What is iPod Shuffle?
The iPod Shuffle is a miniature MP3 player that has no screen of any kind and stores songs in the MP3, AAC, protected AAC (from iTunes store or compressed with iTunes) or WAV format in the internal flash memory.
The Shuffle is compact, stylish and easy to use. Unfortunately, ergonomics was sacrificed in at least one major area in favor of style. Both the 512-Mb and a 1-GB version of the iPod Shuffle look the same.
You can see pictures of the iPod Shuffle's front and back panels that I took at
What's in the Box?
The box contains the iPod Shuffle, the small headphones (earbuds) and a lanyard (all in white color). It also contains the CD with software (iTunes), the black pads that you can put over the earbuds, the small card with instructions on iPod Shuffle’s operation and the manual.
Both the 512-Mb and 1-GB version of the Shuffle operate in the same manner and I didn’t have to read the manual for the 1-GB version after seeing one for the Shuffle 512K. In fact, I found the small card with instructions sufficient to operate the iPod Shuffle with no need to read the actual manual. The larger manual describes installation of the software, the battery charging and more.
The card describes how you can switch the Shuffle off, on and into the “Shuffle” mode, how to change volume, play, pause, skip, check battery status as well as how to engage and disengage the, important, Hold mode.
iPod Shuffle Controls
The iPod Shuffle has compact rectangular shape and is made of smooth white plastic. It is compact and lightweight without feeling cheap. The front panel houses a circular control cluster with Play/Pause button in the middle, + and - volume control buttons up and down of it, Skip Back and Skip Forward on left and right.
There is a LED above the controls that shines through the plastic in orange or green color. The blinking green light means the player is in the pause mode. The orange light when you press a button means the player is in the Hold mode and the buttons cannot be operated until it is unlocked.
The player is locked or unlocked by pressing and holding the Play/Pause button for three seconds.
The Skip Forward and Skip Back buttons skip to the next or previous song (I will complain about some of this functionality later). When held, they fast forward or backward within the song. Again, I will express my complaints below.
The top panel of the player has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. The bottom part is a USB jack cap. It can be removed to revel the USB jack.
The rear panel houses the main mode (slider-type) switch with Off, On and Shuffle modes. It is stylish, but could have been more functional. Details will follow.
Below it, there is a battery check button with a small LED in it. When pushed, it makes the LED light up indicating the battery status (green light means good, orange means low charge, red means very low charge, no light means... you guessed it – no charge at all).
The disc with software has a label that states that you HAVE TO INSTALL THE SOFTWARE BEFORE CONNECTING THE IPOD!!!. I now realize what it means. The software prevents you from copying the files (music) from the iPod to your computer.
I have connected the Shuffle to my Windows 2000 computer that already had iTuens installed from my previous experimentation with the 512-K Shuffle and copied some music on it. I then connected this Shuffle to another computer with Windows XP and no Apple software installed. The iPod registered as a removable drive and I could copy music from it. It stores music in hidden folders, but you can copy it quite easily, provided no Apple software was installed.
The software is compatible with Mac OS X v10.2.8 or later or Windows 2000 SP4 or XP SP2.
The CD with software auto-starts when inserted into the CD-ROM (or in my case, DVD-ROM) drive. After the software installation (the iTunes software), which only takes a couple of minutes, you can connect the iPod and start loading tunes.
In my case (Windows 2000), the reboot was required after the software installation and I had to register with Apple and enter the iPod’s serial number (found on the iPod itself as well as on the outer carton box).
The iPod has a removable USB cap. With it attached, it has rectangular shape. Without it, it has a shorter rectangular shape with a USB plug at the bottom end (similar to the USB storage devices, a.k.a. USB drives).
You plug the iPod directly into your computer’s USB port. It the access to the USB port is obstructed, you can get a cable from Apple (and from other vendors/manufacturers).
Battery and Charging
The iPod Shuffle has an internal battery that recharges while the iPod is connected to the powered USB port. When I connected to my computer, the light on the back panel started blinking, indicating that the iPod is charging.
You can also get an Apple power adaptor if you want to charge the Shuffle without a computer. You can also get a cheaper USB charger designed for other devices (PDAs) from other manufacturers.
The full charging supposedly takes four hours. It seemed that the Shuffle comes charged since it was only charging for several minutes before the battery got full, according to the battery LED.
You can (according to Apple) have up to 12 hours of continuous playback time on one charge. The battery, indeed, lasts more than 10 hours.
The Shuffle has a bunch of accessories designed for it. The carrying cases are available, but were not yet available at the Apple store we went to. The USB chargers, docking stations and USB extenders are all quite overpriced (armbands, chargers and cases are about $30 each), so you might want to check out "aftermarket" accessories.
You can select an option in the iTunes software that makes the iTunes automatically start once the iPod is connected. The iTunes software looks cute and easy to use. The iPod appears as one of the folders in the left pane of iTunes and you can drag and drop the songs you want from the Library folder that represents your music library.
