I write a technology column that appears every other week in The Telegram. My latest column, which appeared on Monday, will likely be of interest to many readers of this blog, who, I suspect, are a pretty connected bunch. Here's the full text:
iPod Touch may be smart alternative to PDA
Are you looking for a PDA or handheld solution that has no connection fees, contracts or hefty data download costs?
Are you okay with tracking down wireless hot spots' and even mooching off other people's unsecured networks?
Then the iPod Touch may be just the ticket.
There's only one problem, and we'd better deal with this off the top: it has no cell phone. However, cellular service is not as costly as data downloading, so if you don't mind carrying around two devices, keep reading
The iPod Touch is the latest generation iPod, but it has taken an enormous leap forward in its user interface and its technology. Essentially, it is the Apple iPhone, minus the phone, PLUS built-in Internet roaming capability. In other words, it searches for wireless hot spots and connects automatically, allowing you to check email, chat, surf the net and even map your position at absolutely no charge.
This is vastly different from the typical PDA, which connects via satellite to your service provider and charges substantial bucks for data downloads (starting at $25 per month for 4 meg's of data).
The user interface includes a direct link to YouTube, which, on a typical PDA, would be a preposterous thing. Video downloads are memory intensive, and an afternoon spent browsing video on a regular handheld could cost a thousand dollars and more. The notion of doing it for free on this device is revolutionary as long as you can find that wireless hot spot.
Adam Brake, 25, is a full-time actor who recently purchased the 8 GB iPod Touch. "I highly recommend it to anyone," he said, in an interview. "I love mine just as much as the day that I bought it. I would buy this instead of a PDA. It's sleeker, smaller and everything about it is just cleaner."
Brake paid $269 for the device at a "big box" store. "I looked at buying a Blackberry last year," he said. "But after buying my iPod Touch, I wouldn't consider buying a Blackberry now, because I have a cell phone and the iPod, which to me is just as good."
Brake travels frequently, but is seldom without Internet connectivity. In addition to coffee shops and other establishments that offer free hot spots, there are pay wireless locations in many cities that charge nominal access fees, Brake explained. "I used that sort of service when I was out and about in Toronto," Brake said. "Unsecured networks are also easy to find if you just kind of move around, especially downtown. There's also a movement toward free public wifi (wireless Internet) in a lot of places."
In addition to being fun to use (go to the Apple site and watch the guided tour'), the iPod Touch offers a mapping service similar to GPS, but without the standard signal triangulation system. It pinpoints your location based on the hot spot that you've accessed. If you type in a destination across town, it uses google maps to plot the best route.
"I've used that feature a lot," Brake said. "It is very cool and very useful."
However, the iPod Touch is not for everyone. Some people need to know that email, in particular, is there precisely when they need it; no wandering around looking for hot spots, thank you.
And there are still some places on earth where it won't work, no matter how much you walk about. Ironically, I spent three days trying to track Adam down in Trinity, where he is working as an actor, to arrange this interview because he had no Internet connection.
"There is no wireless signal out here, because there is no dial-up. So it would be good to have a Blackberry now. But for the most part, I wouldn't consider buying something like that now."
Out of curiosity, I asked Adam how it feels when he is cut off for such long periods of time from the Internet; does he find that a walk out to the point helps offset his loss of connectivity?
"I am a child of the data age," he said. "I feel completely lost without the Internet, to be honest with you. I would give anything to have the Internet right now and will be getting a dial-up connection as soon as I know where I'm living permanently. I need to have it, it's how I communicate with people now."
The iPod Touch is available in eight, 16 and 32 GB models.