Review: Apple iPod shuffle Battery Pack
Pros: Adds considerably over 20 hours of additional iPod shuffle battery life, powers (but doesn’t recharge) a battery-drained shuffle, reasonable price and good design.
Cons: Lanyard isn’t detachable, and as some will prefer not to wear this on the neck, bunching up the necklace or cutting it off will be necessary.
We thought Apple had shown off all of its design tricks in its first four iPod shuffle accessories, but the new iPod shuffle Battery Pack ($29.00) still managed to surprise us. As the last of the five accessories to hit the market, it’s also the only one that required an iPod shuffle firmware update - currently available version 1.1.
Unlike so many of Apple’s accessories, the majority of the Battery Pack isn’t white or glossy; in fact, it’s matte gray, matching the shuffle’s circular gray Control Pad ring in color, and looks a lot like a miniaturized iPod backpack with tiny icons scattered across its interior. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when the Battery Pack is attached to a shuffle, it has a “cute” factor that we’d imagine will endear it to photographers: in person, it makes the shuffle look almost like a Lego soldier with embossed (and glossy) Apple and iPod logos on its back. An army of Pack-equipped shuffles would make for a great image.
But looks aren’t its major selling point: when used with two fresh AAA batteries, it’s been advertised to add 20 hours of extra play time to an iPod shuffle’s initially promised 12. (For those interested: the Battery Pack cannot be used to recharge an iPod shuffle, but it can be used to power a completely battery-drained shuffle.) And as with all Apple battery claims of recent vintage, it exceeded its advertised performance: with both batteries starting from a full charge, the shuffle’s battery indicator was still green at the 32 hour mark. In fact, the combined shuffle and Battery Pack ran for an additional eight hours - 40 in total. This wasn’t a complete surprise given that we were getting 16-18 hour run times from our unassisted shuffle, but it’s great to see that Apple’s delivering more than it promises on both the iPod and accessory battery fronts.
And on that note, we were pleased to open its box and find that Apple includes a starter set of two AAA Energizer batteries inside - as with all AAA/AA battery adapters, you may get better or worse performance from other brands. Insertion and removal of batteries is fairly easy - a circular lock at the top of the pack is opened and shut with a fingernail or a coin, releasing a small and fully detachable battery compartment cover. You pop the AAAs in, one in each direction as indicated by small icons on the Pack’s body, and then close and lock the compartment up. It’s a little tricky for less than nimble fingers, but not too hard, and Apple’s lock and unlock logos on the Pack’s surface make the right positions simple to figure out.
Just as with Apple’s packed-in shuffle lanyard USB cap, the Pack also includes an integrated white fabric necklace so that you can wear the Battery-enhanced shuffle on your neck. “Can” might be a mild word, however, given that the lanyard necklace isn’t detachable, so you either wear it or bundle it up in your pocket. Given low small and lightweight both of the components are, neck-wearing proved entirely comfortable: still noticeably lighter than an iPod mini overall. However, we would have preferred that the lanyard be detachable, as we’ve increasingly developed a sense that there are right and wrong times for neck-wearing the shuffle, and we would really prefer not to have to cut off and replace these lanyards - this one and the shuffle’s Sport Case necklace - with something more versatile.
On a final note, we were a bit surprised with how late the Battery Pack arrived in stores. Though Apple stated that all five iPod shuffle accessories would be available by mid-February, release dates slipped and supplies have been short. Local Apple stores have repeatedly noted rapid sellouts of four of the five shuffle accessories, and this one has only just started to appear in customers’ hands. Apple added firmware support for the Pack in late February, and apparently began to deliver the actual accessories in late March, over a month behind schedule.
During the delay, we had plenty of time to think about the practical utility of any battery pack for the iPod shuffle. Back when iPods used to barely (or not) deliver their eight promised hours of longevity, battery packs were arguably a necessity for travelers. But as iPods have thankfully improved in this regard, extra playback time has become far more optional. The iPod shuffe’s 16-18 hour run time is enough for virtually any situation you can imagine. And an extra battery is even less necessary for the iPod shuffle because of its limited functionality: since you won’t be playing photo slideshows or Music Trivia, using equalizer settings or attaching battery-killing accessories like photo transfer devices, you’re not capable of draining iPod power by the most typical methods.
Thus, the iPod shuffle Battery Pack’s single purpose is to extend your music playback life, and for that, it works and works well. Whether you’ll really need it is another question. If you can answer yes, you’ll no doubt be satisfied by its price and virtually every dimension of its performance.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.