Apple’s latest iPod shuffle is smaller than an AA battery and features a new technology, called VoiceOver, which lets it speak the names of tracks, artists and playlists. Let’s check out this tiny portable audio player that actually speaks to you rather than just sing.
Features & Design
Aesthetically, there isn’t much to say about the 4GB iPod shuffle. It’s absolutely tiny and the design is very minimalist, with only an etched Apple logo on the rear stainless steel clip distinguishing it as an Apple MP3 player. While we can appreciate the achievement of making a music player this small, it’s a little too small for our liking — the shuffle is ridiculously easy to misplace or lose!
To make the iPod shuffle this small Apple has moved the music playback controls from the unit itself onto the headphones.
To make the iPod shuffle this small Apple has moved the music playback controls from the unit itself onto the headphones. This means the only button on the iPod shuffle is a tiny switch that allows you to turn the unit off, put your music in shuffle mode, or play your songs in order. The in-line controls on the headphones mean you can't fully use a regular pair with the iPod shuffle — you will be able to hear music in the order you have uploaded it, but you won’t be able to control volume, pause or skip tracks, or manage playlists.
The in-line remote has three buttons (volume up, volume down and a centre button). A double-click skips to the next track, a triple-click skips to the previous track and the centre button pauses the currently playing track. Double-click and hold or triple-click and hold fast forward and rewind the currently playing track, respectively. Clicking and holding the centre button skips through playlists. We would have appreciated more buttons — it’s easy enough to grasp, but the fact that you sometimes have to triple-click or hold down buttons detracts from the overall user experience. Because the iPod shuffle doesn’t have a screen, Apple has introduced what it calls VoiceOver technology. This allows the iPod shuffle to speak track titles, artist names and playlist names when you hold down the centre button. VoiceOver is available in 14 different languages, and for most part we found pronunciation to be excellent. The voice will differ slightly depending on whether you use a Mac computer or a PC running Windows, with the latter using a female voice. We preferred the male voice, which is only available if you synchronize the shuffle with a Mac running the Leopard OS X operating system. The iPod shuffle connects to your PC or Mac via the included 3.5mm-to-USB jack.
Sound quality is fair, not outstanding. The included headphones are comfortable to wear for long periods, but offer average sound quality. Bass lacks punch, while highs sound a little flat, sometimes causing guitar riffs in particular to lose clarity. However, with better headphones, the third generation’s an improvement over the older Shuffle: It sounds fuller and the bass is deeper and stronger. It had no audible hiss to write about.
If you are the type of person who will simply switch on your iPod and let it play, then the new iPod shuffle may appeal to you. But as it stands, Apple’s latest music player is too small, uses a frustrating control system and doesn’t allow flexibility when it comes to third-party headphones. Alternatively, you can consider the lesser priced but more feature packed Creative Zen Stone Plus or Cowon iAudio E2.