That Was Then... Apple iPod review

That Was Then... Apple iPod review

In truth, the iPod - the real, original, classic iPod - died a quiet death five years ago. The iPod's Nano and Shuffle variations have since seen their demise too. But while quantity is no longer a strength of Apple's iPod range, quality is, with the remaining iPod Touch proving that "there is still a place for the iPod in this market of smartphone streaming and premium hi-res PMPs," as we acknowledged in our recent five-star review. 

So, the iPod lives! And here we are on Wednesday 23rd October 2019 celebrating its 18th birthday, feeling all nostalgic as it reaches adulthood. Today seems as good a day as any, then, to nip back 17 years to the launch of the first Apple iPod and see if we realised how ubiquitous this new 'MP3 portable' was going to become...

Four stars, obviously.

We enjoyed its compact dimensions, its idiot-proof operating system, its bright display and, crucially, its impressive sound. "Treble is well controlled... decent midrange... impressive clarity of bass..." were all among the positives.

But our review wasn't unequivocal praise. Apple's always been protective and precious about its products and software, and this was especially the case when the iPod launched. It may seem hard to believe but the first iPod only worked with Apple Macs - and Apple would shun Windows PCs up until 2004.

It also used a proprietary connector - Firewire - for charging and transferring music across from your Mac. Of course, we've had 30-pin and 8-pin connectors take its place in recent years, but the company's portable devices have always steered clear of more conventional, universal solutions such as micro-USB.

Back in 2002 we were also less than impressed with the paltry 5GB capacity. It was enough space for around 1000 songs, albeit highly compressed ones (160kbps). Even back then we were quick to point out flaws in the compression process, noting that some tracks "sound a little clipped".

The Creative DAP Jukebox, on the market at the same time, cost £10 less and was blessed wth a much more generous 20GB hard drive and "stunningly open sound". And, of course, it wasn't tied to just one type of computer.It was a little bulky (Apple was already ahead of the pack in the style stakes), but back in 2002 we felt it was the better value proposition.

The iPod's 2-inch backlit screen was clear and easy enough to read, but now it looks tiny (not to mention prehistoric) compared to the gorgeous Retina HD displays you see on today's Apple portables.

Apple's headphones tend to come in for a bit of stick, but in 2002 we felt those supplied with the iPod were of good quality and felt comfortable enough - the portable headphone market didn't explode in popularity until some years later, so the alternatives were thin on the ground.

iPod sales were relatively slow to begin with. But the decision taken in 2004 to make iTunes and iPod PC-friendly saw a big uptick in sales, and by 2007 Apple had shifted 100 million examples. The name 'iPod' became genericised. And it lasted for years, until smartphones (in particular the iPhone) began to cannibalise iPod sales.

There's no doubting the iPod is a classic, a game-changer, a watershed moment. So we're glad to have concluded, in our original review, that "the iPod is a delightful, simple device that looks and sounds the business".

So, to that end, happy birthday, iPod. Long may you live in our pockets and blast music into our ears.

MORE: Best portable music players 2019: from budget to hi-res music

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as GQ, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others.