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Traveling with iPods

On my return flight from Denver, I was amused to discover that the guy across the aisle and one row up from me was a proto-geek, and, frankly, kind of a pain in the ass: He placed his laptop in the seat pocket after we were told we couldn't do so, and then he argued with the flight attendant when he was called on it; he was texting with his cell phone both before and during the flight after being asked not to; and then he proceeded to set up a variety of electronics on his tray table that was reminiscent of that old Apple commercial where the kid uses his iBook and about 17 accessories to create a home movie. But none of that is what was noteworthy about this guy. No, it was the fact that he had an iPhone, an iPod touch, and an iPod nano all out at the same time, for God knows what reason, for much of the flight.

The funny thing is, I had him beat: I was traveling with my iPhone, two 16 GB iPod touches, and an iPod classic, in addition to that HP Tablet PC I recently purchased. But this wasn't about conspicuous consumption: In the wake of the recent iPod touch 1.1.3 firmware update and the introduction of a new 32 GB iPod touch model, I thought it would be a good time to reevaluate Apple's first true video iPod. So I loaded up the devices with movies I'd ripped myself as well as some movies and TV shows I'd just purchased and rented from the iTunes Store. Let the games begin.

The flights to and from Denver were 4.5 and 3.5 hours in length, respectively. On the way out, I was originally wedged between two of the more annoying people I'd ever sat with, but the morbidly obese guy on the aisle eventually complained his way to another seat, which I have to say I was OK with. The flight back was much better, as the person who was supposed to be occupying the seat next to me never showed up.

Battery life on the iPod touch is excellent, and I had one running pretty much full time on both trips. The battery meter fell to about half each time, roughly. I'm not a big fan of the finger prints you have to get all over the touch's gorgeous screen just in the process of actually using the thing, and I suspect I'm not the only iPod touch owner who spends a considerable amount of time wiping the thing off. Smudge. Wipe. Repeat.

That said, if you hold the thing at the right angle, you won't see the copious, unavoidable fingerprints and smudges on the screen while you're watching a movie. I wish it had hardware buttons, but I can live with this. The screen quality is excellent and while the iPod touch is obviously a lot smaller than a laptop, I find the viewing to be just fine. And let's face it: You can fit a couple of iPod touches in a much smaller space than any laptop. Though it would be expensive, it would make more sense to buy a few of these things than any portable DVD player or notebook computer from a size and weight perspective. You don't even notice that you're carrying them around.

Everything I watched look great: Movies I ripped, the several episodes of the curiously addicting "Jericho" TV show I purchased, the movies I rented and purchased. Say what you will about Apple, but they do this stuff right.

As for the 1.1.3 update, it was a much bigger deal on the iPhone than it is on the iPod touch. I tend to think of the touch solely as a video player, and while I'm sure the Internet stuff is nice during those few moments where you have free Wi-Fi available (a case, I'm sure of what I call "campusitis," where Apple's engineers seem to have forgotten that the whole world doesn't have the same free Wi-Fi they get at work), it's not as obvious a feature on an MP3 player as it is on a phone. To me iPod = play, while iPhone = work with occasional play. If the connectivity offered by the iPod touch was more pervasive, they could tilt the scales. Right now, it's just a curiosity.

So does the iPod touch warrant a higher score than the 3/5 I awarded it last fall? I think so. Despite Apple's reluctance to lower prices (it instead offered an even higher priced new model this past week) and the irrelevance of the 1.1.3 update to most people (and, yes, the fact that existing iPod touch owners actually have to pay $20 to get the update), I think I may have been a big harsh on the touch. This is something I use fairly regularly at the gym and while traveling and I do like it quite a bit. I'll revise the review soon.

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