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Cons: Despite large hard drives and batteries, outdated 2.5” screen and interface continue to fall behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, forcing users to pick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.
When we reviewed the 80GB and 160GB iPod classics last year, we were thrilled to discover that these models packed not only the family’s largest storage capacities, but the best battery life Apple has ever offered: the company had jumped from a $249 30GB, 14-audio-hour fifth-generation iPod to a $249 80GB iPod classic with over 30 hours of audio run time.
Apple has done it again this year. The $249 iPod classic now boasts 50% more storage capacity, using a single-platter 120GB hard disk as a replacement for the 80GB disk in the prior model. And the new device is even more power-efficient than before: Apple promises 36 hours of audio run time and 6 hours of video run time. If accurate, these numbers would place it in the middle of last year’s 80GB and 160GB models.
Our tests yielded very positive results. While Apple has become less conservative in publishing battery life for the iPod touch and iPhone 3G models, which it struggled to portray as up to snuff with last year’s iPod nano and classic, the 120GB iPod classic is undersold, and actually delivered healthy gains over the 2007 iPod classics. Whereas Apple promised 30 audio hours from the 80GB classic and delivered 36, it promised 36 in the 120GB classic and delivered over 42. Similarly, while it promised 5 hours of video run time in the 80GB classic and delivered nearly 7, it claims 6 hours for the 120GB model and delivers nearly 8. These numbers place the 120GB iPod classic substantially above the iPod shuffle, nano, and touch, and more than trivially above the iPhone 3G in audio, as well.
Two things should be noted about these performance statistics. We ran our video battery test three separate times because of a bug in the 120GB classic’s video playlist feature that kept playing the same video over and over rather than alternating between different videos in our playlist. In order to achieve an “average” despite the bug, we ran the test once repeating one of our two test movies and once repeating the other, then averaged the numbers to reach our 7:59 figure. Our third test yielded a run time of 7 hours and 57 minutes, so we feel comfortable saying that the 120GB iPod classic on average falls just under 8 hours in video run time, which is superb for a device of its size and capacity.
The only caveat is that last year’s 160GB iPod classic did better. Apple promised 40 hours of audio run time for that model, but delivered 58, then claimed 7 hours of video while delivering nearly 9 and a half. Just as the 120GB classic’s improvements over the 80GB model and other current iPod and iPhone devices isn’t trivial, these numbers aren’t, either, and suggest that should Apple release another iPod classic based on the 160GB model’s physical size and recently announced 240GB 1.8” hard disk technology, further performance gains would be possible. In any case, the 120GB iPod classic may not be the family’s all-time battery king, but it’s the best Apple has ever done in an enclosure of this size.
One other performance statistic worth noting is the iPod classic’s transfer speed relative to the current iPod nano and iPod touch. We used the same 1GB test playlist of mixed audio and video files with all three of these devices, as well as older models as noted in the nano’s and touch’s separate reviews, and the iPod classic dusted the other models: it transfered the 1GB in 57 seconds, versus 1 minute and 29 seconds on the iPod nano and 2 minutes on the iPod touch. In other words, in our testing environment, it would take less than 30 minutes to put the same 30GB of content on the iPod classic as it would take 60 minutes to put on the current 32GB iPod touch. It’s surprising that the iPod model that has the least need to swap its contents is the fastest at doing so.