Wednesday, September 12, 2007

iPod Classic Hands-On Impressions/Mini-Review

I've been rolling with a 40GB 4G monochrome iPod for about three years now and have been bumping up against it's space limits lately and have been looking to upgrade once the sixth-generation units came out. I was hoping for a touchscreen widescreen unit - which arrived in the form of the iPod Touch - but as I mentioned below, it's too expensive and much too small in capacity, so I went with an 80GB iPod Classic.

I thought I'd get a 160GB model, but decided I didn't need that much space and saved the Benjamin. The first surprise was how small the box was - about the size of a thick paperback book. Apple used to include an AC adapter and dock, but now they'll sell these to you for $78, and their omission means a smaller box. (I didn't take photos of my ritualistically unpacking, so you'll just have to go to one of the other 37,000 sites out there with galleries of the Apple fruits fetishing their new toys.) The iPod is on top of a tray which you pull out to get an elegant folder containing the sparse (and useless) instructions. A sealed packet with the earbuds, the USB cable and a plastic piece that I guess adapts for a different dock than the one I have is on the bottom of the box. The Classic fit fine in my existing dock despite being about half as thick.

That's the first surprise of the Classic: It's damn small! I'd seen the 5G video units and noted they were smaller, but this is crazy. Combined with the larger display, my trusty neoprene case/clip doesn't fit. Drat. The click wheel is also a hair smaller and the button is recessed instead of being an outtie and I'm finding it hard to precisely and quickly scroll the darn thing with my large, manly hands. That's a minus.

The screen is gorgeous. Using an LED backlight, it's bright and clear and accurately shows the lousy compression that CloneDVD applied to its rip of my DVD of "The Animatrix". Perhaps a higher bit rate will fair better, but at least it shows that the screen will notice corner-cutting. (BTW: The 1:40 title compressed down to ~480MB.)

The largest problem I ran into was the fact that my old iPod somehow had more stuff on it than showed up in the library meaning that if I just synced the new one, I'd have less content than I had. Using the instructions here I copied the music off the old iPod and imported it to iTunes. Unfortunately, as I suspected may happen, this now meant I had duplicate tracks for almost my entire collection and had to MANUALLY delete the dupes; a not-very-fun 2-1/2-hour-long process. [sigh] Once cleaned up, it was about another hour or so to drag the 9500+ songs over to the new iPod.

In addition to the iffy touch response and lack of accessories, the other gouge is how the "80GB" unit only has 74.3GB of usable space after formatting - a 7% loss - and while this is nowhere near the 35% shrinkage of the Xbox 360's 20GB HD space, it's still annoying. Even with a bunch of Strong Bad video podcasts and "The Animatrix", I'm only at 41.2GB used, so I'm feeling good about going with the smaller unit.

When the iPod was introduced six years ago at price points of $399 and $499 for 5GB and 10GB respectively, I loved the idea of the gadget, but hated the inflated price Lord Jobs' Apple commanded for it. I argued that it needed to come down to a commodity price and for the past couple of years, it's made some good moves, but now it's really at a price point that can't be ignored and it's a slick bit of kit to boot. (If you don't have a lot of music, then check out the 4GB Nano for $149 for it has a nice screen, too.)

• Nice display and interface
• Thin and new metal front is solid
• Good value

• Fidgety touch wheel
• No accessories included
• Apple users are still jerks


Note: The battery life is supposed to be 30 hours for audio and 5 hours for video playback, but since I just got it, I'll have to update later with real-world observations.

UPDATE: Uh-oh. While the iLounge review said that battery life was better than advertised, it appears that I've got a bum unit as the battery gauge is showing 2/3rds full after only a couple of hours of play. My first iPod (a 2G bought cheap when the 3Gs were introduced - look up the date yourselves) had a crap battery that died after only a couple of hours and right now I'm doing a drain test to see if I just got screwed my Apple again. Yeah, the warranty will cover it, but what a PITMFA. Stay tuned.

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