Make it look cool as well as feel it
Apple iPod shuffle review
What is it?
Apple's entry level budget music player for those on the go
Build quality; VoiceOver control works well; reasonable sound quality; small and light
Tiny storage capacity; lack of on-screen display; no sound quality settings
The bottom line
A feature-limited music player that sounds good, but struggles to appeal on a broader scale due to its inflexibilities.
It's been 18 months since Apple last revamped its budget music player, so we thought we'd take a close look at the iPod Shuffle in the context of a much more competitive low-end market. These days you can expect a lot from just £40 in terms of functionality, so does the iPod Shuffle continue to have enough to stand apart from the competition?
The iPod Shuffle is very much a one-trick pony: a basic 2GB music and audiobook player with no LCD display or touchscreen controls. There's no expansion slot, so you're immediately constrained from the off to porting only your very favourite tunes across or taking advantage of the Shuffle's integrated features in iTunes, whereby you can let Genius fill it up randomly with a cross-selection of your favourite tracks or manually specify playlists, albums or individual tracks to copy across.
In terms of style, the iPod Shuffle has to be seen to be believed - it's not much larger than a postage stamp, and almost disappears into the palm of your hand. Despite this tiny footprint it offers an impressive 15-hour battery life and is housed in an aluminium casing that comes in a choice of five metallic shades. We found the green model pleasant enough to look at, but there's a restrained silver grey for those who don't want to draw attention.
Its size inevitably leads to concerns about how easy it would be to lose, but it does sport a vice-like clip for attaching to a suitable part of your person while jogging, cycling, working out or just jostling past fellow commuters.
The unit has a clickable control pad on the front for play/pause, previous/next track and volume up/down. You'll also find a three-way switch on the top - off, play in order and shuffle - and a button that triggers the VoiceOver feature. At first glance this feels gimmicky - a computerised voice telling you the artist and track you're listening to - but it has a hidden, useful feature. Hold it down long enough and it will cycle through the albums or playlists on the Shuffle, allowing you to more speedily navigate to various parts of your music collection.
VoiceOver works well, and is an essential component given the lack of an on-screen display, but it's no substitute, which limits the iPod Shuffle's usefulness to that of a device where you load it up and let it play with minimal interaction. That's not necessarily a bad thing in itself - after all, this is clearly marketed at those who want a MP3 player that just gets on with it while they work out at the gym or go jogging, but it highlights just how limited the iPod Shuffle is, and how unsuitable it would be as a more all-round, general media player.
In terms of sound quality, the iPod Shuffle performs more than adequately, although you won't necessarily appreciate this with the basic headphones supplied. They lack punch and depth, and with no sound presets or equalizer to come riding to the rescue, you'll need a decent set of headphones to fill the gap.
If you're shopping on a budget, you'll find other players (see below) offer more of everything for your money, while audiophiles will naturally gravitate to more expensive, better sounding devices such as Cowon's range or the Sony AWZ-866. But if all you want is a lightweight, discreet secondary player for your workouts, you'll find the iPod Shuffle remains a worthy contender.
Screen (size, type, resolution): none
Audio formats supported: AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, Audible
Video formats supported: n/a
Other features: Voiceover button
Stated battery life: 15 hours (audio)
Dimensions: 29 x 32 x 8.7mm, 12.5g