The Good: Small and brand named?
The Bad: Too small, No screen, Small capacity, Annoying to use buttons.
The Basics: After a few weeks of navigating my mother's orange iPod Shuffle, I'm realizing how much I hate trendy little electronics.
I'd like to open my review of the iPod Shuffle with a pretty extended disclaimer for a change and this is the closest to holiday spirit that I get. First off, I have an iPod Touch (click here for that review!) and I am generally quite happy with it. Last year, my mother came home with an iPod Shuffle after her birthday and when that happened, I toyed around with this tiny MP3 player and pretty much hating every minute of it. But when I sat down to pan the living daylights out of this little electronic device, I got to thinking about grandparents and parents who either might not know technology or might not be able to afford the more expensive things. And that led me to the following disclaimer:
There are a ton of MP3 players on the market now, many of which have become tiny portable computers and one looking for a basic MP3 player still has a ton of options available to them. The iPod Shuffle is the bottom market MP3 player from Apple. There are essentially three types of people who you might be buying MP3 players for: those who like bells and whistles, those who want to be trendy and those who want an MP3 player. For the first type, giving an iPod Shuffle is woefully inadequate. This does not even have a screen to inform the user what is going on and it is a basic MP3 player without any video functions: the Shuffle is a poor choice for the technophile. Those who want to be trendy might be the only niche to actually want an iPod Shuffle (see next criteria); because it is an Apple iPod, they will be happy to fit in with their peers who have the brand name iPod even if it is the least-sophisticated model. Then there are those who want an MP3 player. For that niche, it is important to be willing to ask follow-up questions when it comes to gift giving. "IPod" has become synonymous with "MP3 Player" because it is the dominant brand in the marketplace, despite it being a trademarked name (like "Band-Aid" for adhesive strips); if the person you're buying for is demanding an iPod instead of an MP3 player, then they are just trendy and annoying, as opposed to serious about having a portable music source. I write that with full confidence (even knowing it will annoy some) because there are basic MP3 players with similar capacity to the 1 GB iPod Shuffle which have both more features and are half the price. For the same price as this problematically expensive MP3 player, one could get an equally portable MP3 player with more capacity, a simple LCD display and probably still save money. The only people who would be ashamed to receive such a gift would be those who are getting an MP3 player to get an iPod (those slaves to fashion) and there's no real negotiating with that.
That said . . .
My mother returned home in early December (last year) with a 2nd Generation iPod Shuffle with 1GB memory capacity and having had experiences with getting my iPod Touch up and running, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from this device. Even so, it shocked me how difficult to use and annoying this MP3 player actually is. Clearly designed for portability above all else, the iPod Shuffle is a very basic MP3 player, so much so, it does not have any form of screen or indicator. Right off the bat, this raised the question from me, "How do you know where you are and where the song you want is?" The answer is: you don't. . . unless you memorize your entire playlist in the order in which you put it on your iPod Shuffle. This, to me, as an audiophile with a massive collection, is a ridiculous concept.
The iPod Shuffle is designed for portability, it is an MP3 player designed for runners and those who want a small MP3 player in the car to take music with them as opposed to c.d.s. As such, it is very small, measuring 1" wide x 1 1/2" long x 3/8" thick. That thickness includes the clip on the back, which may be used to attach this iPod to a sun visor in the car, a lapel on a jacket, or even to a runner's gloves so they do not have to hold this in their hand. This is a very expensive MP3 player for its physical size and for the fact that it only has a 1 gigabyte capacity to it. The orange metal casing is pearlescent and almost looks coppery. All of the buttons on it are made of hard plastic and the inscrutable little device has a port for both the recharger and headphones.
Getting music onto and off of the iPod Shuffle also requires users to use the same port, but the iPod Shuffle comes with the cord necessary to both recharge the iPod Shuffle through a USB port on one's computer and exchange information with the Shuffle the exact same way. I found that playing music constantly for about ten hours drained the battery to the point that I needed to recharge it, but this is an older iPod Shuffle; brand new ones with new batteries might last longer.
The iPod Shuffle has no external speakers, so one must plug headphones into it in order to hear the music on the MP3 player. It comes with the standard white Apple earbud-style headphones and they plug into the same port hole that the other cord fits into. As a result, one may either be playing music or recharging the iPod Shuffle.
Use of the iPod Shuffle is where this becomes so problematic as to not be worth purchasing. First, one must use iTunes to put music onto the Shuffle and remove it. With 1 GB capacity, it is supposed to hold about two hundred fifty songs, but my mother's was packed by the time I hit 189. This is only about a dozen albums and nine hours worth of music. The interface which illustrates what is on the iPod Shuffle is only available on one's personal computer. To use the iPod Shuffle, one generally has to have a personal computer running iTunes and that can be a hassle for those looking to quickly and cheaply condense a small collection of c.d.s onto the Shuffle.
But the Shuffle operates on simple controls: there is an on/off button which slides to turn on. The front of the orange Shuffle has the five controls this device actually possesses: play/pause, track forward, track back, volume up and volume down. There is no control panel which indicates what one is listening to, what track number or even album one is playing. As a result, the playlist one uploads into the iPod Shuffle becomes a mystery after one disconnects it from their computer. Tracks become a hit or miss and one needs to listen to the beginning of each song in order to determine where they are on the overall playlist and they only know where they are relative to where they want to be if they recall the source material or have otherwise memorized the playlist.
I found the lack of an interface irritating. I had absolutely no idea what I was listening to and when my mom wanted to listen to a specific track, the weakness of the device was perfectly illustrated. She asked me to find a specific track by Loreena McKennit and, as it turns out, her iPod Shuffle is loaded with music by that artist. Every minute and a half until I stumbled upon the right track, I would be interrupted when the song which she asked me to find turned out to not be the right track, but rather one which started the very same way!
The buttons basically worked and the iPod Shuffle has been in operation for a few years, so this is generally a durable device. But those looking for a very basic MP3 player with even only 1 GB capacity will find there are less expensive options on the market, many of which have even a basic track number indicator or enough of a display to figure out what they are listening to. This makes the iPod Shuffle an overpriced, trendy device, even in its generally stylish orange color.
For other Apple electronic devices, please check out my reviews of:
Apple iPad 64 GB
iPod Nano (5th Generation)
OrionGadgets Synch and Charge USB Cable For iPad
For other electronic device reviews please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.