Review: Apple iPod shuffle (Fourth-Generation)
Pros: A smarter, redesigned sequel to Apple’s entry-level iPod, containing the best features from prior iPod shuffle generations with relatively few and small compromises. Restored five-button control scheme is augmented by new VoiceOver and battery level button, while support for remote controls remains. New polished metal body may appeal to some users; size is nearly as small as one could expect a device with these features to become without compromising the usability of the button-based control system. Available in five different colors, each with a matching rear clip for easy wearing. Affordable.
Cons: Features are not competitive with rival products at the same price. Even slower than unimpressive predecessor for music and file transfers. Initial collection of colors is muted and somewhat dull by comparison with the best past iPod models; some may find the polished texture to be too slippery. Included USB cable is tiny. Only one storage capacity.
After a tough year and a half with the third-generation iPod shuffle, Apple has returned to form with the fourth-generation model—a less expensive, better-designed alternative that incorporates the features people liked from past models without unnecessarily tossing anything out in the process. While the new iPod shuffle is so familiar as to seem retrograded, its form factor is surely an improvement over anything that came before under the shuffle name, and moreover, the capacity and features it offers for $49 are the best Apple has ever assembled at this entry-level price point.
On the other hand, the reality is that even a good iPod shuffle is a tougher sell today than it was in years past—even its predecessors felt long in the tooth conceptually, as competitors continued to push much harder than Apple to improve their low-end offerings with conveniences such as screens and superior controls. It’s a sad fact that $50 can today purchase a 4GB device with a screen, integrated FM radio, and voice recording capabilities from a company such as SanDisk, whereas the same dollars buy a hobbled but “cute” 2GB player like this from Apple. It’s especially surprising that in order to get a screen and better features, your only iPod option is a full $100 more expensive, unless you’re willing to consider refurbished and/or discontinued models. With its comparable size, rear clip, and similar color offerings, the sixth-generation iPod nano feels more like the heir apparent to the iPod shuffle family than this model does; in an alternate universe, Apple might have killed this shuffle altogether and offered the new nano in a less capacious starting model for $99. It would have made a lot of sense.
But that hasn’t happened, and so for users who are looking for an iPod-branded device with a shiny new shell and familiar interface, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle is a solid buy—assuming that the new slate of colors and single 2GB capacity currently being offered meet your needs. Even though there have been more exciting colors, higher-capacity models, and more daring changes in past shuffle releases, the latest iPod shuffle has enough going for it to satisfy the many fans who told us last year that all they’d wanted was the prior model back. This new model is essentially the second-generation shuffle, but with better sound, a smaller and glossier body, and a couple of new interface frills, markedly improving from last year’s C-rated version, and thereby meriting our flat B rating and general recommendation. If this package of features is enough to satisfy your needs, we wouldn’t hesitate to point you in the new shuffle’s direction.