There’s an easy way to describe Apple’s second crack at a tiny portable music player – it’s really tiny. The Shuffle’s size means it omits many features that you’d expect on something iPod-branded, although it’s still got the distinct style that everyone expects. While the Nano offers a more complete flash-based music experience, and iRiver’s S10 does a better job of being a really tiny player, don’t overlook the Shuffle if your needs are simple.
The first generation of the iPod shuffle was just a small, stick-like MP3 player that played off the immense popularity of the iPod brand. To be honest, the second generation is exactly the same thing, only in a casing that’s about the size and shape of a small camcorder battery. What you don’t get is any kind of indicator display, or for that matter the famous iPod scrollwheel.
The Shuffle has the visual appearance of the wheel, but it is in fact just using five selection buttons for volume, play/pause and track skipping. Add in a hold switch and a selector between repeat play and shuffle modes, and you’ve got the Shuffle down pat.
Unlike the previous generation Shuffle, the new edition doesn’t recharge and synchronise via a straight USB cable. Instead, you get a tiny USB dock with a headphone connector in the Shuffle’s box. This plugs into the audio port on the Shuffle for recharging and synchronising via iTunes.
Like the Nano, the Shuffle ships in a box that’s clearly been swiped from a watch-manufacturing factory. While this gives it an even smaller profile — and no doubt saves Apple lots of shipping fees — it also means that the Shuffle omits the inclusion of iTunes on CD, simply because there’s no space for even an 8 cm CD in the box. As it’ll only easily synchronise with iTunes, you’ll need to download it from Apple’s site to get your Shuffle up and working, which is mildly annoying.
As we were reviewing the iPod Shuffle, Apple announced that it was launching new models of the Shuffle, although in this case “new” just means “new colours” – alongside the existing silver models, it’s also now possible to buy Shuffles in green, blue, pink and orange hues. There’s no practical difference between the newer and older Shuffles, although arguably you might be able to see the lurid pink model a little easier if it’s dropped down the back of the sofa.
Filling the Shuffle up with songs is surprisingly easy – like most iPods it works seamlessly with iTunes, and leaves you with the choice – you’ve got the ability to either select your 1GB (around 240 tracks) yourself, or have iTunes fill your Shuffle with a random selection every time. Having done that, we set out to flatten our charged Shuffle. Apple claims it’s capable of up to 12 hours of playback time, but in our tests we managed closer to 13 – and it’s very unusual to have a product exceed vendor specifications, which often live in their own fantasy world.
There’s no doubt that simply having the iPod branding will sell units, and there’s still some fashion cachet to having an iPod – with the new colours, probably even more. The Shuffle isn’t the most revolutionary player out there, even in the very small player space, but it is a well constructed, easy to use simple player with good battery life; as long as your needs – and track lengths – are moderate, it should serve you very well.