iPod Classic

The iPod Classic (6th generation), as the name implies, is the latest successor in Apple's long line of mainline iPods.

If you're looking for a major change in hardware or design from the previous 5/5.5G iPod, you're not going to find it here. Apple knows when they've hit a good thing, and has changed the Classic very little over its lifetime; other than some minor tweaks it's still practically the same design as even the original iPod. With the addition of video with the 5G iPod in particular, there is little left that's practical to add, leading to the hardware capabilities having gone virtually unchanged with this revision.

Underneath, the iPod operating system has received a major GUI facelift with the Classic, which is the focus of what's new with this model. The previous text-based UI has been split down nearly the middle, with a right-pane for graphics to go with most of the menus. Frankly we don't have much nice to say about the UI, so we won't beat around the bush on it trying to say something nice before we go in to the negatives.

There's nothing wrong with the new UI, but the change doesn't bring about anything useful either. It's a very good analogy of Apple's own two-faced nature when it comes to UIs: half of Apple earns all of the praise it gets for what it's done with its UIs over the years for the iPod and OS X, and the other half completely ignores the good practices they've built and tries to be cutting edge for the purpose of being cutting edge.

We hope we're not spoiling things too much for this review when we say that we still think the Classic has the best UI out of all of our MP3 players (in so much as they're comparable), but Apple has definitely shot itself in the foot here. One of the cornerstones of the iPod design that enabled Apple to blow right past their early competition was the vastly superior UI, a minimalist design that was very effective and worked very well with other cornerstone: the scroll wheel. At the end of the day Apple has traded roughly half the horizontal resolution of the iPod's screen for useless graphics, and while it's still better than anything else out there we saw a better UI in the previous iPod. This is a very good lesson in not trying to fix something that isn't broken.

In spite of managing to make the UI worse however, Apple hasn't affected the core functionality of the iPod Classic. The iPod started as a audio player and while Apple has since added features it's still a top-notch audio player. The credit here goes to the scroll wheel, which after 7 years is still the benchmark for input on a MP3 player thanks to the high level of precision it affords and the buttons being so close together for easy reach. Combined with the hierarchical design of the UI, the Classic is the easiest to use among all of the MP3 players we're looking at today, particularly when it comes to blind navigation.

Meanwhile the technical abilities of the Classic when it comes to audio are fairly standard, but there's nothing wrong with this. All of the usual audio formats are supported (MP3/AAC/Audible) along with AIFF/WAV/Apple Lossless for lossless file formats. However open source software proponents will once again be disappointed to find that the Classic doesn't support OGG Vorbis lossy audio or the popular FLAC lossless format.

Where the Classic falls short however is where every other ancestor of the Classic has also fallen short: everything else. For video and photos, the Classic's 2.5" 320x240 screen is simply too small to be practical to watch videos on. The resolution is appropriate for the screen's physical dimensions, it's the physical dimensions that are the problem. With widescreen material in particular the screen just isn't big enough to allow you to watch from a comfortable distance. It's a shame too, with hard drives going up to 160GB there's plenty of space for video or photos, you just can't see them without a magnifying glass.

As has become the de-facto standard for MP3 player video, the Classic supports H.264 and MPEG-4 Simple Profile for its video codecs. For compatibility purposes the Classic can handle video up to 640x480, although any self-encoded content at this resolution would be wasteful given that the screen is only one-quarter of this resolution. Since the Classic can't handle AVI containers, DivX/XviD encoded video is out, even if the device does support the MPEG standard those codecs are based on.

Besides media player functionality, the Classic also throws in a few utilities and games. The story is much the same as it is for video, with this extra functionality just not well suited for the device. The utilities (Clock/Calendar/Alarms/Notes/Stopwatch) and games (iQuiz, Klondike, and Vortex) are designed well, the problem boils down to the scroll wheel which just isn't designed for this kind of use. The wheel as a limitation means most of the utilities can't accept and store new data and the games are made either overly simplistic or hard to play. The wheel works great for media, but not for anything else. If you want real PDA functionality in an MP3 player, you should be looking towards the iPod Touch whose touch screen offers the kind of input system required to make these features work.

The build quality of the Classic is excellent, and we can identify no significant outstanding flaws. The dimensions on our 80GB unit are a holding-comfortable 4.1in x 2.4in x 0.41in and the weight 4.9 ounces. The Classic is thin enough that it's pocketable in big pockets, but some users may find it a bit bulgy in smaller pockets. The matte coating of the front is fingerprint-resistant, but perfectionists will have a problem with the chrome rear, which is both a scratch and fingerprint magnet. An inadvertent drop of 4' on to a tile floor produced no problems with our Classic, although it did contribute to the quickly scratched-up back.

