The latest version of Apple’s iPod Shuffle comes packed in a tiny aluminum shell, weighing just over half an ounce. Is it a complete music player package, or will it leave you wanting more?
Design – Good
The second generation Apple iPod Shuffle is one of the most wearable devices we’ve ever used. It is literally a clip with a music player attached, and the clip grabs onto clothing securely, but even if it falls off and dangles from your headphone cord, the Shuffle is so light that its really tough to feel it! If you stick with Apple’s included headphones, you’re not going to be able to pocket the shuffle because the headphone cable is too short to reach even a jacket pocket, which means you’ll be forced to find a convenient spot to clip it. No other way out yet. The face is dominated by the five-way button, and on the bottom you’ll find the “Off” switch and the shuffle toggle. As we’re sure you know by now, the Shuffle doesn’t have a display; all feedback is provided by tiny LED lights on the top and bottom side of the device. The flashing green-and-orange codes aren’t all that complicated, but they’re tricky enough that Apple has seen fit to include a wallet-sized decoder card.
We understand the simplicity of a music player without a screen. Apple almost seems to be selling an experience, more than a device, and the Shuffle experience is all about shuffling through your music, without worrying about finding specific tracks. Thats it! Also, a screen might have muddied the minimalistic design aesthetic. Still, the lack of a screen bothered us because we like to listen to long audiobooks and podcasts. When we lost our place, it was difficult to find again without the visual feedback. Also, since we don’t have all our song titles memorized, it would be nice to see what we’re listening to.
I Reccomend: The unit i just bought came in a luscious orange shell that sparkles like copper. WOW!
NEEDED : A small screen, even if very tiny.
Sound – Awesome!
Its one of an experience.I tested the iPod Shuffle with a couple of uncompressed tracks: the fourth movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity” from her “Begin to Hope” album, as well as Fall Out Boy’s “This Ain’t a Scene . . .”, a 128kbps AAC file we purchased from the iTunes Store. Our reference headphones were a pair of Shure E3s plugged into our Dell Latitude D420. The shuffle was considerably brighter than the laptop, with a nice snap at the high end on the “Fall Out Boy” track. Snare drums on the chorus of the Regina Spektor track practically exploded, almost a little too fiercely, but the throaty middle range was somewhat lost. Whereas we expected a depth to the vocals, what we got was a poorly staged middle that sounded right up front, a little bland for our taste. The iPod handled bass nicely, but our Shures resist a heavy kick to the head in favor of accurate sound. The Mozart track sounded less lively on the iPod — again, probably thanks to the lack of a mid-range. Some control over the sound might have helped; while there is an equalizer built into iTunes, the EQ settings don’t carry over to the iPod Shuffle. Background noise and hiss on the iPod were minimal, about even with our D420. When we compared the Shuffle to our third-generation iPod, the larger iPod sounded cleaner, with much less background noise and hiss than the smaller Shuffle.
Our favorites: We like that this shuffle can handle uncompress AIFF track.
Our request: An EQ would help balance the sound a bit more.
Features – Poor
The iPod has no extra features beyond its basic music playback abilities. It is able to play uncompressed AIFF and WAV files; MP3 files, including variable bitrate files; and AAC (MP4) files, including Apple’s Fairplay DRM files (obviously). The biggest omission here is WMA support, which makes political sense in the Apple vs. Microsoft war, but not much sense to the average iPod consumer, who statistically is probably running Windows. Also, we like the inclusion of uncompressed formats, a feature the first generation shuffle lacked, but we wonder why Apple didn’t tack its own Apple Lossless format onto this list, as it takes up about half the space of AIFF files. Owners of other iPods are able to supplement their device with an add-on radio, but not Shuffle owners. Also, the device has no recording options, or any other extra features, like an alarm clock or games.
Our favorites: We’ll concede that a lack of features makes the device simpler to use.
Our request: Line-in recording would make this a killer taping device.
Transfers – Very good
The iPod comes joined at the hip with iTunes, which is the only way to get music onto the device. This may frustrate serious power users who long for easy access to the Shuffle’s file structure, but everyone else should simply enjoy what we believe to be the best music transfer software around. iTunes lacks some advanced features that Windows fans take for granted, like skins and other customization options. Admittedly, iTunes may be a bit of a memory and resource hog, but it is unequivocally the most intuitive, most reliable music transfer software available. The interface is not as pretty as the most recent Windows Media Player, but everything works so intuitively — you just drag files around and they do what you expect them to do. The iPod and iTunes work on both a Mac and a PC, but using the device with two different computers is not possible; instead, you have to pick one machine and stick with it. Transfers are handled via USB 2.0, which is fast, but not as reliable as FireWire. Unfortunately, unless you buy a third-party adapter, you’re forced to use the included dock connector for every transfer. We prefer a less proprietary solution, like a standard mini-USB port. The Shuffle can also be used as a portable flash drive; within iTunes you simply designate a portion of its memory for data.
Our favorites: iTunes keeps a play count for songs on your shuffle.
Our request: mini-USB instead of the proprietary dock connector.
Accessories – Good
The iconic, white Apple headphones are included with the new Shuffle. These have been recently upgraded; they are now a bit smaller and they lack the foam pads that we always lost anyway. The smaller size makes for a slightly more comfortable fit, but we were constantly worried that they would fall out, and a few times they did. After about an hour of use our ears were sore from the hard plastic shell. The news phones sound pretty good, with a nice bass kick that is surprisingly deep for phones that don’t really isolate the listener. Compared with our Shure E3s, which are fitted with foam earplugs, the overall sound tended to fall flat, but not so bad that they were unlistenable. The openness of the phones produced an unpleasantly airy quality to the music, compared to the rich warmth of the isolating E3s. Still, sound was accurate, but you’re almost always better off buying your own cans. Otherwise, the iPod comes packed with a proprietary dock connector to connect to your computer, which is also how the iPod charges. If you want to charge without a computer, you’re going to need to spend an extra $30 for a wall charger, which is a bit steep. Plenty of third party cases and straps are available for the second generation Shuffle, but with an attractive aluminum shell and a sturdy clip, we’re not sure why you would want to add weight and bulk to the diminutive device.
Our favorites: Since we never go anywhere without our laptop, we don’t mind keeping the cord count to a minimum.
Our request: Even with the new design, we prefer Apple’s In-Ear Headphones to the bundled iPod phones.