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Cons: No longer Apple’s “best iPod ever;” outdated 2.5” screen and interface are now steps behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, while new interface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.
There’s some good news and some bad news about past iPod accessories. The good news is that, from a physical standpoint, iPod classics will work with almost everything developed for fifth-generation iPods. Apple has kept the top and bottom ports in the same places, the same footprint, and almost the same thicknesses as the prior models. Though you can’t expect form-fitting hard plastic cases to fit perfectly, and the iPod classics will be a little looser in soft cases, old designs will do just fine for protection until new ones come along.
Audio and charging accessories will generally work properly with iPod classic. Unlike the iPhone, which still doesn’t work with our favorite car accessories, iPod classic works just fine for audio with the accessories we previously installed—it doesn’t put up any nag screens, fail to charge, or fail to play back music. It also works properly with past voice recording accessories, adding both a new recording screen with a microphone icon and a new playback screen that’s nicer than before. FM transmitter and other accessories will generally work properly so long as they don’t hijack the iPod’s screen for tuning or other functionality.
But it does fail to do something simple and fundamental: unlike the fourth- and fifth-generation iPods, it refuses to output video or photographs to an external TV or other device unless it’s connected to something that contains an Apple authentication chip. That means that our in-car video cable can’t play video from the iPod classic. It also means that our collections of iPod video display docks and wearable video displays do not work with iPod classic. Photo slideshows and video playback alike are constrained by this artificial limitation. In short, Apple has locked away the photo-out feature it introduced in the iPod photo and 4G iPod, as well as the video-out capabilities that it introduced in the 5G iPod, and is now going to make you buy new accessories to replace the ones that worked before.
It goes without saying that Apple need not have done this, and to lock away support for devices that people have been using for two years sets an extremely poor precedent for future iPod accessory support. Why should consumers invest any amount of money in an iPod add-on when there’s a good chance that next year’s model might not work properly with it? Beats us.
Another less important accessory that won’t work is the iPod Camera Connector, which offered snail slow transfers of photographs from a digital camera to the 4G and 5G iPods’ hard drives. This now brings up a screen that says “Unsupported - Accessory is not supported.” Given that the Camera Connector hasn’t been an especially viable transfer solution for the past couple of years, we’re not sad to see it go, but it would be nice to have a faster, better alternative. Similarly, the Nike + iPod Sport Kit doesn’t work with the iPod classic, which isn’t entirely a surprise, but could easily have been added by Apple given the similarity in the classic and nano’s new interfaces.