If we have one real problem with the Classic, it's the included earbuds. While we use our own set of headphones regardless, Apple's standard earbuds included with all of their iPod products are nothing but incredibly cheap. The sound is mediocre, the fit is wrong, and they fall out very easily. Considering that most consumers will not buy separate earbuds for an iPod and that the MSRP on an 80GB iPod is $249, Apple would be much better off including better earbuds. There's just no reason they need to be this poor.

Index iPod Touch
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  • ThePooBurner - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    Since the article is on current gen, we should only compare current gen. So you can't say apple is superior because of it's touch wheel when creative has the same. My Zen, the Vision:M is a few years old and can be had for under 200$. For that you get video playback of more formats (and an included transcoder for formats that aren't natively supported) than the Ipod, an FM tuner, a Microphone for dictigraphing, an 8gig jump drive that is seperate from the 30gig main drive, and jump dive like operation for the 30gig main drive, so you can use it on any computer. As far as i know, the Ipod has non of this without buying extra parts. I like the GUI of the Zen better than the Ipod by a lot, though the zune's GUI is actually pretty nice in places. Plus, Creative practically invented sound. I would wager that the sound quality and output, etc. are superior on the Zen compared to the other players as well. My music sounds good n matter what i have hooked to it to produce the sound, be it headphones, speakers, or even a TV. Even sounds great when using my 20$ FM transmitter for playback in my car. Plus my battery lasts for ever. I've gotten fairly close to 24 hours of operation. Granted time depend on a few things, as I've gotten as little as 14 also, but i know that the capability is there to meet the advertised claims, or better. And the 60gig version has even more features than mine does!

    Actually, other review sites, when my version of the Zen came out, said everything i have said and added "Creative has once again created a superior product to everyone else, but will the market give it the credit it deserves, or will it be like Beta? only time will tell."(that's a paraphrase from memory, so forgive if it isn't 100% exact). In short, the Zen is Better and cheaper than the competition. In every way.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    So you want to compare to today, or a few years old?

    Because from the Creative web site, only the flash players are in stock. The Vison M, Vision W, and even the Zen are out of stock.

    But a theoretical comparison of the Zen M vs the iPod classic shows us that the iPod is smaller and more pocketable, has more storage, and longer battery life. A comparison of the Zen W with the iPod Classic shows that the Classic is still smaller and with a better control scheme, more storage, and better battery life.

    Of course what you say about the Vision:M may have been true in 2005 when it was announced... except that even then the iPod was thinner, had greater storage, and similar or better battery life.

    So sure the "lead" may jump back and forth every time a refresh is announced, but Apple has "consistently" lead; first with USB mass storage, first with smaller form factor, first with faster connectivity, and first with easier usability. Eventually (2004 really), Creative caught up with their Zen but by then Apple had a huge lead.

    So your point, while valid, is also outdated. Look today; if your Vision:M broke, what would you buy? The iPod would be a very strong contender.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    Well I did not read the whole article, and only read part of the closing thoughts, but from what I have read, you guys have your priorities wrong compared to what most of the people I have talked to, and have seen on the web are saying. At least concerning the audio player aspect.

    A lot of people are wanting a device that is simple as possible concerning putting music on it, and a device that also has good quality sound(read: clean, with no background hissing or hum etc, etc). Anyhow, most of what I have read indicated that people would rather pay less for a Creative Stone, or something similar that was small, played music decently, has decent ear buds, and dead simple drag n drop file transferring. A good portion of these people also seem to want a device that does not cause music to stutter/pause on a device while navigating through menus, or folders while looking for a song, or settings.

    The problem with the two reviewed items in this article is that I have read that the software that comes with each device is garbage. And they are not alone, as many MANY devices suffer from the same affliction from what I have read.

    Anyhow, Creative has DEFINITELY been in this part of the industry much, much longer than Apple, or Microsoft, and so has Sony(Although I must admit I have not had a Sony Walkman in many, many years, but I still have one of the first Creative MP3 players ever with 32MB of memory on it).

