capsule review

Review: iPod classic with Software Update 1.0.1

When the iPod classic and third-generation (3G) iPod nano were first released, many reviewers (including me and my colleague, Dan Frakes) noticed that the two new iPods sported a more-colorful and helpful interface—but we also noticed that interface could be sluggish when drawing artwork. This slow behavior was most noticeable on the iPod classic, most likely for two reasons. With its greater storage capacity—80GB and 160GB —it must manage large amounts of artwork. And it has a hard drive, which is slower than the nano’s flash memory.

This sluggishness was manifested in interruptions when moving between screens. In addition the click wheel was occasionally unresponsive for a few moments as if the iPod was gathering its wits before allowing you to traverse its menus and commands.

The erratic performance was a major flaw in this initial classic release. As I wrote in my review of the 80GB and 160GB iPods:

Yes, the interface is slicker and sometimes more helpful, but ultimately it’s no easier to find and play your music on this iPod than it is on a [fifth-generation] iPod. Given that the interface adds more eye candy than functionality, it’s a pity that the implementation appears to slow the iPod down.

Shortly after the release of these new iPods—and after the classic review was published— Apple issued iPod Software Update 1.0.1 (available via iTunes). In typical Apple fashion, the company provided few details about what benefits the update provided. Our tests, however, revealed two noticeable results.

The first is that the iPods’ interfaces became more responsive. The slow screen redraws disappeared and the click wheel no longer paused. The interfaces of the iPod classic and 3G nano remain slower than the interfaces of their most recent predecessors—the fifth-generation iPod and second-generation iPod nano. But while slower than these earlier models, the current iPods respond consistently rather than slowing down intermittently as they once did.

The second, less-welcome change is that single-charge audio playtime was shortened for iPods updated with this version of the software. Running under the original 1.0 software, my 160GB iPod classic played continuous audio for just over 59 hours on a single battery charge. With the 1.0.1 update, playtime was reduced to 52 hours and 39 minutes. Similarly my 80GB iPod classic went from playing audio for 41 hours and five minutes to 38 hours and 13 minutes.

Note that even these reduced numbers exceed Apple’s claims, which are 30 hours of continuous audio play for the 80GB iPod classic and 40 hours for the 160GB model. Strangely, the update had the opposite effect on continuous video playtimes, in that video playtime appeared to increase. With the original software the 80GB classic played for a little over five hours. With the 1.0.1 update, it played video for six hours and 21 minutes. And the 160GB classic went from eight hours and 37 minutes to 10 hours and 15 minutes.

iPod Classic Battery Tests

80GB iPod classic/1.0 software 160GB iPod classic/1.0 software 80GB iPod classic/1.0.1 software 160GB iPod classic/1.0.1 software
Continuous Audio 41:05 59:04 38:13 52:39
Continuous Video 5:06 8:37 6:21 10:15

All times in Hours:Minutes

iPods were tested with EQ and SoundCheck off. Volume was set at 50 percent, as was screen brightness. Backlighting was configured to switch off after 10 seconds. Audio files were a mix of AAC and MP3 files of varying lengths. Video tests were conducted with movies purchased from the iTunes Store, played repeatedly until the battery gave out.—BATTERY TESTING BY CHRISTOPHER BREEN AND DAN FRAKES

The lowdown

Although I regret losing a couple of hours of audio playtime with the software update, that regret is more than compensated by increased video playtimes and an iPod that’s far more responsive than it once was. As a result, we’ve revised our rating of the iPod classic to reflect the fact that the 1.0.1 software update eliminates a major performance flaw from the music player.

At a Glance
  • Read the full review

    Pros

    • Sound as good as previous full-sized iPod
    • Attractively priced with good price per gigabyte
    • Bright, clear screen
    • Improved user interface
    • Good battery life
    • Includes three new games

    Cons

    • Interface slower than 5G iPod
    • Can’t use previously purchased games
    • Cover Flow not terribly helpful
    • Incompatible with many existing dock-connector accessories
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