Wednesday, September 28, 2011

IPod Classic 160gb review

What is it?

The Apple iPod Classic 160gb is a personal music player and the sixth generation iPod to be released by Apple.  This model also represents the last in the line for the iPod Classic, a venerable product that proved to be a massive winner for Apple, helping revive their fortunes.

This is a review of the 160gb version.

What's in the box?

Apple are very miserly in their packaging and the iPod Classic is no exception.  The box was merely a small plastic case, only ever-so slightly larger than a packet of cigarettes.  Inside were a few (heavily) folded crib sheets, a pair of the ubiquitous white headphones (that aren't very good) and a USB connector lead.  Don't forget the actual iPod Classic though.  This 6th generation model was named the 'Classic' to distinguish it from the iPod 'Touch' that had just been released.  All previous models were simply called the 'iPod'.

The front of the iPad Classic has an anodized , dark grey metal surface as opposed to the 5th generations shiny gloss finish.  The edges are now slightly bevilled on the front AND back meaning it sits in the hand nicely.  Its dimensions are 10.3cm x 6.18cm x 1.5cm and weighs 140g.  It's hard to believe there is 160gb of storage inside, on a 1.5 inch hard disc drive.

The display screen is covered in Apples scratch-resistant glass and measures 2.5 inches across, taking up half of the space with a resolution of 320x240 pixels equating to 163 pixels per inch.  The other half is the Click Wheel, a touch-sensitive input mechanism that allows the user to interact with the device.  On the top of the iPod is a lock-switch and a socket for a 3,5mm headphone jack and along the bottom is the standard dock connector to allow connection to a computer or docking station.  Interestingly, the headphone socket also doubles as a microphone socket.

Getting started

The iPod Classic is a pure-bred music player and as such, needs some way of getting music onto it.  It doesn't have Wi-Fi, nor access to the Internet so it's a connection to a PC / Mac or nothing I'm afraid.

iTunes is my music organiser of choice.  I have used it for years and will continue to do so.  I am aware that there is other music and media organiser software available, even some that will sync with Apple products but iTunes is what I use. 

Plugging in the iPod Classic with iTunes running and the device is automatically recognised, prompting for registration.  If you already have an iTunes Store account, you can use that as the basis for registering so there's not much to it. 

Once registration is complete (or skipped, up to you), iTunes will then ask you to sync your music.  How much and what you sync is left up to the user which I found to be most useful as I don't necessarily sync my entire collection.  However, upgrading from 30gb to 160gb has meant oodles more space so I just clicked on 'Sync All'.  It takes a while as it's uploading quite a lot of 'giggage' via those little white Firewire cables.  Be patient.

The Interface

Items on menus are chosen by rotating the thumb (or finger) around the Click Wheel and pressing the central button (or Select).  To go back to the previous menu, press the Menu button at the top of the click wheel.  Note: the wheel doesn't actualy move as it is touch-sensitive and registers where the thumb is on the wheel.

While listening to music, rotating the Click Wheel increases the volume.  Pressing the middle button switches to song progress mode and here, rotating the click wheel will move the current position in the song forwards or backwards.

The left, right and button sections of the Click Wheel have the standard music controls and will skip onto the next or previous songs and pause or play.

The Screen

In song mode, the iPod Classic shows a fair degree of information on its colour display.  It shows the current track along with the artist and track number within the currently selected album.  There is a progress bar at the bottom showing progress within the track which switches to volume when the Click-Wheel is rotated.  There is also a picture of the album should it be available within iTunes.

Along the top are the standard battery level indicators and time.

Menu's and Music

Over the old model, the menus have been given a revamp and now appear much clearer and smarter, taking advantage of the higher pixel count in the screen.  There is also the addition of Cover Flow where album artwork is shown in a smooth and snazzy movable image carousel.  As mentioned, moving up and down menus and lists of songs is easy, simply rotating the Click Wheel.

Music can be selected by song, artist, album, genre, compilation as well as searching by word.  Playlists can be created in iTunes and will automatically be synced, accessible from the Music menu.  You can also create an 'On-The-Go' playlist by holding down the Select button (the one in the centre of the wheel) while listening to a song and it will be added to a 'On-The-Go' playlist.  Like any other music player, MP3's or CD's (or whatever), it has a shuffle facility where random songs are playeed.

Apple recently introduced a new feature into iTunes called 'Genius' that groups together songs it thinks you will like based on your listening and purchasing habits.  In practice, it's a bit of a hit and miss affair unless you only ever listen to one genre of music.  But, if like me, you fancy a bit of hardcore thrash metal alongside your funky house or dub-step, it's never going to find a happy medium.


There *are* apps available for the iPod Classic and it has to be said, they tend to be pretty poor games based around the Click-Wheel.  It comes with 3 as standard: iPod Quiz, Klondike and Vortex.  iPod Quiz is based on the music on your iPad, Klondike is a card game and Vortex is like the old arcade game, Gyruss.  They're *ok* but's that about as fas as I'll go.  They can only be classed as a diversion, at most.  In my mind, the iPod Classic is not a machine to be running lots of apps on.

The supplied, obligatory headphones with the iPod are notoriously bad.  The sound quality is average at best and worse, for me anyway, they let out a lot of noise as my work colleagues will testify.  All they can hear is that awful tinny thud-thud sound of drums.  I'm going to get a dustbin in the head one of these days, just you wait and see.

