movies, a small blue dot next to each item now indicates whether the video is new or has been partially viewed.
Gameplay is generally very good, and a wide selection of stunningly visual and addictive titles are available. We noticed fewer lags in complex games such as Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D than we had on the 1G touch. However, we noticed that the car pulled to the right on the 2G touch, but not on the 1G touch or the iPhone 3G. The issue recurred on two separate units, but we didn't notice similar problems in other games, such as Asphalt 4: Elite Racing, leading us to conclude the issue is with the game, not the iPod touch's accelerometer.
Wi-Fi and Battery Life
There's no noticeable change in Wi-Fi performance; we e-mailed (still no search), surfed the Web (still no cut and paste), watched YouTube clips, bought songs from the Wi-Fi iTunes Store, and downloaded items from the App Store, and all worked quickly with no crashes or hangs. We loaded CNN.com's mobile site in about 4 seconds, and Laptopmag.com took about 12 seconds--the same times as with the first version of the touch.
App installs were much quicker with this device; on the first-generation touch, the process would take 20 seconds to a minute. Now, most are ready to use within 7 seconds of confirming purchase. Oddly, however, Google Maps "located" us at our previous address on one occasion--over 1,000 miles away from our location at the time of testing.
Battery life is significantly improved, increasing from 22 hours to a very respectable 36 hours of audio (or 6 hours of video), though that's dependent on how much you use Wi-Fi and accelerometer-based apps.
The volume buttons, speaker, quicker app installs, and improved battery life help offset minor glitches with Google Maps, as well as still-missing items like cut-and-paste and e-mail search. The iPod touch is slimmer and sexier than the latest Zune and far outclasses it in terms of versatility, though it still lacks the Zune's ability to sync wirelessly with a PC. Hopefully Apple will address our quibbles with a firmware upgrade in the near future, but in general no portable media player is in the same league as the new iPod touch.