Apple’s refreshed iPod line recently made its debut, to much fanfare. Along with new colors for the Shuffle, redesigned nanos, and innovative Touch lines, the good ole iPod we’ve come to know and love has been given the badge of “Classic” and, possibly, a new lease on life. Some would argue that Apple’s simply given up on furthering the original iPod design so totally that they hope the “Classic” moniker will set folks’ expectations low. So what can you really anticipate from the ‘all-new’ Classic models? Just that same old iPod of yesteryear, same as grandpa used to listen to, or something more?
Features and Design
A possible refresh of the iPod line had been making its way through the rumor mill since the day the previous generation hit the market. One thing seemed clear though, amid the speculation: Flash memory was not quite at the price level it needed to be to usurp hard drives when it came to 16GB+ capacity players. Bearing this in mind, Apple was faced with two choices: either leave a gaping hole in its product line by not including hard drive-based models, or bite the bullet and bring them on-board, thereby keeping the gravy train rolling for those of us with 20GB+ music libraries and a poor penchant for playlist creation. Enter the 80GB and 160GB iPod Classic.
First, the basics… no one would argue that Apple doesn’t know how to package a product – frankly, they give the consumer the best out-of-the-box experience in the industry. In keeping with tradition, the packaging for the Classic is a nicely scaled down box of minimalist design. To add a touch of class, the front surface picturing the player is also raised along the edges of the image. Pop it open and that virtual cardboard fantasy becomes a cold metal and plastic reality. In a sense, you are almost unveiling the product to yourself. This is actually kind of interesting, as it plays nicely on a psychological phenomenon called object permanence.
Apple iPod Packaging and Contents
Under the tray holding the multimedia mega-monster, there is a scant quick start/warranty/disclaimer notice, followed by a bag containing the ‘accessories.’ These include ear bud headphones, a USB sync/charging cable, wall adapter and a docking station adapter to Apple-approved docking stations. (Note that there is no docking station included, but we had no trouble using our 4G iPod Photo dock.) What’s more, the new iPod Classic finally jettisons the iPod White color scheme entirely, and is offered only in black or silver, though you’ll still find those signature white ear buds in the box.
The Apple iPod Classic
Setup and Use
Firing up our silver beauty, we’re greeted with the language selection screen. Voila – that’s it, nice and simple, no demo music, videos, pictures or other PMP bloatware installed, which is a welcome change from other players on the market. Of course, there’s no software CD included either, which is a first for us, meaning you’ll either need to have iTunes preinstalled or Internet access to download it. An open suggestion to Apple: Bundle a cheapo 64MB flash drive with iTunes preloaded if you want to keep packaging size down and not alienate people who pick up a new iPod when net access might not be easy. Plus, it would add a little extra class to the whole package.
Physically, the 160GB version of the Classic (which is just slightly thicker than the 80GB version) is about the same size as the 5th generation iPod, which is pretty amazing, considering that the player’s capacity nearly tripled. The screen is easily the best iPod screen we’ve seen so far, with good resolution and brightness. The matte finish metallic body further feels solid and creates a sharp edge where it meets the chrome backing. Like previous iPods, the top edge sports the headphone jack and hold button, while the bottom edge is home to the proprietary connector.
Comparing the Apple iPod Classic to a 3rd Gen iPod
Connecting the iPod to a PC for the first time is as easy as in previous generations. We would like to see an advanced customization setting for the initial setup though, which consists of two questions before starting the longest sync of your life. Loading up close to 130GB of music and other content took approximately 3 hours, which really isn’t bad. PC users will be accustomed to the nonresponsive iTunes interface, especially during syncing. The Classic seems to take longer to eject, however, and during the final stages of syncing, required a good 30 seconds to full minute of “thinking” before completing the operation.
The most immediately apparent change from previous generations is the interface. Taking advantage of the widescreen aspect, the top-level menus are divided into two columns: One for menu options, and one for icons or background images. Once loaded up with songs, videos, and album art, album covers slowly fade and drift across the right half of the display. After we noticed the spiffy new interface tweaks, we encountered our first pet peeve with it. Scrolling through menu items in this split-screen setup is noticeably balky, making selecting items noticeably difficult.
The sequence generally goes as follows: Try to scroll through a few menu items with the wheel; grimace as the scrolling action starts half a second after it should; watch it stop one short of or one past the desired selection; observe as the selected icon appears; attempt to scroll onward; see no movement; try to scroll again as the first attempt to scroll kicks in; repeat back and forth until you learn the timing. This is undoubtedly a significant issue, but not a difficult one to fix, and we expect it to be addressed in a future firmware update. The correct way we’d like to see things work: All menu icons should be preloaded when the screen appears, rather than forcing the player to access the hard drive for each menu option change.
Once past the first two levels of the menu structure, the interface switches to a nicely-spaced, text-based scrolling scheme with summary information… or rather does, except for the Cover Flow option. That’s right: Like the newer versions of iTunes, the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and new nano, the Classic also sports Cover Flow, which allows you to flip through your albums visually. It looks nice, works well and shows no significant lag, but is ultimately useless when you have 120GB+ of music. Maybe adding Cover Flow as a sub-option under Artist or Genre would make more sense, but after using it as is, we’ll probably never touch it again. Otherwise, the Now Playing screen has been significantly revamped with much clearer text, more track information, less lag when switching tracks or moving through the Now Playing options, and, most noticeably, a nice 3D perspective of the album art with reflection below.
Of primary import, sound quality from the Classic is exceptional, as with previous iPods. There are 22 equalizer settings, though no custom setting, and user changeable volume limiter and volume normalizer. (Amusingly, the included ear buds are an embarrassment, as always, and were relegated to our bin of unused accessories.) That said, we tested the sound quality using a number of tracks ranging from Jazz and Vocal to Industrial, Rock, and Techno. All were MP3s encoded at 320kbps played through Super.fi 5 Pro in-ear monitors, and could not identify a consistently underperforming category.
The Apple iPod Classic is a nice evolutionary step in iPod design aimed at previous generation owners who require more storage capacity, or new owners who don’t want to pony up premium fees for less than premium storage. Granted, the unit’s new interface changes have been well thought-out and prove welcome additions, but do require some tweaking on Apple’s end in order to make the system more responsive. The upshot being as follows: While nothing about the iPod Classic wowed us besides the capacity, we were left feeling satisfied with the purchase. If you are a current 5G iPod owner and don’t need additional space, there is no compelling reason to upgrade. But on the flip side, owners of earlier generation iPods have many nice bells and whistles to look forward to.
• Huge capacity
• Excellent sound quality
• Revamped interface
• Sluggish/balky menus
• No docking station included
• Requires iTunes 7 or newer
• Might not be compatible with some accessories