Swiss Army Knife of Travel Gadgets: iPod Touch 2.0

Hands down, without question, the handiest travel gadget I have is my iPod Touch. It isn’t just a music player. It is a host of useful things which fit into my pocket. Along with my wallet, it is the only thing which is on my person 24/7 whenever I’m not in the shower. I often make mental checks throughout the day on my wallet and my iPod.

I purchased my iPod Touch at the Ginza Apple Store in Tokyo. It was something I was a bit ambivalent about at first, but since then I haven’t regretted it once. It is basically an iPhone without the phone (or camera). For the most part, it runs the same software can do the same things, only you can’t call other people. Given all the border crossing I do, and the extreme lack of people who call me, an iPhone really doesn’t make sense, but the iPod Touch works well.

This weekend, my big adventure was getting the new 2.0 version of the software which came out with the new iPhone launch. Getting it was a bit of a pain, but I eventually was able to download it when most of North America was asleep.

What do I use it for?

  • An alarm clock. There is built in alarm clock software and the external speaker, while not good enough for music, is good enough for waking you up.
  • A watch. I don’t even wear a watch anymore. I just pull out my iPod and check the time. You can also keep a list of times around the world in the built-in clock application. That is handy when in bizarre half-hour time zones like Central Australia.
  • A wifi finder. When I started my trip, I had a tiny key fob thing which would tell me if there was a strong wireless internet signal around. The iPod is 100x better. Instead of a tiny green light, it will give me the names, signal strengths and tell me if a signal is open or closed. It is a lot easier to pull out an iPod than it is to pull out a laptop. It is also a lot safer as well.
  • Web browser. Several times on my trip (none in Australia however, but that is another post) I’ve been able to check email or do other important things right from my iPod. In Busan, South Korea, I was able to contact the owner of a hostel via an open wifi connection I found on a sidewalk. He was able to pick me up at the train station. It isn’t as good as a laptop, but it more than gets the job done considering its size.
  • A flashlight. There is an application written for the 2.0 software which will do nothing but make the screen display one solid color of light. Have you ever used your cell phone as a flashlight? The iPod has a bigger screen and can put out more light. It even has a strobe effect.
  • Remote control. The new 2.0 software has a remote control application which lets you control iTunes from your iPod? Why would you want to do this? I can lay on my bed and watch podcasts or TV shows on my laptop as if it were a TV, without getting up. Three cheers for laziness!
  • Calculator. The new 2.0 calculator software will now become a scientific calculator when you turn it horizontal. How is freaking cool that? Wait a few months for some new calculator apps and no one will ever purchase a dedicated graphing calculator again.
  • A notebook. I use the note application all the time. I am never at a loss for paper and pen now. I kept the mileage and gas usage during my entire drive from Darwin to Perth. I got 16gb of memory, so I never need to worry about running out.
  • A photo album. I keep about 100 photos I’ve taken on my trip on my iPod. (I really need to update them. I don’t think I have included any photos since Borneo.) If I meet someone, i can show them a map of my journey and photos I’ve taken instantly. They can “get” what I’m up to immediately. Girls especially like to browse the photos and swipe their finger across the screen :)

Oh yeah. I can also listen to music and watch video on it.

I have to believe they will come out with a new version of the iPod Touch before Christmas. Here is my wish list for how they could upgrade it:

  • Bigger battery. The iPod Touch is slightly thinner than the iPhone. I’d make it the same size, and increase the battery. Without having to power the 3G stuff, it should increase battery life significantly. The added size and weight would be trivial.
  • Put in the camera. Other than the phone, the biggest hardware difference between the iPod and the iPhone is the camera. From what I’ve been told, the iPhone camera isn’t so hot. Use the next version of the iPod Touch to upgrade the camera.
  • GPS GPS would kick ass. With the larger battery, you could use it as a real GPS and not has quite as many worries as you might with the iPhone. There are more than enough memory in the iPod to store maps locally. Even with no maps, I could still get good use from the GPS if I had it log my position and use that to geotag my photos.
  • Infrared Port. This isn’t on the iPhone, but given the power of the iTunes remote application, it shouldn’t be hard to put an IR port on it and put every programmable remote control manufacturer out of business. This 80s technology, so it shouldn’t be too hard to add or raise the cost too much.

If they put in half of my suggestions, I’d but the upgrade in a heartbeat. With the flood of new applications expected, the number of uses for my iPod will probably only increase.

I’ve had some people tell me “16gb isn’t enough storage”. Well, yes it is. You really don’t need to carry around every single bit of music you own. 16gb is a LOT of music. in fact, I haven’t come close to filling it. Your primary storage should be on a computer anyhow. Even if you think you need to carry around every song ever written, the added utility you’ll get from an iPod Touch will dwarf the benefits of carrying around music you never listen to.

If you are thinking of traveling (or not) and are looking a new gadget, put this on the top of your list.

