iPod shuffle 2G

Unlike its white, gum-pack-size, plastic predecessor, the new shuffle has a matte-anodised-aluminium finish, which fingers won’t smudge during use. The spring clip on the back attaches firmly to clothing and makes up half the player’s thickness.

We’re used to being surprised whenever a new generation of iPod comes out, and the previous shuffle was hardly a giant. Even so, the new shuffle truly is a remarkably small piece of kit, measuring just 41 x 27 x 10.5mm.

As with the previous shuffle there are downsides to this tiny size. There’s no screen so you can’t watch videos on it or play Tetris; and, of course, you can’t really search for specific songs – instead you simply shuffle through them randomly. Having said all that, as a barebones music player the shuffle is hard to beat.
The redesigned flash-based player incorporates a built-in clip that lets you attach the iPod shuffle to a pocket, belt or shirt. It’ll be a hit with gym goers and joggers, who can forget about lanyards flapping round the neck, and its featherlight weight won’t stretch tracksuit material.

The lack of display won’t bother the mobile keep-fit brigade, but it isn’t for those who like to select individual tunes while on the move. Despite its name, you don’t have to use the shuffle mode; you can also set ordered playlists, navigable via the familiar iPod scroll wheel.

As expected, sound quality is excellent, although audiophiles will prefer to spend more on headphones superior to the standard earbuds included. We tried it with the £39 Sennheiser PX-200 and £399 Shure E500, and there were no complaints. Volume goes higher than you should be able to bear.

On/Off and Shuffle/Play switches and indicator lights are subtly hidden on the top and bottom of the player. The LED lights are still slightly cryptic, flashing differently for different modes and messages. No matter which way you look at it the lights are no replacement for the full iPod screen – and with the nano dropping to a sub-£100 price point this may be the shuffle’s Achilles heel, especially now the nano sports the Nike + iPod feature.

With 1GB of storage, the iPod shuffle can hold about 1,000 minutes of music – nearly 250 songs at 128Kbps compression, according to Apple. And it fully supports the market-leading iTunes Store.
Battery life is claimed at around 12 hours per charge (and Apple has been conservative in its recent battery-life claims), which is ample for all but the craziest joggers, and will get you through any long single flights and train journeys.

An included USB 2.0 dock connects the iPod shuffle to a computer for charging, and iTunes AutoFill feature automatically syncs the shuffle with new music each time you connect. Interestingly, the new dock syncs through the headphone socket rather than via a USB 2.0 connection. While this must help Apple keep the price down, it does mean that the dock becomes vital and the shuffle is less useful now as a USB memory stick (unless you carry the dock around with you too). Don’t lose the dock either, because by default you must charge the shuffle with your Mac rather than plugging it into a wall socket, unless you buy a £19 USB power adaptor.

The new shuffle no longer includes iTunes in the box. Instead, Apple has a new online iPod/iTunes page with links for downloading the latest version. While this means you’re assured of having the most up-to-date version, it does demand you have internet access to begin using your new iPod unless iTunes 7 is already installed on your Mac.

One (very) minor irk is the Apple logo on the back. When docked this is upside down. While it bears no relation to the performance of the device whatsoever, it’s not typical of the kind of quality we’ve come to expect from Apple.

A more pressing problem is that there has been a report regarding bending the clip on the shuffle. If this becomes bent then the shuffle no longer fits into the dock and becomes unusable. We’ve only heard of one report online but we’d warn readers to be careful with the clip until more information comes to hand.

OUR VERDICT

Just as people are getting used to the ability to squeeze entire music collections into ever-smaller players, the new micro-sized iPod shuffle is sure to elicit ‘wows’ from friends and family. It’s also a dead-cert for Christmas lists, and at £55 marks an affordable entry point into digital music, and of course it’s a real winner with joggers, gym nuts and the super cool.

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