Apple’s tiniest, cheapest mp3 player yet
Apple sells more mp3 players than any other company. Part of this is down to just how easy the iPod is to use and part is down to solid industrial design, something that Sony spent a great deal of time perfecting back in the days of the Walkman.
With the original Shuffle, the Mac maker took a punt at the growing market for small, cheap players that used flash memory instead of a small hard drive. Many, many Shuffles were sold but with so many imitators, the market is still a tough one to compete in.
The new iPod Shuffle is quite different from the original. While the old was clad in cheap and cheerful white plastic, with a USB plug at one end, the new version features a tough aluminium skin and uses a docking station to connect and charge via a computer.
It's also unbelievably small. Almost half of the thickness of the player is taken up by a clip that allows the player to be attached to clothing easily – great for people who like to exercise while listening.
The clip is quite firm and secure, although we found it easier to clip the player on to pockets or bag straps upside down.
Sound quality is excellent – the bass was particularly impressive. As expected, integration with iTunes was flawless too.
The controls are slightly bewildering at first, although the universal symbols for forwards, back, pause, play and volume control are straightforward. It’s possible to see what mode the player is in from two tiny LEDs on the top and bottom of the device.
Apple provides a credit-card sized card with the iPod Shuffle to explain what the little light is trying to communicate, but it’s pretty confusing stuff. Luckily, most people will only need to know whether their player is paused or not.
Over time, the white parts of the player and the earbud leads can start to look grubby, especially if you have newsprint on your fingers. This wipes off, but is a shame to spoil the sleek exterior.
The earbuds are, as with those supplied with most iPods, uncomfortable and not very good. It is surprising that Apple continues to equip its players with poor headphones. After all, Sony Ericsson has supplied excellent earbuds with its phones for a while now.
The iPod Shuffle is available in a 1Gb flavour for £55. There are cheaper players on the market but considering you get to use iTunes, it's worth the extra cash.
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Good Points Tiny Good integration and usability Aluminium case adds class Bad Points Must be used with supplied docking station instead of direct connection to USB port Still pricey compared to cheap and cheerful competitors No display Overall Only a lack of display and more capacity holds the iPod Shuffle back from top marks
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