Apple can be accused of many things but sitting still isn’t one of them. Just as new products are regularly announced (or in some cases pre-announced), some of the existing line get a refresh.
The second-generation iPod shuffle falls into the latter category. The function may be the same but the form is very different.
Apple has swapped the plastic chewing gum-stick look for a slim brushed metal device that at 1.62-inch is barely bigger than the trademark clickwheel control.
The built-in clip is sturdy and makes redundant such accessories as lanyards or armbands for holding the player.
There hasn’t just been change for change’s sake: I tested the sound quality through headphones and via a car stereo and the results were excellent – better than some earlier iPod models.
Other improvements include a more ergonomic headphone set.
It comes in a choice of five colours and has 1GB worth of storage – roughly 240 songs.
An option on the software adds to the shuffle concept so that every time it’s connected to the PC it replaces the songs with a fresh set.
It’s cleverly priced under the three-figure mark, at €89, arguably falling into the indulgence or impulse buy category.
It’s not the flat-out cheapest MP3 player on the market but balanced against that is the ease of use that comes with the iTunes software.
However, unlike with bigger iPods the software isn’t supplied so you have to rely on an existing version if you have it or download a new one.
Also, the shuffle dock is different so it’s not compatible with cables for existing iPods or speaker sets.
As it’s purposely designed to skip randomly between songs the shuffle is the MP3 equivalent of a wind-up car – you set it up and off you go, but that’s about it.
The snags are less with the product itself and more with the placement in the market.
The original shuffle caused a splash because it was very different to its older sibling but with the more recent emergence of the nano an important question needs to be asked.
Namely: why would you opt for a shuffle when an iPod nano costing less than double the price has twice the storage capacity plus a colour screen and more control?
On its own merits the shuffle is a really good piece of miniature technology that works easily and well. But is it one product segmentation too many in Apple’s expanding orchard?
Value for Money: *****
By Gordon Smith