Review: iPod Shuffle

If you want to be using an iPod, but don’t have several hundred dollars to spend, you’ll feel right at home with the iPod shuffle. My shuffle arrived last week almost a month after I placed my order at the Apple Store, thanks in part to a rush of new adopters soaking up the 512MB and 1GB versions of the ultra-small Apple innovation. The backorder from the Apple Store probably isn’t much better at press time, but savvy shoppers can find new, factory-sealed shuffles at eBay for a small markup. If not, look for shuffle to appear soon at your local Target and Best Buy.

Most notable about the shuffle, aside from its affordable $99 price tag, is its design. Shuffle’s size and weight is comparable to a pack of gum. With shuffle, Apple abandons the complex navigation system and digital display found on larger, pricier iPod flavors. Shuffle instead opts for a simple user interface consisting of a jog dial for direct audio control, and a slider allowing users to choose between shuffling their playlists and playing songs in order. Shuffle’s design allows for the same ergonomic feel that made iPod Apple’s saving grace from a reputation of lackluster product designs in the 1990s.

Shuffle works seamlessly with Apple iTunes. By default, my shuffle loaded about 125 songs randomly when I plugged it into my Mac-Mini’s USB drive. Adjusting the “iPod Options” feature in iTunes allows users to select how the shuffle acquires songs, either automatically or manually.

Users who insist on carrying their entire library of music with them will have difficulty adopting to the shuffles limited 512MB- (about 120 songs) or 1GB- (about 240 songs) capacity drive. If you’re looking for an iPod that will serve as a multi-gigabyte backup for music and files, the shuffle isn’t for you. However, shuffle’s flash USB compatibility makes it a good tool for data transfer. Users can set aside a portion of shuffle’s memory for files, which makes it easy to transfer documents between home and work. Shuffle’s non-dependency on a firewire port makes it compatible across both PC and Mac platforms.

Shuffle’s internal battery charges while plugged into the computer’s USB port, and usually requires three to four hours for a full charge. Many users are reporting getting a solid 15 hours of use from the shuffle on a full charge.

One caveat potential buyers should take into consideration is shuffle’s incompatibility with many USB drives. It’s width, for example, makes shuffle incompatible with my Gateway 600YG2 notebook computer, which has narrow USB ports. This issue, however, is easily solved with a USB extension cable.

Bottom Line? shuffle will probably be the first of many iPods you will ever buy.

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