I read about the iPod Shuffle launch and just didn’t know if it was for me. On the one hand, it’s a very impressive, well-designed, small MP3 player; on the other hand though, it was rather expensive (compared to others in its range) and could be just a bit too simplistic for my liking (I like all things with plenty of controls and buttons).
So I wasn’t actually going out to look for one. But within days of its announcements, I started to see the first few products and I have to admit, I was very intrigued. First, the design is just pure simplicity. I really like the white look, the ceramic/plastic design, the light weight, etc. I also liked that it was a simple USB attachment, that was charged in the port, and that you could use some of the space to store files. Although I already have a Sandisk USB Flash drive, I still thought this could be a good idea. Ok, I was probably just trying to justify getting one.
There are plenty of comparable, ultra-small MP3 players available. There are especially lots available from Korean and Chinese manufacturers, many of them with brands I’ve never heard of. So I took a quick look around. While there are certainly smaller options, and most of which are cheaper (about 30% I would say on the average), there is just something nice about the Shuffle.
One of the key arguments in heavy favor of the Shuffle is the iTunes software. Already having a iPod Mini, it isn’t much of a stretch to attach another iPod device to share the same tunes (yes this can be done). In contrast, many of the other devices require additional software that can make use and installation tricky. For example, most of the Sony products that I have tried are extremely annoying because Sony tries to convert everything to ATRAC3. All my past experience with Sony MP3 players have resulted only in frustration. This issue I believe still exists today (although it’s probably easier now) and I wasn’t going to take the chance with another Sony MP3 headache.
So with the ease of implementation and the beauty of the design, I decided I wanted one. So I went to go look for one. Of course, to my luck, they were practically sold out (the situation has improved a lot since I wanted one as retail stores have finally stocked up). After much hard work, I managed to find a 512MB version at normal retail price. But I decided, for the extra US$50, I was going to get the 1GB version. Unfortunately, many people had the same idea as me and that pushed up many of the retailers to offer the 1GB at massive premiums (some 25% above retail). I just couldn’t do it at that price.
So I waited patiently and I knew exactly which stores would get the Shuffle first and which ones would sell it for retail. I spent all Friday looking for it so I decided to wait the weekend to see what I could find. Luckily, I did because I was busy over the weekend so I didn’t even have a chance to look for it and when I finally went into the store that I knew would have it on Monday morning, they did! I bought the 1GB iPod Shuffle at retail price (about US$150) and have been playing with it since.
Well the Shuffle looks exactly as it is described, like a stick of gum. I was particularly impressed by the shiny, ceramic looking feel of the surface. It has the feel of a cheap plastic gadget (especially given how light it is) but it does not look like cheap. The finish is very well done and looks very high-quality.
The size, shape, etc. are all fantastic. Given its simple, small form, the Shuffle easily hangs around your neck or fits into your pocket. I like the simplicity of the USB port on one end and how they have done a good job to create a cap for the USB port that actually stays closed. I bring this up because I have a number of USB flash drives with ‘covers’ that always fall off leaving the USB port exposed and easily damaged.
If I had to have a gripe, it would be about the design of the slide “button” that switches the device on and into the play/random mode. Thus far, I have found it sometimes difficult to set it to the play setting (middle) without accidentally sliding it all the way down to the “random” setting. Having a two-step slide switch is a good idea, but because of its size, it isn’t as easy to do (say while riding in a taxi or bus). Making the matters worse, with my protective covering on, it’s darn near impossible to choose between the two settings.
The buttons on the front are very simple and easy to use. Because the Shuffle is designed to be worn around the neck, I do often find myself accidentally pressing one of the buttons. This does cause some irritation as the music will skip or stop. Oh well, it just takes some getting used to.
The iPod Shuffle performs well for an MP3 player. Not outstanding though. Upon the transfer of some songs, the volume on certain songs was a little inconsistent. Not a big problem but 1 out of about 100 songs gets encoded funny onto the Shuffle and plays back really soft. I checked my mini iPod and the exact same song had a consistent volume (relative to the other songs) so it was a weird anomaly that seems to be specific to the Shuffle. I tried deleting the song, re-encoding it and moving it to the Shuffle but it was the same result. Nevertheless, overall the sound quality is pretty good. Volume is excellent and can get as loud as most people will need.
I hope the next version though gets different playback options because I would have loved to be able to add more bass or have different EQ options like on the mini iPod. (OK, it’s a completely different type of device so I won’t fault it for not having it, but I can wish for it right?)
I have days when I appreciate that this doesn’t have a screen that would make it bigger/heavier or drain the battery. But, there are days when I wish I could tell what song was playing. I just loaded 7 new discs and I can’t figure out what song is what – I miss a screen. Looking at the new Panasonic MP3 player with its new OLED screen, I hope that Apple considers some sort of display in its future versions.
The accessories included are fairly average. I think the headphones cord is too long. They are the exact same ones (as far as I can tell) from those that you get with the mini iPod, but the problem here is that they dangle too far when used with the Laynard that hangs around your neck. They tend to dangle down and around so much that they can easily get snagged on things. The sound quality on the earphones is also mediocre at best. I recommend to all people to invest in a GOOD set of earphones. Don’t waste your time on the cheap ones that are given for included with these gadgets. Switching to better earphones does make a noticeable improvement in the sound.
Without a doubt though, the best, winning function of the iPod has to be the iTunes software. Well done Apple. This is the easiest and best performing software for any MP3 device that I have ever had. It’s straightforward to Sync, simple to transfer songs, and great at organizing, etc. Very good, easy to use software for what it does. I particularly like the function where you can “re-encode” all the songs on the iPod Shuffle to 128kbps, thereby stuffing it with more songs even if the original songs are of higher quality.
Now that the iPod Shuffle is finally widely available without having to wait for it, I think it’s an ESSENTIAL gadget for everyone to have. Other than sometimes wishing there was a screen, the Shuffle is so easy to use and carry around, I don’t see why you wouldn’t have one. I recommend the 512MB model though and not the 1GB version I bought. I don’t know about you people, but I just can’t fill out a whole GB of songs. If I wanted something with that much capacity, I would have bought another mini iPod. Some may choose to store files on it, but I haven’t and I really feel that the 512MB version would have suited me just fine (and saved me a little bit of money). Nevertheless, it’s a fun simple device to have and I’m sure it will continue to do well.