The Gizmo Report: One new iPod classic, two new iPod bugs

Glaskowsky reviews his new iPod classic... and the bugs he encountered getting it running.

Peter Glaskowsky
Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.
Peter Glaskowsky
4 min read

As I said last week in my post about Apple's iPod announcements, I ordered a new 160GB iPod classic as soon as the Apple Store was back online.

It arrived today (Monday)--five days later, from Shanghai--with my custom engraving. I think that's pretty darn excellent.

The iPod packaging has gotten a lot smaller. A box the size of those that contained my first two iPods (a third-generation model, then a fourth-generation iPod when the third-gen model died) could probably hold about six of the new iPod classic packages. I saw the new iPod nano packaging at a local Apple Store this evening, and it's much smaller--and very cool, since it presents the iPod itself under clear plastic.

Anyway, when my iPod arrived, I turned it on and selected English as my preferred language. After a few minutes of checking out the new menu designs, I hooked it up to my MacBook Pro, which started iTunes, and in turn, the iPod initialization wizard. That all worked quite nicely.

I left it doing the initial sync operation during lunch. When I came back, the iPod thought it was no longer connected to the computer, but the computer thought it was.

That was bug #1. After further study, I realized that iTunes thought the new iPod should not be used in disk mode (probably because that's the default configuration for a new iPod) but Mac OS X thought it should be (probably because my previous iPod, which had the same default volume name, was set to use disk mode). My clues were these: iTunes didn't have a checkmark in the "enable disk use" checkbox, but the iPod was mounting on the desktop each time I connected it.

The result of this conflict was that iTunes would tell the iPod to dismount itself as soon as syncing was complete, but the OS hung onto the notion that the iPod was present. iTunes continued to act as if the iPod was present, but trying to do anything with it would cause an error.

The settings were not saved for the iPod 'Peter Glaskowsky's iPod' because it could not be found.
The error message associated with the disk-mode bug. Peter N. Glaskowsky

I decided that the best way to solve this problem would be to select the "enable disk use" checkbox. But this was not so easy. Connecting the iPod always started the sync process. When the sync process ended normally, or was terminated, the iPod was ejected by iTunes. Selecting that checkbox and clicking Apple while the iPod was syncing merely scheduled the change of mode to take place after the sync, but the iPod ejected first.

Ultimately, after trying several times, I managed to click the checkbox and the Apply button between the time the iPod showed up in iTunes and the beginning of the sync process. That solved the problem; my iPod now works normally in disk mode.

But I've been glossing over bug #2, which cropped up while I was trying to figure this one out. Sometimes, shortly after being ejected by the Mac, when the iPod menus appeared, the iPod would crash. Sometimes it locked up, sometimes it just rebooted. When it woke up again, sometimes it would be back to the language-select screen. Sometimes it just worked.

All these mount/dismount cycles, therefore, carried an extra risk--that the iPod would crash after being dismounted from the Mac.

To make a long story short, after watching the iPod crash, I realized it was crashing at exactly the same moment when--normally--the right side of the main menu would begin to display preview images taken from album cover art. My initial suspicion was that some piece of cover art in my collection was corrupted in a way that was no problem for iTunes but a fatal problem for the iPod. (iPod hackers, this probably means there's a buffer overflow waiting to be exploited. If you figure it out, please give me credit for discovering the original weakness--I've always wanted to be a footnote in a security patch.)

Once I solved the disk-mode problem, I was able to uncheck the "Display album artwork on your iPod" checkbox under the Music tab of the iPod settings window in iTunes. After clicking Apply, iTunes told the iPod to remove all the album art, and that problem was solved too.

This isn't a fix--I still can't use album art on my iPod, which it's supposed to be able to do--but at least it's a work-around.

With all that grief out of the way, I can say I really like this little thing! It's two-thirds the thickness of my old fourth-generation model, which has only slightly more than a third as much capacity. The black metal face looks very classy; I wish that surfacing carried around the back of the unit too. The video support is neat; I doubt I'll use it much, but it's nice that it's there. The new menu design is a definite improvement, but mostly in the sense of being appropriate eye candy rather than being functionally superior.

The hard disk is a bit clattery, honestly; seek operations are clearly audible. Turning off the album artwork (and the Cover Flow feature, which is useless without album art) actually helped a lot with that by eliminating some seek operations.

Otherwise, this is just a nice set of improvements over my old 4G as well as the previous 5G (iPod video) products. I like it.

There's one trivial little thing I'd like to see changed--the backlight timeout setting goes up only to 30 seconds. I think a maximum of 3 minutes would not be out of line.

On Wednesday morning here on Speeds and Feeds, I'll review the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo for iPod. Although it says on Belkin's Web site that this product is compatible with the iPod classic (when you ask which Belkin products are compatible with this iPod, this gizmo is one of the products listed), I've found it isn't fully functional on this iPod. Tune in tomorrow for the full report.

Update: the Belkin TuneTalk review is now online.