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Cons: No longer Apple’s “best iPod ever;” outdated 2.5” screen and interface are now steps behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, while new interface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.
Though its enclosure, hard disk, and battery performance have definitely changed, the biggest difference you will notice in iPod classic is its user interface. As iPod screens became bigger and more colorful, and their fonts less chunky, the minimalist designers at Apple didn’t seem to know what to do with them, and consequently each generation had more and more white space on the right of the screen.
That’s changed. Apple has shifted all of its old first- and second-level menu options over to the left half of the screen, using the right side for artwork. Use the Click Wheel to highlight Music, Videos, Photos, or Podcasts and you’ll see cover art or pictures floating on the right, and underneath the shadow of the left side’s menu. Dig down to the third level menu and the whole screen will become white, save for the blue highlighting cursor and black or gray text. Playlists now have small gray song tallies, Albums have small artists’ names and art icons, Songs have artists’ names, and Genres have artist and album tallies. Videos also have icons and summary information as appropriate.
Apple has put a little extra Mac OS X Leopard-style spin on the new interface, as well. Search gets a clean matte overlay bar, for instance, and old Aqua-influenced elements such as the volume level bar and scroll bars have been replaced with more solid, less glassy alternatives.
Most of the time, the new interface is fine, but it does look a bit odd, and feels as if it’s been cobbled together from earlier, more powerful Apple products. For instance, there’s a cut-down version of the iPhone’s Cover Flow, which works similarly but with more button pressing, less fluidity, and a white background. Somewhat better is a Now Playing screen with perspective-angled album art inspired by Apple TV, again only in white rather than the Apple TV’s black. Now, after a minute or so of audio playback, a large clock will appear on a white screen-filling background along with a battery indicator and play icon. Are these improvements on the old iPod interface? Yes, but as with iPod classic’s exterior, you won’t confuse them with the better-looking screens on the iPhone.
The split-screen interface works especially well in the iPod classic’s settings menu. Old commands such as “shuffle,” “repeat,” and “clicker” that may have confused some users in the past now have explanations on the right side of the screen, and new options such as “Music Menu” make their purposes clear.
Apple’s long-neglected equalizer (EQ) feature still isn’t adjustable by users, but at least the various presets now have bar-style visual indicators of how they work—assuming you know what the bars are supposed to represent.