Is this the final stage of refinement for the hard-drive-based media player Apple now calls the iPod Classic? Judging by the tiny changes in this sixth generation, it very well could be. This latest update is all about capacity, with the 30GB model jumping to 80GB, and the flagship 80GB model leaping to a whopping 160GB.
What would you do with all that space? Well, that is the question, isn't it? After spending some quality time with a 160GB iPod Classic, I have a few ideas. A standard-def video library or a music collection stored entirely in Apple Lossless compression would work, but either approach has its flaws. More on that later.
I won't be trading in my 80GB video iPod anytime soon, but I've really grown to like some of the minor tweaks Apple has made to the Classic's interface.
Apart from the capacity upgrade, the Classic introduces a couple of hardware changes to the iPod lineup. The player's plastic face has been replaced with anodized aluminum, slightly rounded on the sides. You get the same Click Wheel control, the same dock connector and top-mounted headphone jack, and the same lack of voice recording and FM radio. Apple managed to shave a few millimeters off the depth of both the high- and low-end models, but other than that the Classic looks much the same as the last-generation iPod.
Turn the Classic on, and you'll notice the other hardware change: a new LED-backlit screen. It sports the same 2.5-inch-diagonal size and 320-by-240-pixel resolution as the previous version, but the expanded color reproduction it offers was noticeable in my side-by-side tests with an 80GB video iPod.
Like the new Nano Video, the iPod Classic lifts a few new interface touches from the iPhone. The headliner is Cover Flow, a neat-looking way to flip through your music using the album art stored on the player.
Cover Flow's nice enough on a 4GB or 8GB player like the iPhone or the Nano Video, but in a music library big enough to warrant an iPod Classic it rapidly loses its utility. Scroll 30 albums or so in one direction, and the iPod can't keep up - instead you'll see gray placeholder graphics until you slow down enough for the player to catch up. I'll stick to browsing by artist first.
Other tiny tweaks help set the Classic apart from the previous iteration. Shuffle settings now appear if you press the center button three times while playing music. Subtle font changes have modernized the look of the Now Playing screen, and album art now appears with a slight 3D rotation and a mirrored effect underneath.
Hop out to the main menus, and you'll see more album art floating gracefully on the left side of the screen, which used to consist of simple white space. Browsing through either albums or artists reveals more album art to the far left of the screen alongside each album listed.