Review: Apple Computer iPod shuffle (Second-Generation)

Pros: Apple’s smallest and lightest iPod-branded audio player to date, featuring a strong and immediately eye-catching aluminum enclosure, rear clip, simple controls and indicator lights, plus an included dock for charging and computer synchronization. As with predecessor model, battery life continues to beat Apple’s estimated 12 hours by a nearly 6-hour margin, while transfer speeds have increased from first-generation version. Plays most audio files supported by other iPods. Now available in five colors – silver, blue, green, pink, and red – with a number of other versions previously released and discontinued.

Cons: Audio quality has dipped modestly from prior shuffle; not as clear with good earphones as other iPods. Unable to recharge or sync on the go without carrying around the included dock, as no USB plug is integrated. Must turn unit off and on to check remaining battery life. Price relative to performance is far below the standards of even the lowest-end iPod nano. Incompatible with virtually all past iPod accessories except headphones. iTunes no longer included, and must be downloaded.

Review: Apple Computer iPod shuffle (Second-Generation)

Includes Apple’s old, oft complained-about earphones rather than its newer, better ones.

Updated November 1, 2006: At the bottom of our earlier First Look at the second-generation iPod shuffle – original text from September 12, 2006 preserved below – there is now a collection of 25 unpacking and comparison photos of the new shuffle alongside its predecessor, as well as Apple’s iPod Radio Remote, and other current model iPods. Our full review is coming soon – for now, enjoy!

If you asked a thousand people early last year which iPod was likely to be the longest-lived – the iPod mini, iPod 4G, or iPod shuffle – virtually no one would have picked the shuffle. Yet roughly 22 months have passed since Apple rolled out its chewing gum pack-sized, screenless iPod, and only at the beginning of November, 2006 did the company officially replace it. Why has it taken so long, given that the shuffle was quite possibly the least buzzworthy iPod ever – the one that only barely resembled its increasingly powerful brothers? The answer is simple: in September, Apple CEO Steve Jobs disclosed that the shuffle had sold over 10 million units, one-sixth or -seventh of the iPod’s total installed base.

So, whether you loved the shuffle or hated it, there was a market for a small, inexpensive, low-capacity iPod, and for now, Apple has opted to continue to cater to that demand with a similar device rather than offering a lower-priced iPod nano. Enter the second-generation iPod shuffle ($79/1GB), which rather than radically improving upon its predecessor’s features merely shrinks them into a smaller package. If you’re expecting anything exceptionally new from the new shuffle, be aware up front: this is substantially the same screenless device as before, only in an aluminum chassis that occupies only half a cubic inch of volume. Apple calls it “the world’s smallest digital music player,” and if that’s wrong, no one noteworthy has yet disagreed.

Review: Apple Computer iPod shuffle (Second-Generation)

Because there’s relatively little new here from a functional standpoint – the new shuffle remains capable of playing audio files and storing data, nothing more – our comprehensive review is shorter than most, and more tightly focused on differences and new features than the facts you most likely already know. For additional details on the prior iPod shuffle, please see our earlier New Users’ Review and Power Users’ Review from January 2005. The second-generation shuffle is discussed in the pop-open sections below; just click on the “Click here” text to read the sections that interest you.

Review: Apple Computer iPod shuffle (Second-Generation)

Review: Apple Computer iPod shuffle (Second-Generation)

Updated January 30, 2007: Three months after the release of the aluminum second-generation iPod shuffle, Apple added four new colors – blue, green, pink, and orange – to the original silver model, creating the iPod family’s lowest-cost variety of color options to date. The company also quietly replaced the November 2006 shuffle’s outdated earphones with its newer, superior version, bringing them into line with all other shipping iPod models. We’ve added a new section, January 2007 New Colors and Earphones, to discuss these changes below.

Package (Click here for details.)

Body and Controls (Click here for details.)

Indicators, Battery, and Charging (Click here for details.)

Audio Performance (Click here for details.)

iTunes and Data Transfer Performance (Click here for details.)