Thursday, October 27, 2011

From iWant to iWow: Upgrading to iPod Touch 4 2011 Edition

I talked about iWant a couple of days ago on this blog. Well, I succumbed. To be fair, it wasn’t a total iWant. My iPod Touch 2nd generation was rapidly losing its power, both figuratively and literally. I hadn’t realised how much of the latter until I didn’t use it for a couple of days. I had left it fully charged on Sunday. When I went to turn it on on Tuesday, its charge was gone. So much for my theory that Bejeweled was stealing its battery life.

Apple has not upgraded the iPod Touch 2nd gen for awhile now. The most up-to-date iOS on it is 4.2.1. Recently, I was unable to update some apps on it that I use regularly, although my critical ones were thankfully backwards compatible. This is how Apple gets people to upgrade its hardware. If my iPod Touch was just a fun little device which I use for social media, email, and games, I would probably not upgrade it. Sure, it’s slow; sure, it’s “old” like all of 2.5 years old; sure, it needs recharging; but it still works fine. And frankly, if you don’t know what you’re missing, other being part of the cool, trendy crowd, then it’s no big deal.

Even though I did a Pro/Con comparison of my iPod Touch with the latest iPod Touch 4th gen, and even though from using iOS 5 on my iPad, I truly didn’t realise how essential this upgrade would be for my productivity until I began using my new 32GB iPod Touch 4.

First off, it’s not only thinner and lighter, it’s slimmer too. It feels like almost nothing in the palm of your hand. That makes for shaky picture taking; otherwise it fits better in pockets and purses. And for a person for whom weight is a big thing, smaller and lighter is good.

The brightness setting is different too. To read my 2nd gen iPod Touch in low light early in the morning when my eyes were not adjusted to daylight, I had to turn the brightness setting down to the bottom. On this one, I don’t when I have it set about midway, my default setting. However, in low light after my eyes have adjusted to daylight, this setting is too low. I prefer a lower default setting so that the iDevice will consume less battery power. Guess Apple wants to me to slurp up more though. The lock screen on the 4th gen one is very bright no matter what, unlike the 2nd gen one. Not sure Apple has improved the brightness control or made it worse.

The screen is instantly noticeably better. However, it’s when I began reading web pages, tweets in Echofon, and my Pocket Informant Calendar that I really noticed how much easier on the eyes this iPod Touch is. Retina Display for the win!

The notifications improvements with iOS 5 are superb. Previously, notifications came one at a time and always covered up previous ones. Now if I miss one, I can swipe my finger down from the top and see them. Also the way they display is much more useful. They’re both unobtrusive and informative. With one glance, I can see if I need to open up my Mail app or not when a new email comes in. And if my screen is locked, I can swipe the notification I want to follow up on to unlock the screen and be taken directly to the corresponding app. Fewer steps, less energy needed (from me or the device). Another nice feature is that for some apps, I can choose the sound I want associated with their notifications. Simply by its distinct sound, I know which app is notifying me about something. It has worked for every app I’ve enabled notifications for, including my all-important calendar app Pocket Informant.

Reminders is another iOS5 improvement. They’re synced with my iPad, which could be annoying having the same alarm go off on two different devices at the same time, but so far for me it’s useful. Plus I can put all those itty bitty tasks, like turn down the thermostat at night, in Reminders that I don’t want to clutter up my schedule with.

Safari and Echofon, under iOS 5, have both improved the readability of websites, of which way too many do not provide a mobile interface. Reader in Safari, and Enable Readability in Echofon, allow me to read just the text, undistracted by ads, and at a text size my eyes can see. Even when I expanded the page on my old iPod Touch to get the text to the size I could read, the page would inevitably expand off past the iPod’s screen edges. Very annoying. I had begun reading links less and less as a result. I also like the Read Later feature of the new Safari. Too often, I see something I’d like to read but simply cannot at that moment. Read Later is an easy way for me to do so. I know, I know, there are other services that let you do that, but for me it was too much work to sign up. One more registration to remember, one more password to store somewhere in my grey matter. Apple understood this at last.

Unfortunately, reading HTML emails is more difficult on my new iDevice. There is no Reader button in the Mail app to make the text bigger and clearer. Apple has added Flags and an option to mark emails as unread, but it’s still a pretty primitive mail program. We should be able to tag, sort, and easily find important emails.

I had not previously read many ebooks on my iPod Touch and, when I did, had preferred the Stanza app for its readability. With iBooks and kobo now syncing ebooks with the iPad, those ebooks will now be available on my iPod Touch, and with the Retina Display it will be easier on my eyes to read them in those apps. I may end up reading ebooks on this device.

I don’t have Siri on my new iPod Touch, but it looks like she’s less useful in Canada than in the US anyway. And at this point I cannot see getting much use out of her. She’s too young. Give her a year to mature, I figure. But at least the iPod Touch 4 has a microphone and cameras. So now I can use Voice Memo or Vlingo or Dragon Dictation if I want to. I can also take photos, albeit not at a quality that even matches my Coolpix S2 or the iPhone 4/4s. And I can take HD video apparently. I haven’t had a chance to try out the video to see how good it is. I figure the cameras are good for FaceTime – if I ever use it, and given the ads are a long way from reality in terms of how a person actually looks on screen, not happening any time soon – and for slice of life shots, like when a driver does something nutty on the roads, but not photography per se. It’ll also make sharing photos easier, now that I’ve figured out how Photo Stream works and syncs with my iPad.

Voice Control is Siri’s forebear and is available on the iPod Touch. It allows you to control your music and FaceTime. That’s it. You can also use only set phrases, but it is good at speech recognition. Apple doesn’t tell you about this feature in an obvious place; I stumbled upon it when I was reading reviews of iOS 5. And Apple doesn’t tell you how to use it properly. You gotta download the manual. Anyway, press and hold down the Home button no matter where you are -- on the home screen, in an app -- and speak one of the set phrases to start/stop music playing or start a FaceTime call.

Vlingo and Dragon Dictation are two apps that let you voice your emails, notes, or social media posts. DD has better speech recognition out of the box; Vlingo lets you actually see what you’re speaking into after your initial dictation. Whether you use them or not will depend on whether you’re  faster or better at typing than at dictation.

Other improvements: Apps that had taken minutes even to start and often crashed at first startup on my old iPod Touch, now they work quickly and seamlessly. I can lock the iPod Touch to portrait orientation, very handy. My devices are fully connected through iCloud and syncing options. I will be able to message people I know who have iDevices. I can print from my iPod Touch. If I had Apple TV, I could control it with my iPod Touch. Keyboard shortcuts are possible once I program them in.

All in all, this was a worthwhile upgrade.

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