Review: Apple iPod shuffle USB Cable (3rd Generation)
Historically, Apple's iPod shuffles have been -- by far -- the least popular for dedicated first- and third-party accessories, owing as much to the lack of user interest in augmenting the almost disposably-priced models as to their incompatibility with almost all of the add-ons developed for other iPod models. Synchronization cables and docks have always appeared alongside every new model, however, and so the third-generation shuffle now has its first two accessories: Apple's iPod shuffle USB Cable ($19) and Dexim's dock Shu-Lip ($16). While neither offering is a great value for the dollar, both may appeal to certain iPod shuffle users, anyway.
The official iPod shuffle USB Cable ($19) box appears as if it was assembled more to justify a minimum Apple Store accessory price than to offer real value to consumers. Third-generation iPod shuffle buyers know that the model comes packaged with a short 45-millimeter (1.6”) cable with a full-sized USB plug at one end and a tapered, shuffle-matching 3.5mm headphone port plug at the other, all in a combination of silver metal with gray and white plastics. Rather than selling a replacement for this cable for $5, Apple instead packages together a 45-millimeter cable and a 1000-millimeter (39”) one; the box thus should really be called “iPod shuffle USB Cables.” The shorter one may work better for some users, particularly those with laptops or machines that have front-facing USB ports, while the longer one provides more than enough distance to reach to the back of a floor-mounted computer or a desk-mounted monitor. It’s no surprise that they charge and sync the iPod shuffle, no more, no less, and work exactly as expected.
Shu-Lip takes another approach, and one that early rendered images suggested would be a little different from how it actually turned out. The idea, cribbed from companies such as Incipio (iPod shuffle 2G), was to radically reduce the size of the USB connector into something only a little larger than a USB plug. Add it to the third-generation shuffle, and you have a complete cable-less docking, charging, and syncing solution with a footprint similar to the typical flash drive. Dexim’s twist is that Shu-Lip has an aluminum body—adding to its expense—and expands the shuffle’s width rather than matching it. It crowds the USB port that it sits in, which can become an issue if the USB ports on your computer are really close together, as in the latest metal MacBooks, but isn’t a problem if they’re further apart or partially unoccupied, as on Apple’s older machines and Cinema Displays.
The challenge with many computers is, however, the same: as Apple anticipated with the 1000mm cable, the need for a connector that’s shorter and arguably more easily lost than the one included with the shuffle isn’t as great as for one that’s longer. Laptop users and those with easy access to front-mounted USB ports on desktop machines will therefore find Shu-Lip appealing, but those with only rear-mounted USB ports will not. It’s also worth a brief note that contrary to Dexim’s current advertising, Shu-Lip actually mounts the shuffle upside-down in a USB port, with its shirt clip facing upwards, a minor detail that some users may like and others won’t. We don’t really care, and you probably don’t, either.
Due as much to pricing as anything else, both Apple’s and Dexim’s solutions are worthy of only limited recommendations: Incipio had the right idea last generation with its $6 IncipioBud, which hit the right price point for something as simple as an iPod shuffle sync dock, while both Apple and Dexim have come up with alternatives that look nice enough but are just too expensive given the value they add. At press time, if you’re looking for a replacement or second USB connector for the third-generation shuffle, you don’t have many other options, so unless you really love either of these designs and are willing to pay a premium for them, it might be worth holding off for less expensive or more appealing alternatives to appear.