Review: Ozaki iCommand Controller for iPod shuffle 3G
If you're amongst the many people who found Apple's third-generation iPod shuffle physically intriguing but a little too slender on, say, the ability to work with any pair of headphones you already owned, Ozaki's iCommand Controller for iPod shuffle 3G ($18) is here to help. It's not sexy, it's not cheap, and it's not ideal, but it gives new shuffle owners something they clearly lack right out of the box: the ability to use whatever headphones they want, along with three buttons that mimic the ones integrated into Apple's shuffle-specific Earphones with Remote.
iCommand is a plastic accessory that matches the shape but not the size of the third-generation shuffle, measuring roughly .32 inches thick—a hint more than the shuffle, clip-inclusive, but differently centered. It extends the shuffle’s top by an inch, then its width by about .12 inches, and doesn’t match the finish of the aluminum-bodied iPod. Dexim’s Shu-Lip USB adapter, the first third-party iPod shuffle accessory, was cosmetically a better match, though obviously for different purposes.
With iCommand on, the third-generation iPod shuffle’s 3.5mm headphone port is extended, up and down volume buttons are added to its left side, and a multifunction play/pause button is added to its right. Notably, the shuffle’s three-position power switch is covered in the process, as is its status light; you’ll need to remove iCommand to turn the shuffle on, off, or into randomized playback mode. This is really the device’s only major functional caveat, and you can decide for yourself whether its benefits outweigh the inconvenience.
Those benefits are clear. Ozaki’s volume and multifunction buttons work exactly as the ones on Apple’s new remote controls, such that the volume toggles adjust volume up or down, and the play/pause button can be tapped once to start or stop a song, twice to skip forward a track, thrice to skip backwards, and held down briefly to activate VoiceOver. iCommand’s top surface is flush, letting you connect even the largest of 3.5mm headphone plugs. For those who care, the buttons do work with late 2008 iPod nano, iPod classic, and iPod touch models, as well as the 2008 and 2009 MacBook and Pro computers with Apple’s remote- and mic-ready headphone ports. Ozaki doesn’t recommend iCommand for these products, but the electronic functionality is the same.
Sonically, iCommand’s headphone port is virtually indistinguishable from the one it extends: plugging in a pair of sensitive Ultimate Ears earphones, we could still hear the low static hiss and occasional click-like interference of the shuffle hardware that was evident in the unaccessorized headphone port, though these noises are just a hair lower than when the same earphones are connected directly to the shuffle, and inaudible when music is playing. Most users won’t notice any difference; it’s truly minute, and bascially drowned out whenever you’re listening to anything other than silence.
Is iCommand worth $18? To be entirely fair, we’ll answer that question this way: while we have been entirely open about the fact that we’re not fans of the third-generation shuffle’s lack of integrated controls, we have no issue whatsoever with an accessory that attempts to remedy that problem and restore headphone port compatibility with other headphones. That said, paying $18 for a far less than perfect implementation of that concept feels like a stretch to us: an ideal accessory wouldn’t block the device’s power switch and would either be a better physical match, or offer some additional functionality—waterproofing, protection—that isn’t here. iCommand does exactly what it promises to do, without frills; our view is that it will suffice for now, and hopefully be surpassed by other alternatives in the near future.