Monday, October 20, 2008

iPod Touch: One Month On

I purchased the latest generation iPod Touch 2G (32Gb storage) a week after it was released. I've had a chance to work with it, loading applications, surfing the web, playing audio and video as well as working with the iTunes store.

What I've enjoyed the most has been the Touch's video playback. It's been clear and beautiful on my device. The playback has been silky smooth, with no jumps or stutters. I've downloaded a few TV shows from iTunes, both free and for-pay, and I've enjoyed watching them all. I've taken a few screen shots of some of the video playback and stitched the frames together to avoid chewing up too much screen real-estate as well as providing multiple frame comparisons. The first four frames were from the Battlestar Galactica episode "He That Believeth In Me", an iTunes freebee. Note the clarity of the frames, especially around detail in highly complex scenes such as the first and third. Note also, as in the second, the smooth transition of shadowing and color. And finally note the detail in the shading of the last scene.

The second set of frames are from the Star Trek Remastered series. The first two frames are from "Man Trap", the third is from "Space Seed", and the fourth of two dudes and a space babe are a scene from "Balance of Terror". Again note the good color, contrast, and detail all throughout.

I paid $1.99 for each of the STR episodes, and consider it money well spent. I can play it on my Touch or move it around and play it on some of my other systems. I doubt I'll get very many of the TOS episodes. In spite of my fondness for the show, and the great treatment they've received during the remastering process, the shows need to stand on their plot and story, and for that reason I doubt I'll purchase very many first season shows, and certainly none from season two or three.

What's next are two scenes from the movie "Ice Age." What's special about this movie is I first ripped it from DVD using K3b when I was running openSUSE 10.2. I then used ffmpeg on Mandriva 2008.1 to down sample the movie for my wife's iPod Nano. She watched it while she was recuperating during her last knee operation. It looked well enough on the smaller Nano screen, but when it played on my Touch a lot of quality robbing artifacts showed up.


The colors seem muddy and the edges seem blurry. Note, in particular, the artifacts around the daffodil in the second image. I wanted to grab this still because it's even more noticable on the Touch's screen. This isn't a criticism of any tools or distributions. It is, instead, a lesson on what can happen when you run video one time too many through a lossy encoding process. In this case it looks like something off of YouTube. I'm deciding now if I want to try to rip it again, or just buy the movie for $2 off of iTunes. There's something to be said for low prices and convenience.

Mobile Safari

As pleased as I am with content playback, I'm less than satisfied with using the Touch as a web surfing device. Mobile Safari crashes when it hits complex sites such as Webmonkey, Apple's on site, and Ars Technica. Sites that are light weight to start with (Engadget) or present a mobile site (Gizmodo and OSNews) do not cause the browser to crash. The only mitigating circumstance is that only the browser crashes, and it starts back up and remembers the last page it was browsing. I can usually finish reading the page and then move on until the next crash. The current release of the Touch's software is 2.1.1. I'm curious to see if Mobile Safari is more robust in 2.2. If Apple is still insistent on using Mobile Safari as a key platform for mobile applications then it's certainly going to need to be a lot more robust and stable than it currently is.

Installed Applications

My selection of installed apps is a bit hodge-podge. They are, except for Koi Pond, free. My most used application seems to be Stanza, and I've got 87 books on its "shelves" so far. It's been trouble free from the start and a great enjoyment. The second-most used application is the NY Times application. It, in contrast to Stanza, has been troublesome from the start. It crashes even more often than Mobile Safari does, and does so when you're trying to read an article while it's off updating itself via WiFi and the web. Again, it remembers the last article being read, so it's no problem re-starting it and picking up where it "left off." It would, however, be nice if it didn't crash at all. Besides, it's hard to knock free.

The crashing of applications underscores an important feature of the Touch and it's embedded OS X. And that is, while the app crashes, the device does not. This stands in stark contrast to the Nokia 770; when the browser crashes it takes down the entire device, forcing it to reboot. And when that happens it takes minutes for the 770 to restart and return back to its opening screen. And what does the 770 run? Essentially the same as the 800 and 810; Maemo, Nokia's tuned version of Linux running Hildon, their special GUI. No, this is not a kick as Linux in general. Yes, I do believe Apple does a much better job than Nokia.

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