In the last 3 months, I turned from lukewarm bordering on Apple hate to a complete Apple Tool after buying a 2G Nano and an iPod Touch within like 3 months of each other. I know I’ve been critical of Apple in the past but mostly it was due to value for the money, or lack thereof. Well I do have some niggles about their user interface and hardware quality as well but they do manage to pack a good experience in some parts of the equation.
So I’ve been living on a WiMo PocketPC for the past 5 years. Nokia? Ericsson? Blah. I’ve been swearing by the HTC brand for years. So when the iPhone was announced some time back I wasn’t exactly excited. The stuff Steve Jobs talked about in his keynotes where pretty cool but the overall impression was that WiMo is just the better phone platform. WiMo has its detractors and they all say it’s unstable, wasteful, blah blah and while it is true that battery life on WiMo Handhelds is never the best, Nokia Symbian phones have been sluggish and hanging for a while now as well. WiMo also has many features that simply cannot be matched by any other celphone on the market. The iPhone was low on the tech specs but high on the cool factor, but it also missed a lot of key features I was used to with WiMo like voice command and the stylus, and a hard QWERTY keyboard. It wasn’t particularly compact either, like the iPod Nano 2G which I just adore (I love small gadgets with big oomph).
So why did I buy myself an iPod Touch? Well whilst the iPhone was useless to me as a phone, its other features were pretty impressive. The dual-touch touchscreen and accelerometers made for some interesting mechanics. But the Touch was just a big MP3 player with small memory compared to other iPods or Zens or even Zunes. What’s the point? Well it can do a lot of things that the old iPod Classic can’t: take notes, control the calendar and of course wifi surfing! With some hacking you can add real to-do lists, ebook readers and other traditional PDA features. Basically, it’s coming close to being a real PDA!
I have an old iPaq, my first PDA phone, that I retired a long time ago and just use for surfing on the net at home. It was great but even the best browser on WiMo has severe difficulties browing with its small screen. The iPhone and the Touch used the Safari browser to great effect, letting you display full pages with the screen resizing! It seemed like a great gadget to replace my iPaq as a surfing device.
So I went out and got one. Now that I’ve had it, I have to say, I’m impressed in some ways, but disappointed in others. The Safari Browser is excellent for surfing and is probably the best handheld internet surfing option to date. The screen resolution isn’t as big as the HTC Universal’s or the upcoming Sony XPeria or even the Nokia N800, but the Safari browser and the multitouch screen more than make up for it by displaying pages in great detail even on small screens. The closest thing to it is Opera Mini but that option isn’t quite as slick as iPhone/Touch’s application. However, the Touch/iPhone gets docked for the limited input entry. The softkeyboard works better than the WiMo equivalent stock keyboard, but pales in comparison to the handwriting recognition options and hard QWERTY keyboards of WiMo and similar devices. In addition, the inability to do basic functions like highlighting a portion of text to copy and paste is unbelievably primitive to my WiMo sensibilities.
The Touch is great for surfing casually where you just go around the web reading stuff, but if you actually want to do something substantive, like blogging or posting on a messageboard, it is far inferior to a WiMo device especially something like the HTC Universal, which is arguably the best handheld for this purpose to date.
Navigating around the device is also a chore. The device truly wasn’t meant to be a PDA, but an MP3 player with add-ons. You would have to go through hardcore hacking to get any real semblance of file management on the device. I’ve handled all sorts of handhelds and between the Palm OS, WiMo and this mini-OSX I have to say OSX is the absolute worst. The limitations are laughably primitive when it comes to productivity. It gets props though for style.
That said the Touch ends up not replacing the iPaq for a certain class of webbrowser. It’s great for looking but not for leaping (or writing, in this case). Its PDA functions are also dependent on 3rd party work and are not well-integrated, or nice to use for that matter.
However it really shines as an eBook/PDF reader and for casual surfing. This is more than you can say about WiMo, which doesn’t have any decent book readers (and I’ve tried them all). Palm is also good here but the Touch is clearly the best.
For mp3 playback you’d expect the iPod is the best but this isn’t exactly clearcut. iPods have always had issues with file management (due to the iTunes dependency and inability to hot transfer files to the device as a USB disk) and the playlist management is still not easy to do on the go. It’s better with the Touch but still not close to the media centers you get on WiMo and Palm. The hardware integration of the interface on the classic iPods was great but the touchscreen implementation on the Touch and iPhone is not as smooth and is only on par at best with what we have on WiMo and Palm touchscreens. Useless features like coverflow are just that — gimmick features that don’t really do anything for the playlist interface. Give me the ability to manage and edit playlists in a robust manner on the go! This was never feasilby on the old iPods but with the Touch it should have been a piece of cake.
When it comes down to it, the Touch gives you a taste of what the iPhone is, sans the calling and messaging features. And when I think about it, I was right not to be excited over the iPhone. It isn’t anywhere close to being a replacement for a real PDA Phone handheld like the HTC Touch, the Dopods and the O2s, and all the other great WiMo handhelds. They aren’t perfect either, and we could only wish for better battery life, but they are leaps and bounds better than Apples implementation. Apple’s system just feels like you’re in a cage with limited maneuverability options, or perhaps you’re at a full steak dinner with 9 sets of silverware in front of you, but your hands had been amputated that morning. So much you wish you could do, but can’t due to the closed limits of the OS.
That said, the Touch is a very nifty device. I bought a 16GB for about $100US, a real steal. Much like the 8GB Nano that I got at the time whcih was a great value, I can’t really fault the Touch for what it can do, at the price that I paid. It’s a great web surfing device, almost unparalleled but for the lack of a QWERTY keyboard and cut and paste, it’s a good MP3 player with great sound quality, battery life is decent if you’re not surfing the entire day. With 3rd party apps you can customize it to do a lot of useful things, like unit conversion, and let’s face it it just looks plain sexy. The iPhone was kind of fat but the Touch is so slim, it slips into a breast or pant pocket easily and doesn’t leave much of a footprint.
I realize I misleadingly put the iPhone up against the WiMo phones here when I actually have a Touch, but the Touch is pretty representative of what the iPhone can do sans the call and messaging options. Besides, the Touch vs. a PDA Phone just wouldn’t be a good comparison.
Overall I say, if you can get a good deal on the Touch, it’s a great gadget to get especially if you just need something like a PDA-lite.