The Steve Bass Guide to the iPod Touch

By  |  Monday, July 13, 2009 at 10:52 am

Steve Bass's TechBiteYou would think a PC guy could escape Apple’s clutches. I’ve been successful until now, but I recently bought an Apple iPod Touch. Here’s the weird part: I love it.

If you own an iPod Touch, you’re wondering why it took me so long. For the rest of you: This is one fun device, and a terrifically useful one with the right applications. Watch a video to see what the gizmo does. (Warning: The presenter is a hurt-your-eyes perky Apple evangelist.)

Actually, I had no choice. My wife, Judy, heard about iBird ($30), a must-have birding program available for the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. The app does away with the hassle of carrying birding field guides; iBird shows images and illustrations of birds, plays their songs, supplies behavior and range details, and more. (Even if you’re not a birder, watch a video of iBird in action–it’s amazing.)

The Apple Phenomenon

The iPod touch can do everything you’d expect from a portable media player — listen to music and podcasts, watch videos, and run programs designed for it. It’s just that everything is a lot cooler, including the icons, the navigation, and the nifty free apps.

And boy, are there apps. I’ve downloaded a dozen free Sudoku programs, a high-frequency whistle to get my dog’s attention, an accurate carpenter’s level, and dozens of others fun tools. I have a Wi-Fi finder, a news reader for the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, a cheap gas looker-upper, and the Weather Channel and Weather Network, both which get me more detailed weather forecasts than the iPod’s built-in weather feature. Google has all sorts of applications and services especially designed for mobile devices, including pint-sized versions of Google News, Google Calendar, and Gmail.

Most of the apps are free or cost under a buck. To download podcasts, for instance, I found RSSPlayer, a 99-cent gem.

You can use your home network wireless connection to download everything. If you’re traveling, or just floating around town, and within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot, say, a library with free access, or fee-based Wi-Fi at Starbucks, you can use the iPod’s built in wireless feature to access the Internet. Just like on your notebook, you can check e-mail, browse the Web, stream video and podcasts, and download programs. The touch is essentially an iPhone, but without the outrageous monthly fee for the continuous Internet connection.

This just in: You can get free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, just by getting and registering one of its refillable cards. You’ll need to refill or use the card monthly and put up with a few easily filtered AT&T e-mails.

Look Out for iTunes

However, if you’re into S&M, use iTunes instead to transfer music to your touch or download apps. Apple’s official boondoogle, iTunes was designed by monkeys and is the dumbest, most unintuitive program I’ve seen since I tried to use dBase II’s command line. (Rumor has it that iTunes engineers actually enjoyed using the barcode-reading CueCat.)

Want to buy a Touch? Amazon sells an 8GB version for $215; we wanted the extra legroom, so opted for the 16GB version, a whopping $275. Odd, but Amazon beat Costco’s prices on the 8GB version by about $10 bucks. No, don’t bother looking for better prices. Apple doesn’t offer discounts.

Three Essential iPod Tools

You know it’s difficult to buy a device and then try to avoid getting accessories. Here are the three I bought to keep my iPod up and running.

* 4-in-1 Car Charger for iPod: I use the $30 USB-to-iPod cable to charge the device at home. In the car, Kensington’s 4-in-1 Car Charger does the trick. I can also charge other USB-cabled devices, such as my cell phone and camera.

* Kensington Battery Pack and Charger: If you’re heading up into the Himalayas and won’t have access to a power outlet, take along a battery pack. About $40 on Amazon, the Kensington Battery Pack and Charger weighs 22 ounces and has enough juice to run your gadget for 100 hours of music or podcasts or 21 hours of video. I can’t vouch for the specs, but I will say the Battery Pack provided enough power for my iPod to run iBird and play podcasts for a full day; the Battery Pack indicator lights showed it still had plenty of juice left.

* MediaGate I-kit: One hassle with an old car is getting the iPod sounds over to the radio. (Ancient ain’t the word. We own a 1992 Roadtrek; the radio still has a tape deck.) We used to use a cassette-tape converter gizmo, but we’ve graduated to a transmitter that sends the sound from the iPod to an unused FM-radio station. I like the goose-neck that lets me rotate the holder in every direction; it also has a USB port for charging, eliminating the need for an extra device. It sells for about $24 on Amazon.

