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Cons: Despite large hard drives and batteries, outdated 2.5” screen and interface continue to fall behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, forcing users to pick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.
The only other significant hardware change to the iPod classic is in headphone port input. Like the new iPod nano and iPod touch, the iPod classic’s headphone port has been subtly changed to add support for new microphone and remote control accessories, the first of which—the Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic—is expected in October.
For now, there’s little to say about these features other than that they work. Until the new Earphones are released, the iPod classic can be used with the iPhone Stereo Headphones, which include both a mic and a single button for track play/pause functionality, which now can be pressed three times to skip backwards a track, or two times to skip forwards. Connecting these headphones to the iPod classic brings up a Voice Memos menu option, which previously only opened on iPod classics when a Dock Connector-based recording accessory was attached. Old Dock Connector-based accessories continue to bring up the same menu, and work.
Unlike the iPod nano, the iPod classic’s Voice Memos feature offers two quality choices—low or high—for the recordings it makes, creating one as a monaural 22kHz and the other as a stereo 44kHz file, both in WAV format. The iPod nano uses the less widely compatible but less space-consuming Apple Lossless encoding format, and forces the user to record in monaural mode with headphone-connected microphones, or stereo with Dock-connnected mics. This makes some sense on the nano given that the iPods’ headphone ports apparently don’t support stereo recording, but less as the Dock Connector port can also support (and in some cases benefit from) lower-bitrate monaural mode; only the iPod classic gives you the choice to use it.
This is offset by the devices’ other recording features. The iPod nano has a new screen that shows you a graphical display of input levels, and lets you click the center button to add chapter markers automatically mid-way through your recordings. By comparison, the iPod classic’s “2.0” software doesn’t add either of these features, so you can just sort of guess that the recording is being made properly. In our testing with the iPhone’s microphone, it worked exactly as we’d expect, creating fine-sounding close-proximity recordings, but obviously, being able to check levels for greater distance recordings would be very useful, too.
It bears only brief mention that there’s some irony in the addition of both headphone port recording and remote control functionality to the new iPod classic: after years of cultivating popular top-mounting remote and microphone accessories for the third- and fourth-generation iPods, as well as the iPod mini, Apple without explanation removed this top-mounted accessory port from the fifth-generation iPod and nano, leaving users and developers scrambling for new—and ultimately more expensive, less convenient—bottom-mounting ones. We’re glad to see these features back where they always belonged, but it’s both puzzling and disappointing that they had to disappear for three years.