As soon as you drag the songs, the iPod icon/folder turns red and the status bar appear in the top portion indicating that the songs are being copied to iPod (including the progress indicator). The message is also telling you that you cannot disconnect the iPod at this stage (for obvious reasons).
The light on the iPod is blinking while data is written. That is another indication that you should not disconnect the iPod at this stage. Once the data is written, the light stops blinking and you can see a message in iTunes that says you can disconnect the iPod.
I have discovered that unfortunately, you cannot drag the MP3 files directly from Windows Explorer into the iPod folder. You have to drag them into your music library in iTunes first and only then you can drag them into iPod folder.
Worse, if you delete songs from your music library while the iPod is connected, they are getting deleted from the iPod as well.
And what if you have iTunes installed on two computers (e.g. at home and at work) and you copy some songs to your iPod on one computer and then connect it to another one, where these songs are not in the Library? I am glad you asked. You will be asked if you want to either connect to the music library on the current computer (deleting songs that are absent in it from your iPod) or not connect to iTunes. In the former case the songs will magically disappear from the iPod! In the latter, you cannot see iPod in iTunes and do anything with it. Lame!
You can also have iTunes "Autofill" the Shuffle every time it is connected with either random songs or with songs based on your selected playlists.
The iPod supports USB 2.0 (as well as USB 1.1) and files are copied relatively fast. The iPod 1GB version can fit a little less than 1 GB of music, since in addition to actual files, there are hidden folders created and small files with information about each song. Depending on song length and the bit rate, you can fit anywhere from 240 songs (Apple claim, probably at 128 kbps bit rate) to 120 songs (if you want better sound quality and use, say 256 kbps VBR). You can select the default compression method and bitrate in iTunes’ settings (say for CD ripping).
The Shuffle supports Variable Bit Rate (VBR) for better sound quality at the same bit rate as CBR (Constant Bit Rate). It also supports AAC, protected AAC and WAV.
The sound quality is very important to me. The iPod Shuffle did not disappoint me. It is difficult to expect much from the compact device that is so cheap, comes with small earbuds and is used with MP3. But even with the supplied earbuds, the music sounded good. The earbuds definitely lacked bass and sounded bright overall with slight metallic treble, but the imaging was good, the clarity was very good as well.
I could not discern any difference between the sound quality of the 512-Kb and 1-GB Shuffle either using the supplied headphones or using my large headphones. With large headphones connected, the bass appeared along with warmer, more natural sound. The MP3 decoding quality was good and approached CD quality at higher bit rates, although at 128 kbps there was slight lack of treble. But that was expected because of the low bit rate and no player would be able to do much better.
The supplied earbuds look stylish and match the iPod in color (white), but putting the supplied black felt pads on them was a pain. Overall, I am pleased with the Shuffle’s sound, especially paired with better headphones than the ones supplied.
The Shuffle has no equalizer, but it is not a problem for since the MP3s I have are usually of good quality (ripped from CDs or downloaded from a paid web site). The supplied headphones are decent enough to require no equalization.
The iPod Shuffle needs no skip protection as it has no mechanical parts and will not skip.
The Shuffle has no display of any kind, but I found this to be of no concern. The songs can be played sequentially or in random order (Shuffle), based on the main switch position. The main switch on the back panel has flat upper surface, which makes sliding it difficult even with completely dry hands. Seems like ergonomics was sacrificed in favor of style...
The blinking lights work well and the small capacity of the shuffle makes lack of LCD almost moot point.
In addition to the stylish, but less than functional main switch, there slight annoyances with the main controls. The skip forward or backward involves a pause that lasts at least a second. The fast forwarding or reversing within a song (by holding the appropriate button) is very choppy with silences in between music. Nothing major, but there is room for improvement.
Pros:Cool design, easy to use, good sound, inexpensive, no skipping, capacity
Cons:Flat main switch, software deletes songs unexpectedly, cannot copy songs to computer
In general, I like the iPod Shuffle 1GB. It is stylish, compact, inexpensive, does not skip, provides good sound quality and battery life, needs no charger, has useful hold functionality, comes with good software and is easy to use. Some things can be improved though.
Among the things I dislike are the following.The iTunes software deletes the songs from the Shuffle if it is connected when you delete the same songs from the iTunes library or if you connect it to another computer with iTunes, the main mode switch is flat, the skip to next or previous song is slow and cue/review is choppy.
The Shuffle 1 GB has decent capacity, especially comparing to 512-Mb version, but it still cannot hold your entire music library and there is no screen, but it corresponds to the Shuffle's purpose: compact, inexpensive music player on the go that is easy to use.
With right expectations, I can recommend the iPod Shuffle 1 GB. You will not be able to store your entire music library on it or find a song you want quickly, but for random or semi-random playback, it is a good choice.