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. Bill Pytlovany Says:

    Well, Steve and I have had similar tastes in gadgets and we agree on this one too. In fact, life Judy I have iBird as one of the few costly apps that I’ve added.

    The one accessory that really makes the iTouch great is my Verizon MiFi. It’s something I can also use when traveling with my PC but it allows me to go anywhere with my iTouch and have full network abilities.

    There’s only one more app I really really want. EyeFi has an application but what I need is the ability for my camera (using an EyeFi card) to send photos to my iTouch. Then I could upload them anywhere I want instantly.


  2. ediedi Says:

    I bought a 1st generation ipod touch, and it has nevel left my side since i got it. I must admit none of the apps i tried really stuck for more than 1-2 days (except, of course the mandatory solitaire), ‘action’ type games are really unplayable, especially the ones using the accelerometer.

    But mobile safari is incredible. I do almost all my tech-blog reading on it.
    The interface is also amazing.
    My oly regret is not having the speaker the second gens have, but I’ll wait for the next gen, maybe they add the rumored camera.
    Regarding itunes, yes it is a bit counterintuitive at times, but since i disabled autosync, and basically i drag&drop everything, it’s ok.
    Of course, i got a car FM emitter-base station for my on-the go needs.

    In conlusion, the only thing that would make me part with it is the new generation itouch with a camera.

  3. Ted Landry Says:

    Think an iPod Touch is great, try a Mac… it’s easily 16.4 times better than any iPhone or iPod Touch.

  4. Chris Russell Says:

    I love the review of the iPod Touch, I just disagree about iTunes. I have a substantial music library (over 100GB), much of it classical music, as well as a substantial library of (my own) DVDs that I’ve encoded using Handbrake. I love the search engine on iTunes, as it allows me to find a specific song or movie in seconds. I was a dedicated PC user until last October, when I switched to Mac, and I don’t know of another PC-based music management system that matches the search ability of iTunes (on PC or Mac!). I also manage eight iPhones or iPod touches with my computer, and the ability to create multiple playlists, as well as to be able to set certain playlists to sync with specific iPods/iPhones is very important to me.

    My only major gripe is the management of apps through iTunes. I want to be able to set which installed apps appear on specific pages on my devices through iTunes…I dislike how that all has to be managed on the device itself.

    As a final comment, be careful about that Touch…it might be the pathway through which you convert to Mac. I grew up on PCs and have owned 7 PCs of my own since 1990…I even bought a Dell DJ instead of an iPod to avoid Apple products. When Dell ditched the DJ, I sold it before it lost all value and moved to an iPod Video, then an iPod Touch, then an iPhone…and then a MacBook. And after being a PC user for years…I don’t regret it. Ever.

  5. Al Says:

    iTunes is the reason the iPod became ubiquitous. It is so easy to use even my 80 something mother has no trouble with it.

    You can sync your iPod/iPhone to whatever playlist, podcast, data or movie you want and not sync it to the stuff you don’t want. It’s easy to self manage the syncing by just clicking on the check boxes beside the stuff you want to sync. My 4 year old nephew has no problem managing his iPod with it.

    You are a typical PC user always looking for a much harder, more convoluted management system. Years of Windows usage will do that to a person.

  6. Windy Millers Hardware & Software News Says:

    Apparently there will be a new touch launched sometime around spetember this year! Of course it’s not confirmed though, just speculation 😉

  7. LouiseA Says:

    Just curious: what IS your objection to iTunes? Everybody I know (Mac and PC users alike) finds it quite intuitive.

  8. 32gb ipod touch Says:

    Thank you for good reviews, I just bought Kensington Battery Pack and Charger same with you and I like it too.

  9. Microsoft CRM Says:

    I felt the same way when for years I had avoided anything Apple and then bought an iPod to replace my old mp3 players. I now understand while people really like their Apple devices as my iPod has been just great and would never consider buying another other than Apple when this breaks down and I have to replace it. It just works the way you would expect it to work.

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