The iPod Shuffle's buttons are back, and the lightest, smallest MP3 player on the planet is now better than ever.
The iPod Shuffle returns to its big-button glory days • Support for playlists, audio books, podcasts, Genius Mixes • Multilingual VoiceOver feature that announces track information, battery status and menu navigation.The Bad:
2GB capacity can't hold much • No headphone remote or radio • Track controls tend to get pinched when clipping the iPod to your clothes &bull The chances of you accidentally running it through the washing machine are quite high.
The fourth generation of the Apple iPod Shuffle is a return to the iconic form that made it a hit from 2006 to 2008, but now it offers a few extra features to keep things interesting. As expected, Apple is keeping things simple with its entry-level iPod, offering it in just one 2GB capacity (AU$69) that's available in silver, green, pink, blue and orange.
For the fourth-generation version of the iPod Shuffle, Apple has thrown out the design from 2009, returning to a form that is similar (but not identical) to the popular second-generation model. Placed side by side with the second-gen Shuffle, the latest version is noticeably smaller, slimmer and squarer, measuring 3.1cm wide by 2.9cm tall by 0.8cm thick. In spite of the shrunken body, the main navigation has actually increased just slightly in size, so it is easier to make any adjustments to volume or track position.
Another design feature that distinguishes the fourth-gen Shuffle from the second-gen is that the majority of the physical features — the headphone jack, the power switch, the battery indicator, the playback mode control and the VoiceOver button — have been consolidated to the top edge of the device.
If we have just one complaint of the fourth-gen iPod Shuffle design, it's the difficulty using the clip without accidentally triggering the track-skip control (specifically the back skip button). Another factor worth taking into consideration is that the Shuffle's small size can sometimes be a disadvantage. We often hear stories of people accidentally running their Shuffle through the laundry, or misplacing it for weeks, only to have it appear in some seldom-used purse pocket or change drawer. For all its beauty and simplicity, the Shuffle seems to fall into the same category as socks and umbrellas: you don't own them so much as borrow them from the universe.
Though the Shuffle's design may be a nod to the past, its features keep pushing forward. Everything that was good about the third-generation model (VoiceOver, playlists, audio books and podcasts) has been retained for this version, along with support for Genius Mixes, expanded language support and a longer 15-hour battery life.
Keep in mind that though the Shuffle's features are impressive for its size, its capabilities are far from ground-breaking in the world of portable audio as a whole. There's no FM radio, no voice recording and — obviously — no photo or video playback. Audio formats supported include biggies like MP3, AAC, Audible, WAV, AIF and Apple Lossless, but still no love for WMA or FLAC.
The Shuffle handles the playback of audio book and podcast content differently than music files, and assumes you'd prefer to always play this type of content sequentially — even if the iPod's shuffle switch is on. Audio-book and podcast content is also kept out of the Shuffle's start-up music mix, ensuring that a stray chapter of A Tale of Two Cities
never ruins the mood of your workout. But if jogging to classical literature is your thing, you'll be relieved to know that any audio book synced to the Shuffle is treated as a separate playlist.
For an AU$69 MP3 player, the Shuffle sounds surprisingly good, though you'd never know it from the standard Apple ear buds that come included. Given its small size, it's worth mentioning that under the device's iTunes settings you can lock in a maximum volume level for the Shuffle, which can be helpful if the player is for a child or just to ensure your ears don't get blasted if you accidentally sit on the thing.
In terms of features, design, sound quality and price, the fourth-generation iPod Shuffle is the best version of the player we've seen yet. That said, the world of sub-$100 MP3 players is chock full of interesting options, many of which deliver larger capacities, colour screens and broader compatibility with files and applications beyond the world of iTunes.
If your music library and playlists are already in iTunes, the Shuffle offers the path of least resistance to those in the market for a small, fitness-friendly MP3 player and good value at AU$69.
For our full review of the Apple iPod Shuffle (4th generation), visit CNET.com.au