    I think now days, and personally, I would rather have something that is small, but not tiny, sounds decent, has a USB chargeable battery onboard(I dont have a problem taking such a device apart and replacing the battery myself; if and when it is needed), and somethin g that has drag and drop file transferring with the ability to play any music format whether DRM or not. IF this device were an all around media device, then it MUST have the ability to read PDF files. More than 2-4GB on such a device would be a waste for me however, so we are talking onboard flash, and probably a 8-10 hour battery play time before recharges.
    Reply
  • TP715 - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    You might want to take a look at the Cowon D2 and A3. Both have drag and drop and support many audio codecs. D2 is small, available in 2, 4, and 8GB (can increase via the SDHC slot), has USB chargeable battery with 52 hr life and will display TXT files (but not PDF as yet). A3 is probably bigger than you want, but will display DOC and PDF files (with transcoding).

    Others: AnandTech did mention that this is only the first of reviews on MP3 players, so others will probably be covered. I would suggest they look at Cowon as well as Creative Zen etc. They are available only online, are a bit expensive, and have nonstandard UIs, but they have good audio quality and lots of codec support (incl OGG, FLAC, APE etc.). The also support recording, ie line in.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    I think 119m iPods sold disagree with you.

    1) Sound quality (if you read the whole article you will see) on the Classic (and correspondingly Nano and Shuffle) iPods are fine.
    2) Drag and drop works fine for a couple hundred megabytes (IE, a handful of folders or files) up to a couple gigabytes of files, but falls way short when there are several to tens to hundreds of gigabytes of files. iTunes is then simple (plug and go)
    3) The problems described with stuttering/pausing is new, and will probably be fixed. The first 5 generations of iPods did not have this problem.

    Anyway, you're welcome to your device. It sounds like you're describing an iPod Touch, so long as you can stand iTunes.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    I think you need to recognized that for some people the included earbuds fit perfectly. Reply
  • Freeseus - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    There's something that I haven't seen mentioned in many of these iPOD reviews that I find very annoying. I'm sure I'm not the only one here. Or perhaps, I simply missed over it as I perused this article (as well as previous ones on other sites).

    The iPOD UI has significant slowdown/pauses/sluggish "stutter" playback while accessing music, particularly when:

    a: attached to a transmitting device (iTRIP, for example)
    b: while accessing a long or high-quality song

    Many a time I find myself waiting to see the data appear and waiting to see the song begin to play. I don't even need to mention the album art in the new Classic, which suffers the same problem as iTUNES does in general with displaying custom artwork as you scroll through your music.

    And in the latest CLASSIC generation of iPODs, the "stutter" is at least twice as bad as it was in the previous generation.

    Why has this not been mentioned? I considered getting a ZUNE simply because I was tired of the lacking capabilities of the iPOD's processing/coding. But, I haven't purchased a ZUNE simply because there is no 160gig model.

    The newest iPOD classic is a step down from the previous generation. It needs a cleaner, less intense UI and/or some more powerful hardware. End of story.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    It wasn't mentioned because I never experienced it on the 6G hardware. I also own a 5G where I have experienced it, so I see where you're going, but I have never had that issue with the Classic used in this review. Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Monday, January 21, 2008 - link

    I find that anandtech has fallen into Apple's traps like so many others. The iPod is hardly the be al end all of players anymore. Hell, the Zune has a FM tuner which Apple expects you to pay for in an accessory. The Zune also bundles earbuds that actually sound good, no Apple's pack in ear buds are nowhere the quality. Plus, I don't have to do the "safely remove hardware" to disconnect my zune, I can just unplug it. Doing that with your iPod can corrupt it completely. The battery life on the Zune I find better than mentioned here. Turn off the WiFi if you don't use it. On the touch if you use the web features it's necessary, but mostly for the Zune you don't need it. It's not ment to do the functions the iPod Touch does via wifi so having it on is unfair in the comparison. The zune has flaws too like the screen not being very high rez for it's size, and inability to put videos into a playlist. The latter of which is easily fixed via software update.

    The Zune also has the bonus of not using a case that is easily scratched.I also find the UI to be more eye pleasing than the iPod classic because of the ability to customize the background.

    I'm honestly just a little sick of people writing off everything else as an option and telling everyone else to just buy an ipod because it's "cool" or "it's an ipod, duh". That's the same as telling everyone to buy a Wii, even when the Wii doesn't have the games people buy an Xbox360 for.
    Reply
  • lefenzy - Wednesday, March 05, 2008 - link

    I agree with you about the ipod not being the best, but I've never had an issue pulling out my ipod nano without safe renewal. Reply

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