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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  • Drazic - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    I have my Zune 80GB for 3 years now. It has never been broken and the screen is still in good shape! The Zune is very easy to use, has wonderful music and the quality is very good. Of Course there are not a lot of European people who have the Zune, lucky me:)So they can't compare at all. Even though the people are saying that more of the population in the VS has the Mac Note Book I most say that all the people that I know, friends, college's,either way don't even want the Mac Note Book. They rather choose for an HP or a Toshiba!:) Simple because you don't have to buy of put pro gramme's on the computer that's only from Mac. Honestly!? The Toshiba & HP's are more beautiful. What's in a name!? (careless, it's only the brand) Reply
  • charlie brown - Wednesday, April 02, 2008 - link

    If anandtech are going to use an audio analyser, shouldn't they understand the values and equipment they are measuring? As a professional audio engineer I find their conclusions disturbing...

    Why haven't you published numbers for THD +noise etc - you just draw your own conclusions from some 0.0... percentage?

    All players frequency response is +/-dB from 0-20kHz. These are all excellent when you understand the freq response of a headphone - even top of the range sennheisers. How can you possibly describe one player response as very good/excellent etc?! You would NOT hear the difference whatsoever.

    What possible difference does -100/-110/-120 signal to noise ratio really make for an mp3 player?? (audibly - absolutely none) these are all excellent.

    "Earbuds generally lack bass due to their size"
    This is only half the story, they perform better with good coupling to the ear (im sure youve pushed some phones into your ear and heared the bass improve?).

    Have you guys ever stopped to think that you are reviewing an MP3 player? The nature of MP3 (being an audio compression developed from the 1980's) is that it is a LOSSY compression. THE ENCODING WILL DEGRADE THE SOUND QUALITY MORE THAN THE PLAYER EVER WILL, EVEN AT HIGH BITRATES.

    Why doesn't anandtech throw them on the ground and record which one breaks the easiest - i mean this is more useful than the conclusions taken in your audio test.

    Reply
  • abpages - Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - link

    Feature wise the Zune 80 kills the Ipod.

    Also, the ipod has video out, but can't outpid it's interface.
    The Zune can. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you ever want to hook this up to a tv or in my case a LCD in my Car it is fantastic. No looking down at the device to choose song (and possible crashing j/k), everything is on the screen all the menus.

    I own both and the new Zune has it this time.

    Ron Stark
    http://www.WebSiteDesigners.net.au">http://www.WebSiteDesigners.net.au
    Reply
  • Heatlesssun - Sunday, January 27, 2008 - link

    I bought two Zune 80’s at Christmas, one for the wife and one for me, and they are great devices. I want to address two criticisms in this review. One, the Zune Pass is very cool. At $15 a month one can get one album versus thousands. If you know what you’re doing, subscriptions models like Zune Pass offer better value.

    Secondly, I think this review makes too much out of the lack of TV and movies on Zune Market place. There are so many ways to get content these days that it’s funny. Heck, if you’ve cable TV, there’s a source right there, and you’re not paying for the content again, which is cool.

    Really, a person just needs a good set of transcoding software, that frees a person from being tied to any one content source.
    Reply
  • 9nails - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    Want an external speaker? Perhaps you need an additional USB cradle? Do you need a carry case? Or maybe you would like a car adapter kit? How about a screen protector to save that investment?

    All of these things are easier to find on an iPod Accessory shelf. But the Zune shelf is shockingly bare. Perhaps the case or a new set of (universal) headphones is all that you can find for the Zune. For me, more than anything, the availability of accessories was a major decision maker in the search for an MP3 player. My second major factor was cost. Third was storage capacity. And least significant was battery life.
    Reply
  • NewBozo - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    Be sure to get an Archos 605 Wi-Fi for future media player reviews. It is much less expensive than anything you reviewed here, has drag and drop capabilities and can surf the web and stream video over the built in wi-fi. It is amazing!

    ...newbozo
    Reply
  • rcbm1970 - Wednesday, January 23, 2008 - link

    "Did you know that 60 per cent of Americans received gift vouchers for Christmas? We didn’t either, but that’s just fuel for Anand Techie’s latest Ipod vs. Zune dissertation (squeezed into 10 pages). It’s a bit of a one-sided argument with iIpod coming out smelling like roses and Zune always the close-secnd-but-never-first. Get your Apple-certified endorsement here." Reply
  • Nitram49 - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    Dude! I own a Iaudio X5, Ipod Shuffle(Garbage) and an Ipod Nano. Every chance I get I use the X5 because there is no comparison in sound to the Ipod's. With the ability to tweak the sound and produce some serious bass it can't be beat. I mean with my JBL reference 220 or AKG k-81 DJ I can walk around with so much bass that it is impressive, and then if needed flatten it right out with a plethora of controls(EQ,BBE,...,). Nothing beats the HDD capabilities of an X5. I heard the D2 and I can't imagine how you let a chance to review that slip through your hands in a comparison. Also my friend just got an Iaudio 7. wow. Give those dudes at Cowon a listen and you tell me if I'm wrong. Reply
  • TedKord - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    IMO, if you're looking for an MP3/video portable player, you shouldn't be looking at either MS or Apple. I had a Cowon A2 which blew my friend's Ipod classic away in every respect (video/sound quality, format compatibility, features) except HD size. It was also better than the Zunes I've tried, though I've not tried the newer generation extensively. Another thing that should be mentioned with the Ipod is iTunes. I hate that program, it made me load QT, and everytime I disable the autoload for QT, it reenables when my daughter uses iTunes for her Nano 3G. Plus, they made me sign up with a crdit card to enable album art. With the A2, I just dragged and dropped my existing mp3, flac and ogg music right to it - no reencode or anything. Same with the divx/xvid movies I already had - drag, drop, watch.

    The iPod Touch is a cool device, but more for it's interface than it's video/audio quality.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - link

    Why do you hate your daughter? It sounds like you need to get her a computer of her own if you don't want her to synch her Nano (and thus re-enabling QuickTime, which is used for AAC encoding for iTunes if she's ripping music) to your PC.

    Besides which, why do you want to manually load and unload your MP3 player? The whole point of computers is to do the tedious things for us (such as ripping, tagging, organizing, and synching). Your daughter, with iTunes, only has to plug and go. If she has more music than the Nano can fit, it will auto-select her favorite music, or she can select (checkbox style) her favorite playlists, or manually (if she wishes to be like dad) to drag and drop songs and playlists to her Nano.
    Reply

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