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Cons: Despite large hard drives and batteries, outdated 2.5” screen and interface continue to fall behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, forcing users to pick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.
Apart from the audio recording and remote change mentioned in an earlier section of this review, there’s only one thing to say about this year’s iPod classic accessory compatibility relative to last year’s model: it’s the same. And that’s sort of surprising.
The only surprise is that Apple used the refreshes of the iPhone, iPod nano and the iPod touch to discontinue their support for FireWire charging, a feature that has been found in all Dock Connector-equipped iPods since 2003, enabling FireWire computer ports and accessories to refuel connected iPods and original iPhones without an issue. FireWire charging support was discontinued in the iPhone 3G, then the nano and touch, but it’s still offered in the iPod classic—most likely because Apple just didn’t get around to it. As a consequence, this is the only remaining iPod model that charges from past speaker accessories such as the Bose SoundDock, Apple iPod Hi-Fi, and certain premium car kits, amongst others. If you find that the new nano and touch don’t recharge in your car or speaker, you have a choice: replace the accessory, or buy an iPod classic instead.
Everything else about the new iPod classic is predictable, accessory-wise. It still fits in all of the cases created for last year’s 80GB model. Past 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; the same ones that worked with last year’s classic will work with this year’s.
But as noted earlier in this review, the iPod classic still refuses to output video or photographs to an external TV or other device unless it’s connected to a new accessory that contains an Apple authentication chip—an Apple change that has never been explained by the company, and resulted in the abrupt discontinuation of popular video accessories that we used to love, such as Sonic Impact’s Video-55 and Memorex’s iFlip. This change means that most in-car video cables, wearable video displays, and docks with video output produced before early 2008 just do not work with the iPod classic. Your choice is simple: either stick with your old 5G iPod, or go out and buy new accessories to replace the ones that worked before.
The only good news, of sorts, is that 2008 has in fact seen the release of some new accessories with support for the new iPods’ video-out functionality. We have tested Myvu and Carl Zeiss video goggles, a Philips portable video display, Apple Universal Docks, and a few speaker systems that offer video-out functionality, but haven’t been completely impressed by the video performance of any of them. Simply put, if you’re looking for a way to bring video out of your iPod classic, you’ll find that options are available—make sure that the box guarantees iPod classic compatibility—but we strongly preferred the video options that were sold before the authentication chip nightmare began.
Finally, it bears mention that Apple’s Nike + iPod Sport Kit still doesn’t work with the iPod classic. Once again, this isn’t a surprise—and some readers have suggested that the hard disk-based iPod models are too fragile to run or power walk with—but it goes without saying that Apple could easily have added this feature to the classic, if only for times when it’s docked in an exercise facility’s running machine.