Anodized aluminum adds style points and offers protection. Long battery life. Attractive, easy-to-use interface. Ample storage space.
Cover Flow feature is redundant. Low-power info display too hard to see. Chrome backing smudges easily, may scratch. Stock earbuds are good, but may not be enough for music lovers.
The iPod classic is the one of the latest incarnations of Apple's ubiquitous media player. It is a direct successor to the original 80GB iPod video, with the same footprint and screen size, as well as hard drive-based storage. You can pick black or silver colors, and a $249.00 80GB model (tested here), or one with double the hard drive space at $349.00. Bundled with each is a USB 2.0 cable for charging and synching and a pair of stock Apple earbuds.
in the hand
Two changes are immediately noticeable when you handle the iPod classic. First, the front surface is no longer made of plastic or Lucite, but is anodized aluminum. It has an extremely durable feel, and may be more aesthetically appealing, plus seems like it is impossible to smudge the surface.
The same cannot be said for the back, unfortunately. While its chrome plating is tough and fractions of an inch thinner than previous iPods, it accumulates fingerprints within moments of first touching it. Thankfully, this is a minor issue.
on the screen
Once synched with iTunes, the Classic displays more differences. The traditional interface now occupies only half of the screen. A contextual display occupies the other half, and presents photos or album covers. It also shows information such as time, the number of podcasts, or the amount of free space available, which is a welcome convenience.
You can browse music conventionally or through the newly added Cover Flow interface, but in practice, the former seems the best one to use. Cover Flow isn't very practical because it requires instant response, something only truly available on the iPhone and iPod touch, both of which have touch screens and flash memory. The rendering on the iPod classic is comparatively sluggish, and even the Click Wheel seems too slow compared to the convenience of flicking a finger. This is exacerbated by the fact that other improvements also grace the standard interface. For example, it displays thumbnails with more detailed album and podcast listings. The Cover Flow view seems redundant.
Cover Flow View
Apple claims that the 80GB iPod classic can play up to 30 hours of continuous music and five hours of video and the marketing rang true. I did not test the video, but put the iPod through a non-stop music test, in which it exceeded expectations. The player reached 32.5 hours, at which point I stopped the test only to try other features. A brief re-sync may have prolonged the playing time, but it was counter balanced by the need to occasionally wake the screen and check progress.
One complaint in that regard is that when the display dims to preserve battery power, it is often unreadable except in conditions with ample ambient lighting. The iPod does not just lower brightness; it changes to a monochrome display of time, play status, and battery life. Without color, it is even harder to discern characters, which ultimately makes the new readout pointless.
The earbuds are above average for pack-ins, but clearly lacking for audiophiles. Their bass and treble response are enough to cover a wide variety of genres, but the range is sufficiently clipped that you may want to buy third-party buds or headphones.
One curious change is that there is no longer a dedicated video output jack. The iPod classic can still send video to devices like TVs, but this requires an accessory such as a dock. For those used to the convenience of immediate output, this is a disappointment.
A good buy
The iPod classic succeeds because Apple did not tamper with the aspects that made the video iPod a success. The iPod classic has increased memory, a tougher exterior, some new display features, and a much better price per megabyte. The player now fits into an odd middle niche, neither as advanced as the Touch or iPhone or as compact as the Nano or Shuffle. It is intended for people who want all their music and videos in one convenient package. There is little else on the market to challenge the storage size or elegant look.
Editorial Note: Please preserve your hearing and think about volume. Read Apple's Sound and Hearing.