Pros: A smaller, lighter alternative to Apple’s included second-generation iPod shuffle Dock, capable of charging and synchronizing the shuffle without the need for additional plastic or cabling. USB 2.0 and power performance with the 2G shuffle are up to the standards of Apple’s original accessory.
Cons: Unsafe to connect to other iPods and headphone port-equipped devices, and shouldn’t be left around younger and/or experimental users who might attempt to do so. Hole in chassis is too small to be attached to virtually anything. No headphone plug protector.
Shortly after the second-generation iPod shuffle was announced – along with its own included and required Dock for charging and iTunes synchronization – a company called Thought Out announced KEY, a miniature dock consisting of a standard USB 2.0 connector and a copy of Apple’s proprietary shuffle headphone port plug. KEY’s purpose was to free you of the need to carry around Apple’s cable-laden alternative, reducing all of its functions to an attachment you could carry on a keychain. The hiccups? A price tag of “approximately $22” and a release date in “the early first quarter of 2007.”
Right now, the company is selling IncipioBud – previously called ShuffleBud – an similarly tiny dock alternative that includes most of the same functionality as KEY, yet sells for only $6. You still get a USB 2.0 connector on one side, and an Apple-like proprietary headphone plug on the other, here plated in gold. Connect it to your computer and it supports your second-generation shuffle while charging and/or synchronizing it; connect it to Apple’s iPod USB Power Adapter or an alternative and you can safely recharge without a Mac or PC. Not surprisingly, it performs these functions at the same speeds as the full-fledged Apple Dock, and as with the shuffle’s own Dock, you can’t connect IncipioBud’s USB plug to first-generation iPod shuffle-compatible audio accessories and expect to hear shuffle music.
Size and price are its major advantages. Laid on its side, the 1.85” by 0.63”, 0.2-ounce IncipioBud is only slightly longer than the second-generation shuffle, and otherwise shorter and thinner, making it substantially easier to pack or carry around than the shuffle’s included Dock. None of these accessories includes the obvious additional item – a travel-friendly headphone plug protector – that should be in each package, but considering that IncipioBud sells for around 1/5 the price of Apple’s replacement shuffle Dock, you could buy four extras with the left-over cash if you ever damage your first one.
Admittedly, IncipioBud’s design mightn’t match up to KEY’s, whenever it actually ships.
There’s a tiny hole in its plastic that appears to be ready to attach to something, but unlike the renditions of the keychain-ready KEY, Incipio’s hole is pin-sized, and not large enough to feed much through. Similarly, there are potential safety differences between these and Apple’s official iPod shuffle Dock. Whereas Apple’s official Dock incorporates physical protections – the custom-molded plastic surfaces in its docking well – designed to keep other iPods from being electronically damaged if they’re connected to the proprietary charging headphone port connector, IncipioBud doesn’t. We’ve been told in no uncertain terms that IncipioBud will fry any iPod other than the 2G shuffle, and most likely other devices as well, if connected to their headphone ports and USB power.
Does that sort of issue really matter? If you’re an adult with a decent memory, or a younger reader old enough to have purchased his or her own iPod shuffle, this probably won’t trouble you at all. But we’d hesitate to give IncipioBud to – or leave it around – a younger or otherwise experimental person who might want to see how it works with the headphone ports of other devices. Since the shuffle’s low price tends to attract lots of young users, and IncipioBud’s even lower price makes it a very attractive stocking stuffer accessory, we’d recommend that you exercise reasonable caution before making a purchase; Incipio should also provide an appropriate warning to any recipient.
When used as intended, IncipioBud is a small, convenient alternative to Apple’s second-generation iPod shuffle Dock, and one we’d certainly recommend to price- and space-conscious shuffle users.