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Cons: No longer Apple’s “best iPod ever;” outdated 2.5” screen and interface are now steps behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, while new interface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.
From an on-paper specifications standpoint, little has changed from the fifth-generation iPod to the iPod classic: the new device still plays the music, audiobooks, podcasts, and video files its predecessor could play, with no additional formats or upgraded on-screen video. However, when you actually listen to or watch the iPod classic performing music and movies, it’s clear that there have been some changes—mostly good ones.
There’s generally good news on the iPod classic audio quality front: Apple still appears to be taking sound quality seriously in its hard disk-based iPods, and this year’s model has consequently seen further reductions in the base level of noise from last year’s fifth-generation iPods. Plugging the same high-end earphones into both old and new iPods yields a noticeable difference in audio hiss; the iPod classic sounds cleaner. It remains to be seen how the iPod touch will fare in this regard, but if the iPhone and our brief tests of iPod touch at Apple’s Special Event are any indication, the iPod classic may well be the family’s best audio player.
As an offset, however, we noticed that its sound was slightly less warm than the 5G iPod’s at comparable volume levels, and by “slightly,” we mean slightly. The same pairs of test earphones—here, Etymotic’s ER-4P, Shure’s SE530, and Ultimate Ears’ UE-11 Pro—sounded just a little more rich when used with the fifth-generation iPod, but they also revealed the much more noticeable static hiss. Overall, we preferred the classic’s default sound, though we still would strongly prefer to have band-level graphical equalization features to tweak it precisely to our liking.
Very little has changed in the iPod classic’s handling of video files. Unlike the iPhone and iPod touch, you need to pre-select whether a video will take up the entire screen or display in letterboxed widescreen mode. Rather than fading in as white overlays on top of the video, status bars—title, battery life and play/pause status on top, volume, time/chapter scrubbing, and screen brightness on bottom—slide in and out on bars that appear from off-screen. The effect is nice, if more intrusive than before.
Video quality is highly similar between the iPod classic and the enhanced 5G iPod released in 2006. Movies played back on the iPod classic’s screen have roughly the same minimum and maximum brightness levels as the 2006 5G iPod, but they’re rendered a bit more sharp rather than soft, in either widescreen or fullscreen mode. There are situations in which one sharpness setting might seem better than the other’s, but we generally preferred the classic’s.
Apple has added a new option, Captions, to the Video Settings menu. Closed captioning will be available in certain videos sold through the iTunes Store, so you’ll be able to have this text appear as an overlay to the video if the Captions option is selected. Widescreen has also been renamed Fullscreen in this menu, emphasizing what the iPod classic has rather than what it lacks. Turn on Fullscreen mode to crop the sides of a widescreen video and fill the iPod classic’s entire 4:3 display with what’s left.