Pros: Capacity, intuitive controls, sound quality, battery life.
Cons: Shiny but easy-to-scratch back panel!
(This is from an Amazon.com review I wrote in late 2008; I still own and use this iPod, and everything I wrote still applies, save for the fact that battery life has shortened noticeably over the last six months - not horribly so, but I can no longer go for a week between recharging as I typically would.)
In a number of circles, the iPod Classic is now considered the "less sexy" iPod. Largely because of the things it appears to lack vis-a-vis the newest "fully-wired" iPods/iPhones: it doesn't have a phone function (d'oh!), it doesn't "do" wide-screen for video and games the way an iPhone/iPod Touch does, and...well, it doesn't seem as much fun, darn it! (Memo to the only-two-colors-available fashionistas: silver and [charcoal] black, being *classic* colors, go with everything. When's the last time you saw a pink Audi or Merc? Mary Kay doesn't hand either of those out to its top sales stars, which is just as well.) ;-)
Let's rewind a bit (sorry for the tape-based analogy) to a MacWorld seemingly long, long ago.
At the time, people were clamoring for Apple to include video in their next-generation iPods (they had just announced the iPod Photo, which was the very first iPod I ever owned...sometimes, not being an "early adopter' can pay off). His Steveness replied, more or less, that people value music a lot more than than they value TV/video stuff, so for the time being, no video iPods. While I happened to agree with Jobs' sentiments (I rarely watch the box, so there), I also knew how shrewd a businessman he was, and if the Hoi Polloi wanted video in their iPods, by cracky, he'd make 'em! And while I wouldn't damn him to Hades for such a pragmatic decision (he's doing this stuff to make a buck, okay?), the aesthete in me would be put off just a bit. That was then.
NOW: Through a bit of hard work and happenstance, an iPod Classic (120GB) happened to fall into my lap recently (long story). My beloved 60GB iPod Photo wasn't even half-full, but I welcomed this newest 'Pod with open arms. The reasons?
- Capacity. Let the deniers who bought their iPhones, Touches, and nanos prattle on; if you're a serious music lover, you've got a ton of music on the home front, and, if you're Of A Certain Age, probably in more than one format: CD, LP cassette, and, if you're particularly well-preserved, you might even have a few commercially-produced open-reel tapes lurking about. Paying upwards of $400 or so for the "biggest" iPod Touch might be a bit of a stretch for you...am I right? You might not even give a rat's tuchus (it's okay to say that here, right?) about video and gaming capability, but you'll really care about capacity. Are we grokking here?
Good. Because this iPod, even this late in the game, is aimed toward you and me. Apple, now the 900lb gorilla of the portable digital-media market (how strange that must be to Mssrs Gates & Ballmer) has the market covered: you want a device that's all-singing, all-dancing? You can get an iPhone, or, short of that, an iPod Touch. If it's got to be as tiny as possible (I won't ask why...), there's the nano, or, if it really has to be much smaller, the lovely 2nd-Gen Shuffle (which my Significant Other managed to lose shortly after I presented one to her as a gift; she'll inherit my iPod Photo now).
- True Gapless Playback. The iPod Photo had just one glaring flaw: any album by a group that had a thing for track-into-track segues (say, XTC, the Beatles, Pink Floyd...you get the idea) didn't translate at all with the Photo; you'd get an abrupt track change instead of the smooth, proper transition the band and engineers intended. I know the iPod Generation kicked off the "rip/mix/burn-it-like-you-wanna" thing, but if I want to hear the damn album the way it was released, then I should be able to. In the iPod world, this possibility didn't materialize until the 5th Gen iPod (video). Now that I have the newest Classic, I really, really appreciate this.
- The Sound. Most talk about getting good sound from an iPod is almost entirely focused on headphones, usually fairly pricey ones. But, to use a high-end audio mantra, you only get out what you put in. Sometime around the introduction of the first iPod classic, Apple quietly made some serious engineering changes in the output section of the iPod, resulting in both a reduced noise floor and improved detail. One online review stated that the new design appeared to be ever-so-slightly less "warm" sounding than the previous design, but between the lowered noise floor and improved musical detail the new design was a solid net gain. I concur: subjectively, the classic's overall sound might sound a tad less "euphonic" than my iPod Photo, but I also notice better transient detail and handling of low, delicate notes with both my semi-isolating, against-the-ear Sennheiser PMX200 headphones and my Sony MDR-EX85LP in-ear 'phones. Somehow this seems to have at least a slight effect on line output, too: playback through the living-room hi-fi (via a Griffin AirDock, also a screaming bargain at its current price) offers similar, but not quite as obvious improvements over the iPod Photo. This isn't a case of bad versus good: this is good versus Mighty Good.
- The classic is, as close as can be, a direct descendant of the original iPod that turned the portable digital music-player market on its ear. The enhancements it has picked up since then have made sense insomuch as they haven't gotten in the way of the Prime Directive, if you will: allowing the user to carry and access her/his music collection about easily, and with reasonable fidelity. No, it was never a direct replacement for a killer home 'fi (which most people don't possess), but more than ear-pleasing in the environs in which these devices are most-often used. (Yes, as a New Yorker, the subway comes to mind most often...particularly the F, A, C, R, and #2/3 lines.)
- While I do admit that the iPhone/iPod Touch interface is mad-cool and industry-leading, I still believe the Click Wheel more than holds its own in terms of overall ergonomics; as has been pointed out in a few other reviews here, it's still the only interface you can easily manage one-handed, and which allows you to navigate between music tracks without looking at the unit (why isn't THIS the iPod "Touch?"). Like the 5G iPod, you get video, which for the most part I couldn't care less about (although I can now view the video portion of my iTunes purchase of The Traveling Wilburys Collection, which is sort of nice). The notion of watching music videos, let alone feature-length movies, on a not-even-three-inch screen, when we're being assaulted with the idea that a 32" screen at home is woefully inadequate, 'specially if it ain't high-def, is a bit inconsistent.
But, this is about music, music you can take with you.
By this lone standard, the iPod Classic clearly blows everything else Apple offers into the weeds. Anything not made by Apple, IMO, hasn't even found its way to the starting line. The interface is highly functional and sexy enough, without allowing surface to roll straight over substance.
The happy thing is that, as noted earlier, Apple offers options to fit just about anyone. If you need a single do-it-all device, and don't care (at least at the moment) about capacity for all your fave tracks, you've got either the iPhone 3G or iPod Touch; if you want your device as tiny and unobtrusive as possible, you've got either the Shuffle or the polychromatic nano. And, finally, if, like me, you want, over all else, as much of your music at hand, wherever you are, as your balm, your salve, your relief from waiting-room Hell or airport Purgatory, the classic is really it. And, for what it's worth, the current (120GB) Classic wil be able to use the newest Apple earbuds with in-line remote control and microphone (they've got a twin-driver 'phone "coming soon" that promises to be grand-sounding; we'll see). If you haven't checked out any 'Pods since the Photo or before, this is likely the one to finally pop for.