Review: Apple iPod classic (80GB/160GB)
Pros: A superior update to Apple’s 2005 and 2006 hard-disk based iPods, featuring cleaner audio, crisper video, better storage capacity and greater than promised battery performance at last year’s prices. Available in silver or black versions, each featuring an enhanced user interface that’s visually more interesting than its predecessor, and with better built-in games. Offers industry-leading 80GB and 160GB hard disk technologies in enclosures that are slimmer than ever before.
Cons: No longer Apple’s “best iPod ever;” outdated 2.5” screen and interface are now steps behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, while new interface struggles to match iPhone/iPod touch features without approaching their elegance. For photo and video output, no longer compatible with majority of video-out accessories, including portable video displays, released for the color 4G and 5G iPods, requiring new and more expensive replacement accessories; past accessories with on-iPod display features will exhibit reduced functionality, as well. Past iPod games won’t play on iPod classic.
Pretty much the only thing iPod classic has in common with Apple’s iPhone is its packaging: both products now use two-piece black boxes that open to reveal foam-padded interiors with hard plastic shells that hold their devices. Once the shell—here, black rather than clear like iPhone’s—and iPod classic are removed, you’ll find a black envelope with instructions, Apple stickers, and safety warnings inside, plus a sealed white paper pouch containing three white plastic accessories.
All of these items are highly familiar. There’s a pair of iPod Earphones, unchanged from last year’s version, a Universal Dock Adapter, and a USB-to-iPod Dock Connector cable. The cable and Adapter are both identical to last year’s parts, a surprise given that new iPods typically merit new Adapters, and that iPhones come with slightly smaller-tipped USB cables. Most people won’t notice or care; both parts work just as they’re supposed to, enabling iPod classic to fit into any Universal Dock-equipped accessory, and charge or synchronize content from any USB 2.0 port-equipped computer.
Past iPod users will also find iPod classic’s physical dimensions and weight to be very familiar. As before, both versions measure 4.1” tall by 2.4” wide, but their depth and weight have changed slightly. The 80GB model is 0.41” deep and weighs 4.9 ounces, while the 160GB model is 0.53” deep and weighs 5.7 ounces. Both models are thinner than last year’s 80GB iPod, which was 0.55” deep; they also differ imperceptibly in weight from the 4.8 ounce 30GB and 5.5 ounce 80GB models they replace. Both the front and rear shells have taken a little off their previous thicknesses; the difference is more noticeable on the thinner and tapered metal iPod classic front versus the thick plastic iPod face.
These modest differences are attributable to Apple’s decision to preserve many of its prior components. iPod classic retains the 2005-2006 iPod’s 2.5-inch, 320x240 screen and matching Click Wheel, which as noted above are now wrapped in silver or black aluminum iPod nano-like pajamas. The Click Wheel is still made from plastic, and required a bit of additional pressure relative to the new iPod nano and past 5G iPod for scrolling. As has always been the case with hard disk iPods, the back is still made from a mirror-finished metal, interrupted by the same top-mounted Hold switch and headphone port arrangement as before, along with a bottom-mounted Dock Connector port. This port connects the iPod classic to all of the fifth-generation iPod’s accessories, though compatibility—especially for video add-ons—is not guaranteed (see our section on Accessories, below).
We can’t say that we actively like or dislike iPod classic’s new design. Though we’re sad to see the iconic white plastic iPod disappear, that change seemed inevitable once black iPods became popular and the iPhone emerged as a beautiful example of black-backed glass and chrome. We didn’t need to see the iPod classic go even thinner than the 5G iPod, but it has, and the difference between today’s iPods and 2001 models—shown in our Conclusions section below—is just that much more stunning. But iPod classic’s mixture of matte and mirror-finished metals doesn’t look as natural as the iPhone’s, so even though we should feel glad that the device has gained a less scratchable front surface, we’re not in love with the actual execution. Perhaps by design, it’s impossible to confuse with the ultra-classy iPhone, and only a step better than merely acceptable.