The EQ can be changed to suit the playback device and there are numerous presets from Dance to Small Speakers to Spoken Word.  While there is no fine tuning of the settings, there is a little graphical display of the preset so at least there's a vague idea of what it should sound like.  I find the EQ settings don't make a massive amount of difference but then, my headphones are not exactly expensive.

Playing through a loud-speaker such as a speaker dock or auxilliary input on a bigger amp, it all sounds good enough to me.  I'm no expert in sound but I can make out bass drums, middle range guitars and the top range beeps and whistles.  I suppose it's all down to the speakers you're playing it out of but mine all seem fine where I've played it through a small portable speaker dock, a ghetto-blaster kind of thing, a big hi-fi, a car stereo and even a guitar amp.

Video and Photos

It also plays video, surprisingly enough, as well as displaying photos.  The screen is rather small though and while miles better quality than those little Casio handheld TV's all the range in the late 80's, it's still a strain to watch.  There is an optional extra (of course you have to pay for it, it's Apple!) that allows the video to be output to a TV via RGB input sockets.  Viewed in that way and with all its hard-disc space, you could see it as a reasonable portable video player. 


Here, you can change which items appear in the main or music menus along with other more mundane stuff like the backlit brightness and whether the Click Wheel makes a little 'clicking' noise.  You can find out how much space there is left on the hard drive too.

Battery Life

Battery life is excellent.  The claimed operating time between charges is 40 hours and I would have to concur.  My old iPod 5th Generation had slowly lost its charge over the 4 years I owned it and would only last a few hours in the morning before a recharge was necessary. 

No such worries here.  I listen to music pretty much all day at work and it will happily go all week between charges.  At 7 hours a day for 5 days, that's pretty much up to 36 hours as stated by Apple.  Recharging takes up to 4 hours for a completely full charge or about 2 hours for the fast-charge up to 80%.

In Use

It really is easy to use.  Once the concept of rotating the wheel and clicking forwards and backwards through the menus is understood, there's nothing else to it.

It's the little things, the details that Apple pays attention to.  Taking out the headphones will automatically pause the music.  The UI (User Interface) just seems to have the right amount of information where you need it.  Scrolling through the menus and on the right, a small summary of the menu item is displayed, showing what you can expect to find in there.  It all adds to the experience yet you hardly notice these little things are there - a by-product of great design.

While music is playing and if left unattended, the iPod Classic will switch into a kinda' sleep mode that simply shows the time in big letters and remaining battery life.  On the older model, the screen would be blank so this is a huge improvement.  There would be plenty of times where I would have to click it back into 'full battery' mode just to see the time - now I don't, it's there for me.

It's not without its faults but they are being incredibly picky.  The Click-Wheel seems to have been 'de-sensitized' since the 5th generation.  Sometimes it stubbornly refuses to move where I want it to and that was never a problem I had with the old one.  I don't know whether it's a hardware issue or whether the tiny processor inside the iPod is struggling to keep up with the new graphical demands placed upon it.  Saying that, it's not a huge problem as once I've selected an album or podcast, I'll just let it play and get on with whatever I'm doing.

I'm not convinced with the new Cover Flow aspect to the updated software.  It's nice to see the album artwork but once I've seen it, that's it, just bring on the music baby.  I'm positive Cover Flow is affecting the reaction time of the Click Wheel too, but I could be wrong.

Scrolling through long lists of songs can be a pain.  If you scroll it fast enough, the iPod will start 'jumping' from letter to letter (by design) but because of the delayed reaction time of the Click Wheel, it's actually quite hard to get it do it.


If there's one thing that Apple does well is giving users of their products what they need.  When it comes to a portable music player, there's a few things that need to tick the boxes:
  • Portable - CHECK
  • Easy to use - CHECK
  • Easy to sync music - CHECK
  • Lots of space for songs - CHECK
  • Good battery life - CHECK
Everything else is just filler.  The iPod Touch is a different beast altogether and is more of a portable media / gaming device.  The iPod Classic is simply there to store songs and allow you to listen to them and, well, that's what it does.

The key to the iPod Classic and the main difference between a dedicated music player and a do-it-all device such as a Touch is all it needs to do is sit in the background playing music.  The Classic will happily do that for you with a minimum of fuss.  It doesn't have many frills, doesn't need to and the interface is so clean and intuitive, it's hard not to love.

And I *do* love my iPod, even more so with all that extra storage.  I've had other MP3 players, many others in fact and none, absolutely none, match up to the simplicity of my little iPod Classic.  I don't want to play games on it (even though I can) or watch videos (even though I can), I just want music, *all* my music, and the iPod gives me that. 

I don't know how long Apple will continue to make the iPod Classic.  I've already stated it's the last generation in this model range so grab it while you can.  It's upstart sibling, the iPod Touch is obviously the one making all the waves and grabbing all the sales while the Classic seems to fading away into the background.  I, for one, will be sorry to see its passing as mine, and the 5th generation previously, has been a constant companion for many years.

When I leave the house for work in a morning, my little mental checklist goes something like this: iPod, keys, sandwiches.  In that order.  And that tells you everything you need to know because I *love* sandwiches.

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