iPod Touch 2nd Generation

Talking up the second generation iPod Touch to someone who doesn't yet own a version of Apple's lifestyle technology phenomenon is dead easy: it's now 30 quid cheaper. If you've been holding out because 200 smackers was difficult to justify for an MP3 player, hopefully this price reduction will persuade you to open your wallet.

The real questions come from those who already own a first generation iPod Touch, and want to know whether the upgrades are worth the outlay. Most will probably already suspect the correct answer, but not simply because of astute thriftiness - they'll not have felt as though the first gen iTouch was particularly lacking and weren't really expecting an imminent hardware update.

In many ways, it's difficult to figure out quite what Apple's strategy is behind the second gen iTouch. It's definitely a better piece of kit that builds on the first design's rock solid foundations, but the tweaks are minor enough that they could have been implemented simply as a new production run rather than being touted as a vital upgrade. More of an iPod Touch 1.5, perhaps.

The first thing you'll notice is the casing. The attractive, yet slightly cheaper and more angular housing of the first generation now resembles the iPhone a lot more closely, with a sleeker profile around the edges and the mirrored metal backing reaching all the way around to the edges of the screen. It makes no difference to the operational value of the unit, but it does bring the iTouch more in line with the polished style of the iPod range. Of course, it also increases the yucky fingerprint magnetism this beautifully ostentatious visage brings, but there's a cleaning cloth in the box to help solve that particular aesthetic issue.

Presumably Apple has considered this, but the curved surface does suggest one small potential problem - particularly if you're only using the USB cable that's bundled with the iTouch rather than a cradle. Where the proprietary iPod connecter sat flush and solid against the first gen iTouch's casing, this new version only makes contact along the front edge, making it look quite easy to snap the connector off backwards where the casing slopes away. We've not tested the endurance of the connector, of course, but it's definitely not held in place as sturdily as before.

Of course, this new shape also means throwing out that cheap yet vital crystal hard case from your first gen iTouch, since it's not going to bend around the appealingly shaped back and new side buttons. These two buttons, on the side of the upper left quadrant of the iTouch, are as close to a vital upgrade as you're likely to find on the second gen system - and for heavy music users they might just be worth the cost. If listening to music is the primary focus of your iPod Touch (which makes sense, considering this is an iPod after all) you'll be aware of the mild mental ache you get from switching the unit on and off just to change the volume. Now, at least, there's a couple of essential, physical buttons to grant that bit of extra control when out and about.

The headphone jack is another significant hardware upgrade, as it now contains the connections to accept a microphone headset connection. Your iTouch, while obviously still not a telephone, now accepts voice commands and allows for a voice recording. It might not sound like much at the moment, but as developers get used to the idea they're likely to start making good use of an audio input.

Sticking with the audio improvements for a moment, it's worth making mention of the new built-in speaker. It's a feature that's likely to come under fire due to the distinctly low fidelity, but surround sound quality is hardly likely to be the real purpose of an embedded micro-speaker with no grille. What it does is provide a bit of audio feedback on button presses, and it allows you to play games without always having to wear headphones, in which respect it's an excellent and welcome addition.

Another significant sales point has been made regarding the system's built-in compatibility with Nike+, wirelessly connecting your shoes and your iTouch to bring them closer together as a training companion. To be fair, fat, lazy games reviewers who never leave their chairs except to put a new game in the Xbox and grab a handful of doughnuts aren't the right people to quiz on the effectiveness of a fitness peripheral, but having it has got to be better than not, right?

There's talk circulating that the new model is also a bit meatier in the brain pan, though it's a difficult rumour to test due to a lack of any established iTouch benchmarks. As an experiment, we've timed both first and second gen systems for loading in large video files, lots of small audio files and side by side tests of one of the more difficult apps for the system to handle - Aqua Forest. Due to the high level of processing power required to run Aqua Forest's fancy physics engine, it seemed like as good an acid test as any.

The differences were fractional, but did seem to be present. The second generation iTouch shaved a second or two off upload times (infinitesimal amounts, to be honest), while the same actions on the same levels of Aqua Forest were marginally smoother; though in truth it's hard to be sure you're not just convincing yourself it's faster after shelling out another 160 wing wangs for a glorified MP3 player. Even if the second gen is a bit quicker, it's trivial enough not to really matter.

Battery life is something we're happy to wring any amount of extra oomph from, however - no matter how small. And the second gen does fare better than its rather breathless older brother - again, not by much, but that extra hour or so is important.

All in all, what we feel we're really seeing isn't so much a vital upgrade for the consumer's benefit, as one for Apple's. The little bit of extra speed and the few minutes of extra juice suggest hardware rationalisation - a slicker PCB design with a bit less silicon-burning battery power and slowing down calculations are what's giving it that small boost. Of course, it's this same factor that's shaving £30 off the retail price, so we're not complaining.

Should you upgrade? Honestly, it's probably not worth it. Sure, you'll want to stamp on someone's foot if they're stood in the bus queue next to you pressing the volume buttons on their more attractive second gen, but the rest of the time you're not likely to be feeling many jealousy pangs. To call this a real upgrade, Apple honestly needed to give us the GPS and/or camera from the iPhone - then we'd have told you to stop reading and run to the shop waving a blank cheque in Steve Jobs's direction. But Apple didn't even include so much as a screen protector or a cloth case in the box, so wishing for GPS is probably a bit optimistic.

Nonetheless, if you don't own an iPhone or iPod Touch, but stare longingly at the App Store, there's no better time and no better device to get you into the Apple revolution.

iPod Touch 2nd Generation

More of a manufacturing rationalisation than a vital upgrade for the consumer, but there's no denying the iPod Touch is now ever so slightly better – and it was awesome to begin with