Apple iPod Shuffle (4th gen) review
A polished refinement of a successful design, albeit with a few niggles
It’s been around for so long that the initial wow factor has dissipated, but the iPod Shuffle is still a wonderfully miniaturised piece of kit. It’s so small it may as well be a button on your shirt, so light you forget it’s even there, and now we see the return of the control buttons that were so glaringly absent on last year’s Shuffle.
In fact, the whole design has shifted back from last year’s unwise change of direction, with the long and thin design we slowly learned to like replaced once more by the familiar square shape, with a firm, easily opened clip on the rear. Unlike the nano and its rotatable screen, the Shuffle clips only one way, so if you tend to head straight to your shirt lapel you’d better be wearing men’s clothes or you’ll be clipping it on upside-down.
Other than that, though, it’s as compact and comfortable as anything we’ve used, and the circular button layout makes it a doddle to skip tracks or adjust the volume. Once you’ve synced up to 2GB of audio via iTunes – with multiple playlists and Apple’s Genius technology now supported – it’s a simple case of flipping the top switch into continuous or shuffle mode and heading out for your commute or your run.
It can take any standard 3.5mm headphone plug, and you’ll likely spend your first day grinning as you repeatedly dab the VoiceOver button and listen to the impressively human narrator read out your current track and artist. It supposedly supports 25 languages, and while it struggled with a few of the made-up words in our playlist, it generally handled names and titles with some degree of style. Hold the button down to hear the name of the current playlist and tap it twice for the battery status – you’ll almost forget there’s no screen to keep you informed.
Depending on how easily pleased you are, this novelty will wear thin, though, and what you’re then left with is a neat little MP3 player that’s perfect for jogging but doesn’t hold an awful a lot of music. So far there’s only the 2GB version in five colours, and it’s alarming how quickly that fills up. There’s so far no word of plans for a 4GB version, so it’s a case of picking your tracks carefully and making do.
A bigger problem for the Shuffle, however, is that as the nano gets smaller and more attractive, it’s rapidly becoming a real alternative to this little cheapie. Prices for the two may remain vastly different – the 8GB nano costs £129 inc VAT, with the Shuffle at £39 – but with its size and shape, this year’s model has the whiff of an advanced touchscreen Shuffle. Give it time and we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the two product lines merging.
For now, though, this is the best Shuffle yet. It brings back the control panel the last model sorely lacked, while also shrinking that square design to its most pocketable so far. Whether you go for it depends on what you need it for. Creative’s Zen Stone can be had for half as much if you shop around, and while it lacks the quality and the looks, it performs essentially the same task – and without iTunes, too. But it can’t boast anything like the Shuffle’s overall quality and sheer desirability, and for that reason we have no doubt Apple will sell these by the bucketload.
|Media player storage type||Flash memory|
|Resolution||N/A x N/A|
|Dimensions||32 x 9 x 29mm (WDH)|
Audio codec support