Review: iPod shuffle
Price: $99 (512 MB); $149 (1 GB)
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1.5 or Windows 2000 or XP
The iPod shuffle is a gadget that does exactly what it is designed to do. It provides portable music-playing, it is inexpensive, and—like all Apple products—it just works.
The shuffle is the current evolution of the product line that has made Apple a success on Wall Street again. The iPod, in all its forms, and the iTunes Music Store, have revolutionized digital music. I think the iPod would still be a success without the Music Store, because plenty of consumers already use their existing music collection to compile their playlists. But the notion of buying one song at a time, instead of having to commit to an entire album, is one that has been long overdue. Of course, popular songs have always been available as singles, from the days of LPs. But over the past few years, consumers have wanted access to single digital files, and Apple has provided that.
Single songs would not matter as much if we did not have this music player. This is the music player that pulls it all together. Having said that, I will agree it has its limitations. If those limitations bother you, I suggest you stick with an iPod mini.
There is no display on the shuffle, which saves bunches of real estate, and I guess weight, because there is no gimcrackery to run the display. With no display, you cannot see a written thing to tell you what song or file you are hearing, or who the artist is. I fail to see what the big deal is about this. You choose which songs to put in the playlist, or at least which songs to put on your hard drive (if you let the Shuffle randomly pick songs), so what is the big mystery?
The Shuffle holds 512 MB (about 120 songs) or 1 GB in the high-end version. I was able to fit 93 on my first playlist. Your mileage will vary. The iPod mini holds about 1000 songs for $199 on the low-end version, so if you need a large library on the go, again, stick with the Mini. You get more storage space for the dollar, but you give up the incredible light weight of the Shuffle. Not that the Mini is ponderous, at 3.6 ounces. But the Shuffle is just unbelievably light. You could make it a hair accessory.
As far as operating the unit, those are the only limitations I can see. There’s one other thing that I would change if I could, which is that you have to plug the Shuffle into a computer (that’s on) to charge it, or else purchase an adapter or dock. The other iPods come with wall chargers.
The Shuffle has a 12-hour rechargeable battery, which you need to plug in to charge before doing anything else. The instructions to load the software are simple. iTunes does most of the work for you. You can let the Shuffle select songs from the library, or create your own custom playlist. The Shuffle does not support AIFF files. You can have the songs play in sequence, or allow them to shuffle, which is sort of the point of the whole approach, for me. I like not knowing what the next song will be.
The Shuffle weighs less than one ounce. The USB connector is the butt end of the unit, which comes with a cap to cover it when it is not plugged in. The unit and the lanyard are white, but I bet it won’t be long before there are other colors available. Maybe not. Maybe one way Apple keeps down cost is to make them all the same color. For a music player that does what this one does, for $99, I say they could make it puke green and it would still sell. Oh, and there is no shipping charge from the Apple Store. My order took about three weeks to arrive, as they predicted, but right now the Web site predicts shipping within 1-3 days.
It comes with those crummy earbuds they send with all the iPods, which give me headaches. But if you like them, great for you. You can plug in any standard headphones into the jack.
The unit runs on flash memory instead of a hard drive, so the songs will not skip. The iPod Mini has 25-minute skip protection, which is probably good enough for most of us. Have I mentioned that the Shuffle weighs next to nothing? Wearing it is like hanging a pack of gum around your neck. It might lose a fight with a paper clip.
If you understand that you will not see a display of your songs as they come up, and you do not care that the song selection is more limited than on the Mini or the grownup iPod, this is the toy for you. It is cheap, convenient, and ideally suited for exercising, which I assume is one of the most popular applications for portable music players. I have written more on iPods and exercise. I have not seen any Shuffles at my gym yet, but I bet it won’t take long. Already, I have been getting lots of envious looks and questions about mine.