When Apple unveiled the iPod touch our reception of it was lukewarm. Its video wasn’t as bright and defined as that of the iPhone. It offered an unnecessarily hobbled set of features–the Calendar application, for example, didn’t allow you to add or edit events and it lacked applications such as Stocks, Weather, and Notes. And its playtime didn’t measure up to Apple’s estimates. Slick though the touch screen interface was, many were disappointed that the touch didn’t live up to the dream of the “phone-less iPhone.”

The 32GB iPod touch released by Apple Tuesday demonstrates that today’s iPod touch very nearly does.

Getting the picture

Apple addressed the most egregious video performance issues–where dark video and photos were really dark and lacked contrast–in the iPod touch 1.1.1 update (). After applying the update, video on affected iPods improved. Yet even with the update our original 16GB iPod touches didn’t produce video as bright and defined as did an iPhone, though what it did produce was watchable.

The quality of my 32GB iPod touch’s screen still doesn’t match that of either of my iPhones. Its display has a yellower cast and is darker than my iPhones’ displays. Fortunately you’re unlikely to be bothered by these issues unless you have the touch next to an iPhone and compare the two as I did, in which case you might be the tiniest bit envious of the iPhone’s display.

Added applications

Apple eventually allowed adding and editing events within the touch’s Calendar application through a free software update. The iPhone’s “non-phone” applications remained missing in action, however, until Steve Jobs announced a US$20 add-on package of iPod touch applications at the recent Macworld Expo. These applications–Mail, Stocks, Maps, Weather, and Notes–are included with iPod touches sold today.

They work just as they do on the iPhone other than providing links to calling functionality. For example, you can ask an iPhone to dial a phone number embedded in a Safari page or contact. Obviously this feature doesn’t exist on the iPod touch. Just as with an iPhone running version 1.1.3 of the iPhone software, the iPod touch, with its 1.1.3 software includes the Maps application enhancements as well as the ability to place web clippings on the Home screen, rearrange icons on that Home screen, and add additional Home screen pages to accommodate those web clippings and the third-party applications that Apple will make available later this year.

Better battery management

Apple has found a way to squeeze more life out of a battery charge. With the 1.1.1 iPod touch software my iPod touch played music continuously for just under 17 hours–five hours short of Apple’s claim of 22 hours of continuous audio play. My new 32GB iPod touch, running software version 1.1.3, played for 26 hours and 36 minutes–four and a half hours longer than Apple’s estimate. As with the test files on my 16GB iPod touch, these were AAC files encoded at 128kbps of lengths between two and six minutes. WiFi was switched on and EQ and Sound Check turned off. Screen brightness and volume were set in the middle, and the touch was configured to Auto-Lock after one minute.

At this point I don’t know what to attribute the increased playtime to–whether there’s something special about the 32GB iPod touch or the latest software manages power better. With that in mind, I’m retesting the audio playtime on my old 16GB iPod touch (which is running the 1.1.3 software and includes the $20 add-on application pack) to see if the latest software gives the battery a boost. I’ll post results when I have them.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’ve held off on purchasing an iPod touch because it hasn’t offered enough of the iPhone’s functionality or storage, it may be time to reconsider unbuckling your credit card. Granted, the display could be a bit brighter and its color a little more balanced. I still desire external volume controls. And it’s been a long time since you’ve been asked to pay $500 for a 30-ish GB iPod. But the inclusion of Mail, Stocks, Maps, Weather, and Notes has transformed the iPod touch. Now, not only is it a solid and attractive portable media player, but, finally, a darned fine Internet communications device as well.

[Senior editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, third edition (2008, Peachpit Press).]

Comment: edit@itworldcanada.com

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