19 thoughts on “Swiss Army Knife of Travel Gadgets: iPod Touch 2.0”

  1. I love my iPod Touch. There have been lots of improvements over the years. Even though it is not a cell phone, you can now speak to people via a wifi connection with iFace. I love it for traveling, more so than something like the iPad which is too big. If you don’t have a iPhone or other smartphone, then this is the next best thing.

  2. 16 gb isn’t enough.. unless you don’t watch movies or like a lot of podcasts.. even with 32gb I have to leave off some things I want to use.

  3. Thanks for this review. Definitely sounds worth the investment and will consider for my trip around the world.

  4. Indeed. And that’s not even the half of it. Most handy for audio books and movies while aloft for hours on end, plus…

    Perhaps the best use of my precious iPod Touch: a silly little (free) “Paper Toss” app that’s nicely broken the ice/language barrier numerous times – the most notable in the middle of the Sahara with my Berber camel guides.

    And for a bountiful ***5x recharge***, just toss a little Just Mobile Gum Pro power pack into your backpack.

  5. Since you bought the Touch in Japan, you know that it will *not* connect to email. It doesn’t work on Japanese email sites. Also, Mac Textedit does not save in .txt files which are read by the Touch. It uses RTF which are not read by the Touch. How clever is that?

    Google Earth, Skype and non-Japanese email sites are good for me though. I watch movies, listen to music (falling asleep on the train), do language study, and record my food/health notes.

    Be sure to clear history, accounts and contacts before crossing borders. Keep privacy private.

  6. I’m so pleased that the Touch has been a useful addition you travel gear. I’m now happy I’m taking mine on the road. Great site BTW.

  7. Too bad you can’t do the iPhone, it’s even better for roadtrips. The phone gives you data access all the time, so you can also listen to the radio, use google maps to pinpoint your location and local restaurants (I’ve even used satellite view to get myself unlost while hiking), use the camera to upload photos immediately, reply and send email, check wikipedia for places I’m visiting, check the weather, the list goes on and on…

    But one thing you completely forgot about the iPod Touch (and iPhone) is that you can download a TON of very useful apps, as well as some really fun ones.

  8. Simply Curious – you might want to check out the Shure canal-phones. They use foam pads to hold in your ear canal, offering more sound isolation and better sound. Not cheap, but I find they stay in my ears very well (standard ear buds never do).

  9. You know, I’m in Japan and I’ve been thinking about getting one too. I personally like the idea of not having a phone attached to it.

  10. I’m currently on my thrid set of ear buds. My problem isn’t with them falling out, but with the cords comin apart. Everything I’ve every gotten from Apple with a cord eventually falls apart. The spot where the cord meets the plug will pull apart exposing the raw wires underneath. This includes my Macbook power supply.

  11. I don’t leave home without it either. Now if you can just find me a pair of decent headphones that don’t pop out of my ears, I’d feel forever indebted to you.

  12. There is no mic and no external speaker (not that can play music at least). My guess is, they don’t want a Skype device that will compete with the iPhone.

  13. Wow, I never knew it could be so usefull.
    You just convinced me to go get one, I don’t relly need a (new) phone, but the apps for iPhone did intrest me, this is the perfect alternative.
    One question, does it have a speaker? So you can record audio with it? Because if it has a recorder and a browser, one could just install skype as alternative to a phone, no?

  14. I would prefer a Cowon A3 PMP, which has more storage space, more codec support, and USB host capability, meaning you can move photos directly from your digital camera to the A3 and not have to bring a computer at all (unless you want to upload to the internet or do editing before uploading). The two things keeping me away from iPods are the price and the non-removable battery.

  15. Hmmm. Now I wish I had one for my trip to Europe next week. I have been living on my old Palm Zire which I use for a lot of the functions mentioned (alarm, flashlight, photo album, watch, calculator, etc.) But now I realize how out of date I am, and having WI-FI would be fabulous. Although I wouId miss the handy camera for visual notes. I wonder how mad my wife would be at me…

  16. I knew Gary had been field testing an iPod Touch for a good portion of his trip, so I checked with him before I went out and bought one this last weekend. It is truly the most useful gadget I’ve ever had.

    Particularly if you live in a Wi-Fi rich area, it’s every bit as useful as the iPhone. It’s almost completely replaced the shoulder bag I used to drag around with my traditional iPod, notebooks & pens, a watch and 90% of what I ever needed my laptop for (and my shoulders & back are grateful for that!)

    If you’re still stuck in a cell phone contract or the iPhone turns you off for some other reason, take a serious look at an iPod Touch. It’s everything a PalmPilot ever wanted to be in a much sexier package.

    • Indeed. And that’s not the half of it. There’s audio books and movies to while away mind-numbing hours while aloft, audio foreign language dictionaries, plus…

      One of the best uses of my trusty iPod Touch: a silly little (free) app called “Paper Toss” that’s come in handy for breaking the ice/language barrier numerous times – perhaps the most memorable amid the Sahara with my Berber camel guides.

      And for a bountiful ***5x*** recharge, just drop a little Just Mobile Gum Pro power pack into your backpack – that honey will keep you juiced for weeks!

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