A few weeks ago, I finally received the iPod Shuffle that I ordered from Apple. I’ve already written about why I bought it, but in short I felt that it would complement my 20GB iPod well, with its tiny size and respectable 512MB capacity being more than enough for walks and runs.
I’ve used my Shuffle enough in those weeks to have given it a good appraisal. At risk of rendering the rest of this review superfluous, I can say that I’m glad I bought it. It’s not perfect, but it is worth £69.
The first thing that struck me when I saw the Shuffle was its size. Being something of an Apple follower, I knew very well that it was ‘no larger than a stick of gum’ and lighter than one to boot. However, on actually seeing and holding the Shuffle in person, my first thought was, ‘Is that it?’. Not only is it tiny, but it has practically no controls apart from the standard play/rewind/fast-forward and volume controls. On the back is a slider that lets you select between normal play and shuffled play, but that’s it. No screen, no equalizer, no radio.
After mucking about with the lanyard that comes with the Shuffle and mulling over exactly how stupid I would look wearing it around my neck outside (verdict: not as stupid as you might think, but still far from cool) I got around to putting some music on it. As I’ve said before, the Shuffle is basically a very well designed USB memory stick that plays music, so to load music, you just plug it into a USB port.
Unfortunately, due to the physical dimensions of the Shuffle, I had to unplug some other cables to get it in. This is not particularly convenient but the same problems exist for all other similar players and memory sticks. Loading up music is typically easy using iTunes, although unusually you have to manually click a button called ‘Autofill’ on iTunes every time you want to wipe your current songs stored on the Shuffle with a new set.
Listening to music is when you realise exactly how small the Shuffle is. While people, including myself, were initially impressed by Apple’s idea to push the Shuffle as something you wear around your neck with a lanyard, I think it ultimately detracts from its main asset – its size. One way to put it is that there is no pocket too full for the Shuffle. Even if your jeans are weighed down with wallets, phones, PDAs and keys and you have resigned yourself to either listening to no music or wearing a belt clip, there will still be room for the Shuffle.
Another way to put it is that it’s so light and small, you don’t notice it’s there. This is particularly important when exercising. On my runs in Oxford and London, I’ve seen many people who are perfectly happy to run around holding iPods, CD players and even CD wallets in their hands. For my own part, I can’t stand any kind of excess mass on me as I run; I did try running with my 20GB iPod once, clipped onto my shorts, but it upset my rhythm and I rapidly became annoyed. I’ve now gotten to the point where I’ve stopped wearing my watch because it was too distracting, so I wasn’t optimistic about the Shuffle making the cut.
Of course, it did. The Shuffle weighs less than the key I take with me when running, and if I stick it in my pocket and run the headphones inside my T-shirt, the only impact it makes is to generate music.
When I first took Shuffle running, I’d filled it with a random high-rated selection of songs. This turned out to be a really awful idea, since I ended up with a mishmash of good but entirely unsuitable songs. Without any proper screen or navigation on the Shuffle, the only thing I could do was to repeatedly fast-forward in the hope that I would eventually stumble across an appropriate song. This almost put me off taking the Shuffle running, but I decided to give it another try. This time, I manually loaded it up with appropriate (and approriately-arranged) songs and I was rewarded with a more enjoyable and noticeably faster run. Specifically, I normally run 10k in about 45 minutes when exercising, but this time I managed it in 43 minutes. The third time, 42 minutes. Clearly a big improvement for my motivation.
As for the 512MB storage, it’s more than enough for my purposes. In these times of multiple-gigabyte mp3 players that can hold thousands of songs, the Shuffle 512MB with its 125 song capacity looks positively crippled. Then again, 125 songs will last for over six hours – in other words, long enough to keep even the slowest marathon-runner entertained, and that’s just if you don’t repeat any songs. The essential thing to remember, however, is that this really only works if you select your songs intelligently. You can do this manually or by setting up a playlist of high-rated genre-specific songs that you Autofill the Shuffle from, but if you don’t, you may find yourself fast-forwarding through a bunch of songs you don’t want to listen to.
This doesn’t matter quite as much if you just want to listen to some music on a walk to the shops, another task which the Shuffle is eminently suitable for, and probably one that more people care about than running. Still, the single thing that’s impressed me about the Shuffle is how it’s sped my running up by 7% and made it more enjoyable, and I’m perfectly happy to spend £69 for that.