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Cons: Despite large hard drives and batteries, outdated 2.5” screen and interface continue to fall behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, forcing users to pick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.
There’s been no change from last year’s iPod classic to this year’s in terms of built-in games or game support. The 2008 iPod classic comes with a trivia game called iQuiz and a solitaire game called Klondike, both improvements on previous-generation iPod games. Notably, the fourth-generation iPod nano has replaced iQuiz with a new and cool game called Maze, which uses that device’s accelerometer; as the accelerometer’s missing from the iPod classic, it would be unplayable on this device.
The single best title Apple includes with the iPod classic is Vortex, an updated version of the classic game Breakout. Vortex wraps bricks around the inside of a tube for your paddle to break with a ball or upgraded weapons, and offers numerous levels and powerups that make this title better than basically all of the Breakout wannabes that have emerged for the iPhone and iPod touch.
Apple also continues to sell downloadable games for the iPod classic under the heading of “iPod Click Wheel Games” from the iTunes Store. As of today, there are 36 downloadable titles that work with the iPod classic, and we’ve reviewed all of the games in our Reviews section. They vary considerably in quality, and each sell for $4.99. None of the titles work on the iPhone or iPod touch, and there is no guarantee that they will work on Apple’s next-generation Click Wheel iPods, either.
All of the Extras previously found on the iPod classic remain in the 2008 model, as well. They are Clocks, Calendars, Contacts, Alarms, Notes, Screen Lock and Stopwatch. Clocks fits up to three nice-looking transparent clocks on screen at once. They’re displayed on top of a gray map of the Earth, and can display the current times in countries and cities all across the world.
Alarms is a separate but related Extra. You can set alarms to go off once, every day, weekends, weekdays, every week, every month or every year. Each can be labeled with one of a handful of names picked from a list. Multiple alarms can be set up for your current location.
Stopwatch has an image of a stopwatch on the screen alongside a digital timer. You can peruse past records, with computed total, shortest, longest, and average times kept in a log. Multiple timers can be run at once, as well.
Calendar and Contacts synchronize calendar and contact data from your computer and displays them in simple form on the iPod’s screen, letting you choose individual days or people to see additional information. You can’t edit these details using the iPod classic, as the Click Wheel provides a very marginal input system for such a task; the iPod touch handles this and other editing with much greater aplomb.
Screen Lock works the same as before to prevent others from accessing iPod classic’s contents. It uses a four-digit code to lock the device, and can be opened by connecting to your iTunes library, as well.
Notes provide light HTML-styled text documents that you can drop into a folder on the iPod classic, just as with prior iPods. The text, as with last year’s iPod classic, looks thinner and smaller than before.
It’s worth mentioning that none of these items has been changed in any significant way from the prior iPod classic and iPod nano interface, despite tweaks to the iPod nano that enable it to boost its font size, achieve song-to-song crossfading, and offer voice prompted menus for the visually impaired. At this point, it remains unclear whether Apple will add these features to the iPod classic, or whether the “classic” name is a signal that future updates won’t be as frequent as with the other iPod models going forward.