Apple iPod Shuffle 512mb
Miniature portable MP3 player from Apple.
By Jon Deragon,
Tuesday June 20, 2005; 11:30am EST
Over the last few years portable MP3 players have grown in popularity
by leaps and bounds, not only with consumers, but with
manufacturers. Name just about any major and not so major
electronics manufacturer and they will most likely have a line of
MP3 players. This is great in that we are seeing an incredible
combination of variety, functionality, high build quality and style
at ridiculously affordable prices across the board.
One of the major
forces in this MP3 player revolution is Apple with their iPod
line of products. The iPod line stands at the higher end of the
market with large music capacities due to their internal hard drive,
large screen for track navigation
and their expandability. The spectacular success of the iPod has
inevitably led to a number of variants of the device, with the most
recent being a more economical version called the iPod Shuffle. This
is clearly a product built to compete with the heavily saturated but
well selling low to mid level MP3 player market with the likes of Sony, SanDisk, Samsung, Rio, iRiver and many others.
The iPod Shuffle
comes in 2 flavors, with memory capacity (512mb or 1GB) being the
only differentiator. Taking one out of its box, you are immediately
greeted with a sleek and smooth "traditional Apple" bright white
casing, not much larger (.33" thick) or heavier (.78 ounce) than a
pack of chewing gum. The front features a circular navigator for
next / previous track and volume; with a central play / pause
button; and a concealed indicator light just above it. The back has
an off / on continuous play / on random play toggle slider, and a button to check battery
status. On top of the device is the headphones plug, and the bottom
is removable to reveal a USB connector for transferring music. Also
included in the box are headphones, lanyard, manuals and CDs for iPod drivers and iTunes software.
To use the iPod you
must install iTunes and driver software which is provided on the
included CD. Once you have iTunes running and you have your library
of music indexed, you may then connect your iPod to your computer and
transfer songs back and forth as desired. I found the process of
transferring music from iTunes did the job, but was at times
frustrating and cumbersome, and using another media player is out of
the question. The iPod Shuffle's rechargeable battery (with 12 hour
battery life) is built into the device and charges when inserted
into a USB port.
With a selection of
my favorite tunes on board, battery charged and head phones dawned,
I was ready for a good old fashion ear blasting walk across town.
Immediately my first challenge was the fact that there is no screen
whatsoever to indicate things like current track, volume, battery
status, etc. So finding a favorite track to
start my voyage with was tedious. A shuffle mode (read "random play
mode") can be selected by the slider on
the back of the unit. Apple markets this as a novel feature that is
the key to 'a life less ordinary'. But the novelty of random play
quickly wears thin, and ultimately doesn't compensate for the lack
of a screen to read track names and other pertinent information.
Using the circular
navigator on the front of the iPod was for the most part intuitive
for changing the volume or moving between tracks. When in the depths
of your jacket pocket it was sometimes difficult for your fingers to
read the non-descript navigation circle to figure out which side of
the ring to push.
The headphones are
light weight, fit well and are comfortable to wear over
long periods of time. The music they produced, however, was certainly not what
I would call thrilling. Overall
the music was shallow, thin and completely devoid of any bass
reproduction whatsoever. The lack of a soundstage, combined with an
almost complete absence of highs and lows made the music sound as
flat and lifeless as a concrete wall. In fact they made many of my
favorite high energy dance songs sound almost boring.
Part of an enjoyable music listening experience is feeling those
extreme highs (crisp clear cymbals) and lows (thundering pounding
bass lines), they bring life and exuberance to the music, and the iPod
Shuffle clearly struggles to reproduce these elements.
When you compare it
to the truck loads of different models from other manufacturers on
the market in the same price bracket, it would be hard to justify
purchasing an iPod Shuffle. Similar models from other manufacturers
include a laundry list of features that leave the iPod looking,
well, lame. It is not uncommon for MP3 players to feature a backlit
2 and even 3 line LCD display, an equalizer, surround sound
emulation, an FM radio receiver, a voice recorder and FM recorder,
embedded MP3 encoder, multiple music file format support, and
replaceable batteries - iPod has absolutely NONE of these things.
Not only that, but the other manufactures fit all of these features
in a form factor equivalent to the iPod. In addition to this, the
rechargeable battery is non-serviceable which pretty much means no
more battery, no more shuffling - disposable MP3 player.
Overall, with such
a fantastic variety of truly feature rich MP3 players on the market,
there is little I can say that would warrant recommending the iPod
Shuffle. The iPod Shuffle 512mb retails for $99, 1GB for $149,
offers 1 year parts and labor warranty, and is available immediately
from all major electronics retailers across North America.
PROS - Attractively designed; lightweight and compact design;
comfortable headphones; competitive storage capacity.
CONS - Lifeless music reproduction with non-existent
highs and lows, flat sound with no sound stage; non-serviceable
internal battery; compatible only with iTunes software; lacks LCD
display making track navigation tedious; no audio equalization or
surround sound settings; no FM radio receiver; no voice recorder or
internal MP3 encoding.
About The Author
Jon Deragon is president and founder of Visca Consulting, a firm
specializing in web site design, development and usability for
businesses of all sizes. His many years in the technology industry has
enabled him to write quality, in-depth product reviews to assist
businesses make more informed technology purchases. He welcomes any
questions or comments you may have regarding his company's services,
this review or interest in having your company's products reviewed.