Review: Apple Computer iPod shuffle (Second-Generation)
iPod shuffle (2006 to August 2008)
iPod shuffle (September 2008)
Company: Apple Computer
$49 (1GB), $69 (2GB)
Pros: Apple’s smallest and lightest iPod-branded audio player to date, featuring a strong and immediately eye-catching aluminum enclosure, rear clip, simple controls and indicator lights, plus an included dock for charging and computer synchronization. As with predecessor model, battery life continues to beat Apple’s estimated 12 hours by a nearly 6-hour margin, while transfer speeds have increased from first-generation version. Plays most audio files supported by other iPods. Now available in five colors - silver, blue, green, pink, and red - with a number of other versions previously released and discontinued.
Cons: Audio quality has dipped modestly from prior shuffle; not as clear with good earphones as other iPods. Unable to recharge or sync on the go without carrying around the included dock, as no USB plug is integrated. Must turn unit off and on to check remaining battery life. Price relative to performance is far below the standards of even the lowest-end iPod nano. Incompatible with virtually all past iPod accessories except headphones. iTunes no longer included, and must be downloaded.
If you asked a thousand people early last year which iPod was likely to be the longest-lived - the iPod mini, iPod 4G, or iPod shuffle - virtually no one would have picked the shuffle. Yet roughly 22 months have passed since Apple rolled out its chewing gum pack-sized, screenless iPod, and only at the beginning of November, 2006 did the company officially replace it. Why has it taken so long, given that the shuffle was quite possibly the least buzzworthy iPod ever - the one that only barely resembled its increasingly powerful brothers? The answer is simple: in September, Apple CEO Steve Jobs disclosed that the shuffle had sold over 10 million units, one-sixth or -seventh of the iPod's total installed base.
So, whether you loved the shuffle or hated it, there was a market for a small, inexpensive, low-capacity iPod, and for now, Apple has opted to continue to cater to that demand with a similar device rather than offering a lower-priced iPod nano. Enter the second-generation iPod shuffle ($79/1GB), which rather than radically improving upon its predecessor's features merely shrinks them into a smaller package. If you're expecting anything exceptionally new from the new shuffle, be aware up front: this is substantially the same screenless device as before, only in an aluminum chassis that occupies only half a cubic inch of volume. Apple calls it "the world's smallest digital music player," and if that's wrong, no one noteworthy has yet disagreed.
Because there's relatively little new here from a functional standpoint - the new shuffle remains capable of playing audio files and storing data, nothing more - our comprehensive review is shorter than most, and more tightly focused on differences and new features than the facts you most likely already know. For additional details on the prior iPod shuffle, please see our earlier New Users' Review and Power Users' Review from January 2005. The second-generation shuffle is discussed in the pop-open sections below; just click on the "Click here" text to read the sections that interest you.
Updated January 30, 2007: Three months after the release of the aluminum second-generation iPod shuffle, Apple added four new colors - blue, green, pink, and orange - to the original silver model, creating the iPod family's lowest-cost variety of color options to date. The company also quietly replaced the November 2006 shuffle's outdated earphones with its newer, superior version, bringing them into line with all other shipping iPod models. We've added a new section, January 2007 New Colors and Earphones, to discuss these changes below.Package (Click here for details.) Body and Controls (Click here for details.) Indicators, Battery, and Charging (Click here for details.)
Audio Performance (Click here for details.)
iTunes and Data Transfer Performance (Click here for details.)
Accessories (Click here for details.)
January 2007 New Colors and Earphones (Click here for details.)
Value and Conclusions: November 2, 2006 (Click here for details.)
Value and Conclusions: September 18, 2008: Since the initial release of the second-generation iPod shuffle, Apple has made four changes to this model, none of which constitute a "third-generation iPod shuffle." First, as discussed above, the company on January 30, 2007 unveiled four additional, bright colors -- blue, pink, orange, and green. Next, on September 5, 2007, Apple replaced those colors with muted blue, green, purple, and brick red versions.
On February 19, 2008, Apple dropped the price of the 1GB model to $49 from $79, and introduced a 2GB model at $69. Finally, on September 9, 2008, Apple changed the colors again, reverting to blue, pink, and green colors similar to the January 2007 versions, and updating the brick red to a stronger, classic red consistent with the original second-generation iPod nano in (PRODUCT) RED coloration.
The devices have remained virtually identical from update to update, preserving sonic and battery performance, and changing only modestly in earbuds, as noted above. In a September, 2008 transfer speed performance test, the iPod shuffle rated dead last in synchronization time with iTunes 8, requiring 3 minutes and 40 seconds to transfer the 391.5MB audio portion of a 1GB playlist, while other models each took 2 minutes or less to transfer the entire 1GB list. Additionally, though the iPod shuffle's audio quality has stayed the same over time, it is now decidedly the worst of the entire iPod family, falling markedly below the fourth-generation iPod nano, 2008 iPod classic, and second-generation iPod touch in clarity. As such, we have re-rated the iPod shuffle slightly lower as of September 2008, reflecting its failure to improve while the rest of the iPod lineup has continued to evolve. This remains a good solution for especially budget- and size-conscious iPod users, but it is not one that we'd otherwise recommend over any other member of the current family.