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Cons: No longer Apple’s “best iPod ever;” outdated 2.5” screen and interface are now steps behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, while new interface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.
If iPod classic’s going to win fans, it won’t be on the strength of what’s outside; rather, the $249 and $349 models’ new hard drives and batteries are their strongest selling points. Thankfully, they’re stronger than ever. Last year, the $249 iPod was a 30GB model with 14 hours of continuous audio playback and 3.5 hours of video playback; the $349 model had 80GB of storage space, 20 hours of audio run time, and 6.5 hours of video run time. Both were considered very good values for the dollar, lacking only slightly in battery power relative to what users would prefer.
The iPod classic does better. For $249, you now get 80GB of music, video, and game storage space rather than 30GB, which means you can store 20,000 128kbps songs or 100 hours of 640x480 video. Battery life has gone up to a promised 30 hours of audio playback and 5 hours of video playback. That’s 2.7x the storage capacity, 2.14x the promised audio run time, and 1.43x in promised video play time for the same price. However, in our testing with test videos downloaded from the iTunes Store, the 80GB iPod classic actually outperformed Apple’s battery statistics, repeatedly playing The Incredibles and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for 6 hours and 46 minutes. That’s an hour more than the run time of the new iPod nano with the same videos, and up to snuff with last year’s 80GB model. Audio also beat Apple’s numbers, running for 36 hours and 16 minutes before requiring a recharge.
Power users will prefer the $349 model, which now has a whopping 160GB of storage capacity rather than 80GB—this equates to 40,000 songs or 200 hours of video. Its battery now promises 40 hours of music and 7 hours of video, versus 20 hours of audio and 6.5 video hours in last year’s $349 model. In other words, Apple claims that you’ll get twice the storage and twice the audio play time, with a 7.7% increase in promised video play time. If those numbers weren’t impressive enough, the 160GB iPod classic also outperformed its battery claims, running our two test videos for 9 hours and 28 minutes on 50% volume and 50% brightness—a 46% improvement over last year’s top model. In audio, it exceeded Apple’s claims by a wide margin, playing our test tracks for 58 hours and 14 minutes. Your results may well vary based on the amount you use the iPod’s screen, equalizers, and other features, but there’s no doubt that the 160GB classic is the power champ of the iPod family.
File transfer speeds vary between the iPod classic models, but they’re improved over the 5G iPod. Our 80GB iPod classic transferred 5GB of data in 5 minutes, 43 seconds, or roughly 69 seconds per Gigabyte; the 160GB iPod classic has a slower hard drive which took 7 minutes, 21 seconds for the same transfer, or 88 seconds per Gigabyte. This is faster than the 102 seconds per Gigabyte we saw when we retested last year’s 5G iPods under the same conditions, and also faster than the 93 seconds per Gigabyte speeds we saw on the new third-generation iPod nanos.
As iPod hard drive sizes have increased less dramatically in size than this in the past, one question is obvious: is all of this capacity actually necessary? If so, why? There are two answers: yes, and “for video,” particularly video that’s displayed on something other than the iPod’s screen.
Though iPod classic’s screen remains at the same low 320x240 resolution it started with two years ago, virtually all of the videos sold through the iTunes Store and most of the DVDs out there use substantially higher resolutions—640x480 or higher. The greater the resolution, the more space a video takes up. Consequently, those who have amassed large, high-quality video collections—and those who might—will find the extra space to be much more convenient than, say, trying to create extra-small versions optimized for only the iPod’s screen.
The biggest potential advantage of iPod classic as a video player is its enhanced video-out capability. Unlike the fifth-generation iPod, which was only outfitted by Apple with a composite video-out cable, Apple states that iPod classic can output video at up to 480p (720x480 resolution, 60fps) or 576p (720x576)—better than even the iPod touch, which promises only 480i or 576i. Unfortunately, you’ll apparently need a $49 Apple Component AV Cable in order to take advantage of the superior resolution; we’ll review it and offer more details as soon as it’s available. Additional details on iPod classic’s video functionality are discussed under Accessories, below.
It’s worth a brief note that iPod classic’s Disk Mode—its ability to serve as a hard drive for files on your computer—hasn’t changed. Apple still formats iPod classics as PC or Mac hard disks, depending on the type of machines they’re connected to, and still lets you drag and drop files onto the drive from Windows or the Mac OS Finder. Because of the 160GB model’s incredible storage capacity, it’s even better suited for use as a spare data drive than its predecessors, though you’ll need to decide whether you want to risk the extra wear and tear on its hard disk mechanism.