Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Apple iPod shuffle

When the iPod shuffle was first launched on an expectant UK public the response was a muted one. Yes one could now own an iPod for £100 but it seemed that all the nice bits had been snipped from the features list, the main absentee being any form of screen. So news of the new iPod shuffle has once again had all of us wondering what would turn up from the states ready for our review.

Opening the funky packaging reveals that rather unsurprisingly the iPod shuffle still lacks any form of screen. In fact apart from the form factor very little else has changed and that is brave move given that the micro MP3 player market has boomed in the last 20 months or so. You can now get a small 1gb MP3 player from any number of manufacturers that will have and FM radio, small screens (some are even OLED colour) and wider format compatibility. However Apple has seen fit to stick with basic playback of MP3, WAV and ACC files and basic USB storage, no screen, no FM radio, in fact one might argue no change.

The main claim of the new Shuffle is that it is the smallest MP3 player in the world measuring 27.3 x 41.2 x 10.5mm and a lightweight 15.5 grams, which compares rather closely to the Mobiblu DAH-1500 which is 24 x 24 x 24mm and 18 grams. While a little tricky to prove that this is indeed the smallest player perhaps worth noting that Mobiblu manage to offer a nice screen, FM radio and clock in roughly the same size.

So the new iPod shuffle is small if perhaps not the smallest in the world, but that is hardly difficult when you don't have to fit in a screen or the kind of feature set expected from a micro MP3 player. Maybe those who are set to purchase the new shuffle (10 million purchased the old one) are more taken with the design and Apple iPod brand than real function? The 1gb shuffle should hold around 240 tracks either downloaded from iTunes or ripped from CD into either ACC or MP3 format, the controls are very simple and are not by any means a click wheel as seen on the Nano. Instead you get some basic play, skip and pause control which is best used as the iPod name suggest in Shuffle mode.

The little switch on the edge controls the playback mode (either random or in order) and after powering on and selecting a mode the only other actions are to change the volume or to skip forwards or back a track. For us this limited control and lack of screen feels a bit dark ages and while it was acceptable 2 years ago when the 1gb Shuffle was alone in the price bracket, it is now decidedly lacking as a user experience. Apple have stepped up the game with the revised aluminium styling and strong integrated belt clip, this second generation Shuffle doesn't feel like it was made from the off cuts from the iPod production line.

But beauty must be more than skin deep and pressing play with the earbuds firmly inserted reveals a sound that actually sounds a bit muddy, a lacking in clarity, in fact a sound that just isn't as good as the model it replaces. In quiet passages there is now some low level noise, not quite hiss but a bit of crackling, just general background noise, perhaps most users will miss this but it is the only model in the iPod range with this issue. Whatever you think of the iPod sound quality has normally been very good but we'd go as far as to say that this is only average, not poor, but a step backwards rather than forwards. Combine this cut price audio performance with the "earbuds" and things get a little worse still.

For some strange reason the new 2G shuffle ships with the older cackier earbuds which have been dropped from the main iPod and iPod Nano range, perhaps Apple have decided to offload a warehouse of the sub standard earbuds on those who won't splash the cash on their more expensive modeThe new 2G shuffle in its dockls? Either way this short-sighted move means that new shuffle owners will find the bass level is a bit weak and distorts under heavy load and that a few hours of listening can be very uncomfortable indeed.

Battery life on the new iPod shuffle is far better than the stated 12 hours with the model we played with lasting just a few minutes over 16 hours from a single charge. Charging is achieved via an iPod shuffle dock, no longer can you plug in the shuffle to any old USB port, the USB connector is gone and you now need the dock in order to top up or transfer tracks. Checking the battery has become a bit of a pain, the small indicator lights (one each side) flash when the unit is powered up, green for good, amber for ok, red for low and white for empty. Annoyingly the only way to check battery life is to power down and then up again, another small backwards step as far as we are concerned.

There is just one new Ipod shuffle a 1gb model and it is on sale now for £55 which is good value for money, undoubtedly it will sell well and turn up in a good few Christmas stockings but we'd recommend shopping around a bit and looking at the alternate options before taking the obvious route.

rating ::

iPod Shuffle ::