On paper, the iPhone's iPod doesn't offer any features not already on a 5G iPod: podcasts, videos, music and playlists are all here, and content management with iTunes is identical. The difference rests entirely in the iPhone's interface. We've used other MP3 players that use touch interfaces, such as the Archos 704, iRiver Clix and Cowon iAudio D2, but the iPhone's unique integration of multi-touch technology and graphical user interface put it in a category all of its own.
From an iPod perspective, Apple's biggest triumph with the iPhone is the fact that it has returned album artwork back into the music experience in a way that goes beyond a token thumbnail graphic. Physically flipping through your music in the iPhone's CoverFlow mode really brings back the visceral feel of digging through a CD or record collection. It's a difficult feeling to quantify, but music lovers will appreciate how well the iPhone reconnects their digital music to a form that is both visually and physically more vivid. Even iTunes users who may already be jaded about using the CoverFlow mode on their computer will be surprised at how the experience is changed by using the iPhone's intuitive touchscreen.
Truth be told, there is one feature that is new to the iPhone's iPod -- the integrated speaker. While the iPhone's speaker sounds thin and is prone to distortion, it works in a pinch for sharing a song with a friend. Apple was also smart enough to manage its speaker volume independent of the headphone volume, so if you're listening to the speaker full-blast and then decide to plug in your headphones, you won't be deafened.
The bad news is that the iPhone's iPod leaves out the ability to manually manage the transfer of music and video content. Unlike any previous iPod, the iPhone does not allow an option for manually dragging and dropping content from an iTunes library directly to the iPhone device icon. Instead, the iPhone strictly uses defined library syncing options for collecting and syncing content from your iTunes library to the device. This should work out fine for most people, but for a device with limited memory the inability to manually manage content seems like a misstep. Our 8GB iPhone was already a quarter full after only a few hours of testing, giving us the impression that users will need to be vigilant at grooming their iPhone library.
The iPhone's music sound quality seems right in line with our experience using the 5G iPod. All the same equaliser presets are available, only now they are found on the iPhone's main Settings tab. The included iPhone earbuds did a passable job for casual listening in a quiet environment. Unfortunately, the iPhone's recessed headphone jack prevented us from using many of the test headphones we're familiar with. We were just barely able to squeeze the plug of our Etymotic ER6i earphones into the jack to do the comparison.
Watching video on the iPhone is not quite as luxurious as a Creative Zen Vision: W or Archos 504, but its wide screen and bright contrast beat the 5G iPod by a mile. Like previous iPods, video playback is automatically bookmarked so that playback resumes where you left off.
The Safari browser really sets the iPhone apart from the rest of the mobile phone crowd. Rather than trudging through stripped-down WAP pages with limited text and graphics, the browser displays Web pages in their true form. It's a completely and surprisingly satisfying experience to see real Web pages on a screen of this size.
To pan around a page, just swipe your finger across the display, and the page moves accordingly. Tap your finger on a link to open a new page and double-tap your finger to zoom in and zoom back out. You can use the arrows on the bottom of the display to move back and forth, while a multi-function button at the bottom of the display lets you open new pages and flick among them.