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Apple iPod Classic review

Yet another new look for the king of portables

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Our Verdict

Amazingly elegant, if restrictive, the iPod's massive capacity means it's still one of the best media players around

For

  • Elegant and easy to use
  • Superb value
  • Simple interface

Against

  • Small screen
  • Format restrictive

Apple doesn't make a specifically prescribed video player, but this hot-off-the-presses new generation of its flagship portable is the closest.

With the entry-level capacity now 80Gb, and the top end a seemingly impossible 160Gb (more than most new laptops), it's - in a funny sort of way - the most practical video device around.

The need to prepare for a journey by whittling terabytes of video down to just 20 or 30Gb of what you might fancy watching is gone entirely. With 160Gb, you're sorted for every occasion and relived of the irritations of constantly deleting and uploading.

True, the Archos 605 comes in 160Gb at the top-end too, but it's a much larger and pricier device. The widescreen shape of the also new iPod Touch may make it appear a better bet as a video player than this, but the screen resolution's little better and a maximum capacity of 16Gb places ridiculous restrictions on your options.

Yes, the screen's very small, but four generations of colour LCD down the line for the iPod range and it's become quite a beauty. The display is brighter and clearer than many rivals with four times the pixel count.

A completely redesigned interface since the last hard drive iPod makes it a much more usable device for large video collections. Each video now has a thumbnail and a running time, rather than everything just been a plain text list of unhelpful names, as before.

When you're just sitting in the video menu, frames play at random on the right of the screen, making it feel much more modern than anything else here and further enticing you into watching something.

Slowtime

The same problems as the last generation remain, however. Apple has locked down codec support, so you'll either need to re-encode existing stuff (software for which isn't provided, unless you pay to unlock Quicktime to its Pro version) or, uh, reacquire movies you want in the right format.

Here's one piece of very good news, however. Since the last time we covered the iPod, the online store in its software - iTunes - has finally started including some of the TV shows that are so plentiful in its US version.

A couple of clicks now buys you a downloadable episode of something like Lost or Ugly Betty for £1.90. It's hardly dirt-cheap, but it is legal and it saves a lot of miserable re-encoding effort. By this standard alone, the iPod Classic is right at the head of the pack for portable video.

Furthermore, it's still a real object of desire. The newly image-led interface is excellent, and this model is the slimmest iPod ever (to the point where believing it contains 1Gb, let alone 80 or 160Gb, is almost impossible).

The move to a metal rather than enamel faceplate finally rids it of its age-old susceptibility to severe scratching. If only this would adopt the 16:10 screen and touch-sensitive interface of the iPod and iPhone, and then, format support and resolution aside, it'd have been the clear class leader. It wins on capacity and interface, but for video watchability it's dragging its heels.