I want a hand-held (not a phone) to surf the web through my home wi-fi network or at public hotspots (gmail, google maps, Straight Dope, etc). A secondary app would be listening to downloaded podcasts or ripped recorded books (not really into music). Lower priorities would be viewing still photos, jotting down and retrieving phone numbers, shopping lists, etc, etc.
The leading options seem to be Ipod Touch and Archos 5, but I’ve never had the chance to play with either.
I’ve got an Archos 5, and it does some of what you want it to. It browses the web satisfactorily.
With reference to Google Maps, you can access Google Maps without GPS functionality. It doesn’t have GPS unless you buy the separate add on, which only supports its own maps. The maps haven’t (and probably won’t be) updated, and it doesn’t support live traffic updates - but it works reasonably well.
There is a very good, independent, support site called Archosfans.com. In the 5 sub forum there several threads comparing the iTouch with the 5 that answer your questions.
I also have a smartphone that I bought on eBay for about what you would pay for the Archos 5 that does what the 5 does - and a lot more. The biggest difference is that the 5 has up to 250gb storage, whereas smartphones are limited to 16gb (or probably 32gb - when they become available) microSD cards.
Does your eBay smartphone function without the phone contract? That was something I hadn’t thought about: getting a used phone without the contract. I’ve got a company dumbphone so I don’t want to pay for a phone contract, but I would like to have a portable browser.
I’ve no idea how the mobile/cell phone business works in the US, but here I have two contracts for the phone: both 30 day rolling contracts. One is for voice/text calls where I am charged retrospectively for the calls (with no monthly charge), and the second for internet access at £5 per month. The first is what I’ve been using for years on my ordinary mobile phones; the second I’ve just got to see how much I use mobile internet without having to commit myself beyond thirty days.
My smartphone (Samsung i8910) has much more in the way of calendars, note taking and the like. You can download apps for it. The Archos is much more limited in that respect.
Using Opera mobile (on both devices) makes browsing fairly easy and pleasant; it sizes the pages for the size of the screen. The Samsung also has a pretty good camera - which the Archos doesn’t have at all. Their photo browsing facilities are pretty much the same.
If I’m sounding undecided between the two - it’s because I am. I got the smartphone just to see what I think of it. (I’ve never used a smartphone before.) I’m veering towards the Samsung - partly because it can do so much more. It’s also a bit smaller.
I have no experience of the iTouch. It might do what you want; as I’ve said, I think Archosfans will be your friend there.