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Cons: Despite large hard drives and batteries, outdated 2.5” screen and interface continue to fall behind Apple’s best devices in ease-of-use and quality of overall media playback experience, forcing users to pick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.
Having tested every iPod Apple has released over the past seven years, we find ourselves a little confused—but ultimately, not surprised—by the continued existence of the iPod classic. This device, which melds the family’s best battery life and storage space with a merely passable screen and an aging interface, now seems to exist solely as a foil to Microsoft’s Zune and similar hard disk-based competitors, keeping capacity- and value-conscious users from looking elsewhere.
However, despite its advances in battery life and capacity for the $249 asking price, which collectively are enough to earn it the same B+ rating and general recommendation as its 2007 edition, the iPod classic is no longer trailblazing in any way. Perhaps because a 240GB hard drive version wasn’t ready in time for Apple’s September 2008 special event, or perhaps because Apple didn’t feel compelled to release something so huge, the 120GB version now stands alone as an odd little asterisk to the family—the first time since 2001 that there has been only one hard disk-based iPod model. Yet it remains a good compromise option; as we suggested last year, the classic makes a lot of sense for people who want to carry around lots of music and listen to it continuously without a recharge, and still plays videos and games. The only people who will be deeply saddened by it are serious video fans, who want the capacity and battery longevity they need to watch virtually anything they own, yet need to accept a screen that is in no way comparable to the ones in today’s iPod touch or iPhone 3G. Athletic users will also be forced to deal with its lack of support for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit.
Last year, we didn’t think the iPod touch and the iPod classic were even close in terms of appeal: Apple priced the touch high, equipped it with a dodgy screen and old audio chip, then crippled it with low capacity and weak battery life. But this year’s touch has improved considerably in every way save capacity, and then, it’s at least more affordable than last year’s model. Additionally, the idea of buying iPod touch games and other applications seems safer, as they have a much greater chance than the classic of working on Apple’s next-generation devices.
Overall, the choice between this year’s iPod classic and iPod touch strikes us as purely a matter of personal preference. With the classic, you’re unquestionably getting old iPod technology, but with superior battery life, tremendously better storage capacity, and faster transfer speeds. The iPod touch offers a better form factor and interface, Nike + iPod support, modestly lower battery performance, much worse storage capacity for the dollar, and a more future-proof interface. It goes without saying that a device with the touch’s screen and classic’s storage would have been worthy of an A-level rating in our book, but until that happens, you’ll need to decide which of these iPods—or a competing device—has the key features that are most important to you. Right now, these two devices rate a draw; we’ll be interested to see how the family’s balance changes next year.