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.
Overall, even by the lowered expectations we normally have for Apple’s iPod shuffles, the third-generation iPod shuffle is a disappointment: it takes a major step backwards from its predecessors in usability, lacks in any type of visual distinctiveness, and doesn’t even offer the appealing price point of its predecessor. Interestingly, unlike its grandfather, which was criticized back in 2005 on features, but respected for its strong flash storage capacity for the price, the new iPod shuffle would be a waste of money if you wanted to use it as nothing more than a flash drive: you can get a 4GB storage device for $10 if you shop around. And even as a media player, it’s not a good deal: you can buy a full color-screened Sandisk music and video player for under $80 these days; even a low-capacity Microsoft Zune is in the ballpark. Add to that Apple’s requirement of proprietary new headphones or unreleased and not-coming-soon remote control accessories, and there’s absolutely no reason that we would recommend this device to our readers—or frankly, anyone—unless they are size-obsessed to a fault. It’s the lowest-rated iPod we’ve ever reviewed, and not by just a little: it’s comparable in folly to the Motorola iTunes phones we tried and disliked in 2005 and 2006.
Prior to his leave of absence from Apple, Steve Jobs commented that he was proud not only of the products the company has released, but also the ones that he cancelled before they saw the light of day, and damaged the company’s reputation. The third-generation iPod shuffle is one that should have stayed in Apple’s labs. It is at best a designer’s in-joke, a tip of the hat to those who once absurdly suggested that Apple would eventually release a buttonless piece of hardware, yet never actually believed it would happen. So here’s your token applause, Apple: you’ve proved that you could make a device as fit for The Onion and Saturday Night Live as for more serious media. Now could you please go back to making easy to use devices that “the rest of us” will lust after?