Apple iPod shuffle (3rd Gen) review

£51
Price when reviewed

The shuffle has always generated heated debate over the merits of the design. But you could never accuse Apple of resting on its design laurels, and its third generation iPod shuffle is the sexiest yet.

Small enough to pass as a hair clip or over-sized earring, there’s no denying that this little MP3 player has a huge amount of charm.

Apple claims it’s the smallest MP3 player in the world and we wouldn’t quibble: we’ve no idea how the designers managed to squeeze 4GB of memory and a battery big enough to offer ten hours of playback into a package this tiny.

To compensate for the lack of screen, this Shuffle has another trick up its sleeve: VoiceOver. It’s the first MP3 player that can talk to you. It will tell you what track is playing and who the artist is, talk its way through your playlists and conscientiously let you know when your battery is running low.

It’s no substitute for a screen – there’s no way of browsing by album, song title, genre or year for instance – but if you’re sold on the no-screen approach then it’s certainly an improvement.

As before, the shuffle comes with a spring-loaded clip on the rear to attach it to your clothing and the casing feels very solid indeed – there’s a free engraving service too, if you order one through Apple’s website. But we think that Apple has taken things too far here.

In order to keep the size down, there are no controls on the player itself, aside from a small three-way power switch that lets you swap between play-in-order and shuffle modes. Instead, volume and track-skipping duties have been offloaded to an inline remote that sits on the cord running to the right-hand earbud.

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It’s so slim you hardly notice it’s there, but it’s fiddly to use and feels flimsy. The worse thing about it, though, is that in order to use anything other than the bundled earbuds (best described as mediocre) you have to buy either a compatible set of alternatives (the in-ear Apple headphones work and a limited number of third party manufacturers sell them too), or splash out on a special adapter.

There are undoubtedly irritations and annoyances then, not least over those outboard controls, but with a player this small and beautifully-crafted the foibles are easy to overlook.

It’s not a player for the audiophile and doesn’t aim to be, nor are there many features, but there’s plenty of storage space here for the money and if you’re the kind of person who goes for style over substance there’s very little out there to compete with it.

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