Review: Apple iPod shuffle Dock
Pros: An iPod shuffle Dock that perfectly matches the design of Apple’s smallest iPod, holding the shuffle upwards on a table so that its status indicator lights and controls are visible. Extends the distance between the iPod shuffle and computer.
Cons: No line-out audio port, which limits the Dock’s utility; less need to have the iPod shuffle vertical than its predecessors; USB extension cords are less expensive.
Though the comparison isn’t perfect, iPod shuffles may be to Apple Computer what razors are to Gillette: a way to sell accessories. In Gillette’s case, the accessories are far more profitable razor blades and shaving cream, and in Apple’s case, the accessories are Docks, power chargers, battery packs, cases, armbands, and iTunes Music Store downloads. If the initial purchase is good and cheap enough, few people will gripe about the prices of add-ons.
The newly-released iPod shuffle Dock ($29.00) is a fascinating accessory: undeniably useful to a number of people, it will be viewed by others as overpriced and of trivial value, just like Apple’s previous Docks. In our view, the shuffle Dock may not be as useful as its predecessors, but it’s still potentially worthwhile.
Each shuffle Dock consists of three parts: a white glossy plastic flat surface with the same footprint and gray rubber stabilizing bottom as earlier Docks, a plastic-covered top-mounting USB 2.0 port of the same dimensions as the iPod shuffle’s bottom, and an almost four-foot white USB 2.0 cable permanently attached to the rear of the port. The shuffle Dock’s base is dramatically thinner than older Docks; but its top USB port stands taller than those Docks by a fair margin.
Interestingly, its predominantly green packaging matches the iPod shuffle’s box, rather than the white boxes of earlier iPods and accessories. An amusingly simple instruction pamphlet is included alongside a considerably thicker warranty booklet, both translated into multiple languages. And the Dock itself comes sealed in a white plastic bag; no physical padding or packing materials are used inside the box.
Each previous iPod Dock served three purposes: first, it cradled the inserted iPod, holding it upright on a gentle angle so that its face would be visible to a user; second, it provided pass-through access to the iPod’s Dock Connector port without laying the iPod on its back; and third, it provided a line-out access port to the iPod’s cleanest audio signal – the one that couldn’t be reached without the Dock or a competing peripheral. As a consequence, though many people received Docks with their iPods, some even purchased second and third Docks to plug into their home stereo systems. The iPod photo Dock added another feature - a S-Video port - so that the iPod photo could recline while connected to a medium-resolution monitor or television display.
The iPod shuffle dock only serves two purposes. It still cradles the iPod shuffle, holding it straight up in the air rather than on a gentle incline. And thanks to an integrated white USB cord, it removes the need to plug your shuffle directly into your computer’s USB port. It neither provides a Dock Connector pass-through port nor line-out audio access – the former no surprise, but the latter somewhat of a disappointment. Unlike old Docks, the shuffle Dock can’t serve as an interface between your iPod and stereo system. But when it plugs into your computer - surprise - it works as promised, permitting the shuffle to work flawlessly from a distance.
Seeing the iPod shuffle’s face isn’t quite as important as seeing any other iPod’s: the small status indicator lights on front aren’t going to tell you much more than whether the shuffle’s playing or transferring data, and since there’s no screen or remote control, you won’t be switching tracks from a distance, either. At best, the Dock lets you more easily monitor the shuffle’s rear battery status indicator light, assuming that you turn the unit around so that its cable side faces you.
But the USB extension feature will be useful for eMac, iMac G3, notebook and other computer users whose ports are too close together to plug the shuffle directly in. While we know that readers will surely point out that a generic male-to-female USB extension cable can be had for $2-5, and that Belkin sells a nice-looking $19.95 cable through Apple’s online store, this is the only Apple-branded option of its kind, and is designed in an iPod shuffle-specific fashion, besides.
Even when Apple dropped Docks from the boxes of the fourth-generation iPods, we missed having them around, and were glad to see them included (and improved) with iPod photo hardware. The iPod shuffle dock isn’t as useful as 3G, 4G, mini, or photo Docks, but we still want to have one on our desks anyway for the same reasons as before: we like to see our iPods and hate to see them lying on their backs. It’s not an exciting product, but still a recommendable one from our standpoint, especially good for those who need a USB extension and don’t mind paying a bit extra for a shuffle-matching design. Though we agree with our readers that it would have been nice to get a USB power charger in the box for the same price, given the aggressively low prices of iPod shuffles, we can’t knock Apple much for making up its margins on the razor blades.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.