Review: Apple iPod shuffle (Third-Generation)
Pros: Apple’s smallest, lightest iPod yet, and first iPod shuffle with remote control functionality. Offers modestly better transfer speeds and audio quality than prior shuffle, replaces prior dock with simpler USB sync and charge cable. Adds VoiceOver feature to let you switch playlists, identify certain tracks, determine battery levels. Fall 2009: Now available in six total colors, and either 2GB or 4GB capacities.
Cons: Needlessly and seriously complicates controls by switching to a buttonless body, which cannot be controlled without Apple headphones or not-yet-manufactured third-party proprietary remote control solutions; presently next to useless with car or home stereos. Confusing interface will be hard for many users to totally grasp and use. Poor value as either a 4GB media player or 4GB flash drive. Very slow at file transfers by current iPod standards. Battery power diminished considerably from prior model. Boring design.
“Unpredictable” is the only word we can use to describe Apple’s recent history of battery tweaks to iPods and iPhones: while there was previously a trend in favor of ever-improving run times in new models, and the company has unquestionably made its devices more power-efficient, it has in the last year unfortunately sacrificed real performance gains in order to achieve marginal size and cost reductions. The iPhone 3G, fourth-generation iPod nano, and third-generation iPod shuffle are all examples of recent Apple devices that fall behind their predecessors in important measures of battery life rather than improving upon them.
The first- and second-generation iPod shuffles were both touted by Apple as offering 12-hour audio battery life—notably, equivalent to the full-sized iPods and more than the iPod minis that were available at the first shuffle’s launch—yet they actually did better: the first one ran for 16-18 hours when it was fresh out of the box, and the second-gen model ran for nearly 18 as well. This time, Apple has dropped from a promised 12 hours down to 10, noting that its tiny lithium polymer battery will fully charge in three hours and reach 80% of capacity in two. Interestingly, the entire shuffle becomes hot rather than just mildly warm to the touch when it is being recharged, though not scaldingly so.
While there’s some good news to report—the new battery does exceed Apple’s performance estimates—it definitely has taken a hit relative to the prior model. We loaded two shuffles with different mixed-format test playlists, set them to 50% volume using the iTunes volume limitation feature, and hit play. Even with occasional VoiceOver interactions to check their batteries, one ran for 11 hours and 45 minutes, the other 13 hours and 5 minutes, for an average run time of 12 hours and 25 minutes. While this is an impressive feat given the new shuffle’s small size and battery, there’s no doubt that it lags significantly behind both of the prior shuffles in longevity, and gets 18.5 hours less music play time from a charge than the fourth-generation iPod nano. Even past shuffle owners should expect to have to recharge this one more frequently than its predecessors.
Though they were mentioned in the sections above, two quirks of the battery system merit repeating here: first, actually checking battery life is a pain, as it requires two quick flicks of the shuffle’s tiny metal top switch, and second, the status messages we received were sometimes contradictory: VoiceOver would tell us at the same time that the battery was at 50% and 1-10% of capacity. This is far from Apple’s best past standards of either battery performance or status indication.