Review: iPod Shuffle
The 4th Generation iPod Shuffle must be one of the smallest, if not the smallest, mp3 players on the market. Its diminutive size leaves barely enough room for basic controls, and there is no screen. Available in six colours it costs around £38 in the UK, and around $49 in the US.
The first thing that struck me about the iPod Shuffle was its size – it really is incredibly small. The second thing was the build quality. I don’t know if it is, but the Shuffle seems to be made out of a solid lump of mental, as there are no seams or joints to be seen anywhere. The controls are as large as physically possible for such a small device, with the main control ring – Next/Fast-forward, Previous/Rewind, and Volume – taking up the entire front face. The centre of this ring has the Play/Pause button. On the side there is a three-position slider switch. The first position is ‘off’, the second position turns the unit on and plays the contents in order, and the third position plays the contents randomly, i.e. it ‘shuffles’ them. And that is, arguably, the clever part. When we’re actually on the move, walking on the street, jogging in a park, riding a bicycle, or exercising in the gym, most people, I guess, don’t want to be constantly picking and choosing specific tracks to listen to from the large collection the Shuffle’s 2GB memory can store. And that being the case, perhaps a screen isn’t absolutely necessary.
If the Shuffle’s basic specifications ended here, it would still be quite impressive…but there’s more. Next to the On/Off switch is what Apple calls a ‘VoiceOver’ button which, when pressed once, tells you the name of the music track or podcast being played. Press the button twice, in quick succession, and a voice tells you the state of the battery. Hold the button down for a second or two and a voice recites the playlist menus (which are set up in the iTunes software). And next to this button there’s even a minute three-colour (red, green, and yellow) LED indicator that lights and flashes to indicate various states and modes.
On the back of the unit is a reassuringly firm clip to attach the Shuffle to clothing or whatever, and the player is bundled with quite a reasonable pair of earphones, comparable to, if not slightly better than, the Sony MDR-E10LP's, reviewed in the Low-Cost Earphones review. I haven’t pushed the Shuffle to its limit, but the power available to drive the earphones is ample.
Battery life is given as 15 hours, which I can’t vouch for, but I can report using the Shuffle for three or four hours a week without the battery level falling lower than 75%.
Data is sent to the Shuffle via the supplied USB cable, which plugs into the earphone socket. The Shuffle can also be used as an external disc to sore data files by navigating to, and selecting, ‘Enable Disk Use’ in iTunes. However, it’s worth pointing out that any audio files loaded into the Shuffle using Macintosh Finder or Windows Explorer won’t play, as they have to by 'Synced' through iTunes. Given the low cost of memory sticks, I would be inclined to keep the Shuffle for audio, and only audio, and use a memory stick for all other data files I need to carry around.
The software is quite intuitive, with good audio/video presentations explaining how to carry out various operations. However, like many programs, it still takes a little time to get used to.
My only gripe with the Shuffle is that, being small, it’s ‘fiddly’. It’s hard to clip it to something without accidentally pressing the ‘Previous’ button. However, all button functions can be disabled by holding down the Play button for one or two seconds to engage a lock. To unlock the shuffle just press the ‘Play’ button for another second or two. Each time a click can be heard signifying something being locked or unlocked. The photo on the left shows the Shuffle between a British 10p coin and an American quarter.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Shuffle is a first rate product, and even though I’m not an Apple fan I have no hesitation in singing the Shuffle’s praises. For anyone wanting a small Mp3 player, who can live without a screen, Apple’s iPod Shuffle should be at the top of the list of players to check out.
For detailed operating procedures please read the manual, which can be downloaded in PDF format free from Apple.
The photo above shows the iPod Shuffle resting on a CD, again highlighting how small the device is.
(If you like relaxing jazz piano you can audition tracks from the above CD Sometime Somewhere... on this site.)
(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with Apple, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review. It is a true customer/user review.)