Review: Apple iPod classic (Late 2008 120GB, Late 2009 160GB)
Pros: Apple’s only remaining hard disk-based iPod, boasting family-leading storage capacity and battery performance at reasonable pricing. Available in silver or black versions, each with full support for music, video, photo, and game playback. Adds new headphone port-based voice recording and remote control technology, as well as Genius playlist creation. Fastest iPod at transferring media from iTunes, by a substantial factor. Now the only iPod that remains compatible with older FireWire charging accessories, including expensive past speaker systems and certain car kits. A solid compromise device.
Cons: Despite large hard drives and batteries, outdated 2.5” screen and interface continue to fall behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, forcing users to pick between great screens or the hard disks necessary to carry lots of video around. Lacks several new features added to fourth-generation iPod nano. Remains incompatible with pre-2008 video-out accessories, including portable video displays, requiring recent and more expensive replacements. Not available in capacities as large or larger than last year’s biggest model.
In 2007, Apple released three substantially new iPods: the biscuit-shaped third-generation iPod nano (iLounge Rating: A), the metal-faced iPod classic (iLounge Rating: B+), and the phoneless iPhone called iPod touch (iLounge Rating: B-). This year, Apple has updated all three models with new features that range from trivial to important, generally improving each while boosting storage capacity for the dollar. Our review of the 2008 iPod classic (120GB/$249) covers all of the key changes and details you want to know about.
Every once in a long while, Apple releases an iPod that isn’t quite the next “generation” of an earlier model, but certainly isn’t exactly the same as its immediate predecessor, either. Such is the case with the 2008 iPod classic, the most recent hard disk-based sequel to the original iPod released in 2001: despite internal changes, Apple has stopped short of calling it the “second-generation iPod classic,” and is instead referring to it solely as the iPod classic (120GB). Properly understood as the “sixth-and-a-half-generation iPod” (or 6.5G iPod for short), here’s how it fits into the family’s history.
The first iPod pioneered the concept of a 1.8” hard disk drive-based music player that used a bright white screen and rotating wheel for navigation. Its second-generation 2002 sequel changed the wheel to a touch-sensitive surface and came in both PC and Mac versions. A completely redesigned third-generation model in 2003 added a bottom accessory Dock Connector, replaced all the clickable buttons with touch-sensitive controls, and added USB connectivity as an option. The fourth-generation 2004 version came in both black and white and color versions, swapping the prior control scheme for the modern Click Wheel controller. Apple’s fifth-generation 2005 iPod was the first to play videos, and an “enhanced fifth-generation” version in 2006 added additional storage capacity. The 2007 sixth-generation iPod was rebranded as iPod classic, and was the first to offer Cover Flow and come with a silver or black metal face. Two versions were available: an 80GB version with 30 promised hours of audio runtime, and a thicker 160GB version with 40 hours.
Apple’s 2008 model is still sold in black- or silver-faced versions, but comes in only one capacity, 120GB, enough to store 30,000 songs or 150 hours of video in standard formats. Like all screened iPods, the classic supports audio and video in MP3, AAC, MPEG-4, and H.264 formats, as well as Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV. Though it looks exactly the same dimensionally as the “thin” 80GB sixth-generation iPod classic, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs spent less than a minute discussing the new model during its unveiling, it has actually changed inside: in addition to the extra storage space, Apple has quietly added new features such as superior 36-hour battery life, headphone port-based remote controls, and headphone port-based voice recording, as well as a number of smaller changes. The pages of this review look at each of the key prior and new features in turn; you can look at the pros and cons here, or skip directly to the conclusions for our purchasing recommendations.
[Editor’s Note: This review was updated on September 14, 2009 to add a page on the late 2009 replacement for the 120GB model, which is virtually identical in all ways except capacity. The late 2009 iPod classic has 160GB of storage capacity, and is discussed in full on page 10. The rest of this review, including the original rating for the late 2008 model, remains intact; page 10 discusses the reasons for the new model’s lower rating. Additionally, on November 6, 2013, we re-rated the iPod classic a second time to note its continually diminished appeal relative to iOS devices.]