Saturday, April 11, 2009

The iPod Touch - A Mini Review

Ok, I have to admit I am not a big fan of the iPod. Looking at them from their first release through the Touch mostly they looked small, fragile and a pain to use.

However Palm previously announced they were going to retire their current operating system. I love the program Life Balance on my Palm. It is available on the Palm OS, which is going away eventually, and the iPhone/iPod Touch. Sigh. Since I have found some items dating back to 2001, giving up Life Balance would not be easy. I could follow some of my friends' advice and stock pile Palm devices so that I can keep using Life Balance indefinitely. However I figure time marches on and many of the programs I do use for the Palm have fallen in complete abandon-ware or purely bug fixes. It is time for something new, and the iPod Touch is just the ticket.

I have a 32 gig iPod using version 2.2.1. My thought was to use the Touch to listen to podcasts as well, maybe as a complete replacement for my existing iRiver Nomad that has also fallen into the abandoned hardware pile. More on my reasons why I am skipping that later.

Physical - I thought the physical size of the Touch was going to be a problem. Now my hands & fingers are not huge, but having seen the controls on past units, and the size of Shuffles, I was worried.  I have used some of those little phones in the past and not felt comfortable with them.

Actually I like the feel of the Touch in my hand. I would not mind it being a hair wider, but it fits easily into my shirt pocket and my thumb hits just right to adjust the volume. I would move the on/off button more toward the edge. Could be I am holding it all wrong, but usually one of my fingers just about hits the edge of the button. I have yet to accidentally turn it off, but it is something I am aware of.

The earphones do leave a lot to be desired. They look nice, sound good enough, but for me they do not stay in the ears that well. When I bought the Touch the sales guy suggested I get a better pair of earphones. I have a good pair so passed, but now see why he made that suggestion.

Battery Life - Since I use my Touch primarily as a PDA, the batter life seems good. I usually get 2 days use out of a full charge. Now I realize my usage is not typical - I play back audio maybe a half hour a day and video another half hour. I do lots of on/off with getting into Life Balance or a game or two of Euchre. I do leave WiFi on, and use it to check the weather & stocks (still have pending options to sell...).

Audio Playback - This is what disappointed me the most. My current MP3 jukebox allows me to play any audio file back at 1.5 speed. This is great for podcasts that are all talking - everything is still easily understood but it takes less time to listen to. A win-win in my book. The Touch only allows audio books to be sped up. At least from what I have seen in the menus and from a quick online search. iTunes is the same way. Until my MP3 player completely dies, looks like the Touch is going to be left to hold some transitory audio files and new songs to listen to.

Video Playback - I had a few videos from the Dawn & Drew show, 5 to 6 minutes each, a longer video from Scott Sigler, and a couple of episodes from TV shows I had previously downloaded. All played back fine. Not sure I would want to watch a whole movie this way, but the occasional TV show would be great. Now if I could get my TiVo to start downloading shows to my computer again, maybe I could get caught up on all the recorded stuff :).

Apps - The main reason I got the Touch. After getting Life Balance set up and making sure it was going to work (a review in a separate post), it was time to dig through the App Store to start replacing apps.

What comes with the phone is not great, but will get you up and running. One thing I had gotten used to on the Palm was having apps interact. For example, Life Balance could pull/push items  to the ToDo app, the calendar app and others. This made for some interesting work flows with apps. This kind of interaction does not seem to exist in the apps. Pushing something out to a calendar, or a text file, does not seem to come easily. This is where I am going to miss DayNotez - it was great to check something off, have it pushed over to DayNotez and if ever questioned when something was done I can look back and find the reference in DayNotez easily. I should grab the desktop version and hope for an iPhone version.

Aside from Life Balance, the next 2 biggest apps I need to get was something to record receipts in to upload to Quicken desktop and a list maker.

There are lots of apps out there, and the biggest problem is finding something that is actually useful. Useful being defined as 'works close enough to how I work.' Sure there are lots of list programs out there. I only found one that works for me. You see most of my lists are lists I use over and over, so I need a way to clear out the selected items the next time I use the list. Most of the list programs to not handle that.

Although all the apps I have seen so far look good, I would like to see more apps that capture data for off-line viewing. The PocketFlicks app ties into your NetFlix account and pulls down your queue. It does some queue management features, but to me the biggest sell for the app is it stores the queue info so I do not have to have WiFi to view my queue. So if I am renting or buying a video, I can check my queue for things I know I want. I would love to find a similar app for my Amazon wish list. I have been using that as a parking lot for various things that I would like to get but never have access to it while I am the store.

So far my only complaint on missing apps is something that will work with Quicken on the desktop. Part of the problem is Quicken - you cannot send transactions to some account types anymore. Sure there are hacks, but why jump through hoops. All I really want at this point is an app that will let me enter & classify receipts and then add them to Quicken, much like what PocketQuicken did on the Palm. Actually Pocket Quicken did much more, but I just described my primary use. Balances, reconciliation, etc. are nice but far from necessary.

Aside from spending much more time in Quicken, the biggest adjustment has been in using various Google Apps to get things onto the Touch. I have switched over to Google Calendar, Notes (which is no longer being developed, but I found an app for) and Gmail's contacts. It is taking some getting used to, but now I am getting 1 calendar, 1 list of contacts, etc. instead of having one set on my Palm, one set on my desktop and 1 set in the cloud. Once I get it all sorted out I should be more efficient.

One thing I have noticed about apps though - some sync with the desktop through iTunes and some do not. Reading from the Life Balance advice book, they claim they are not allowed to sync through iTunes and go through Bonjour. MPG uses some desktop sync software it created. I have yet to see what SplashShopper does. Yet gNotes, which works with Google Notebook, syncs through iTunes. A little consistency here would be nice.

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