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Apple iPod Shuffle (2nd Generation)

Diminutive player stumbles out of the gate but finishes strong By Kevin Schmitt

Back in junior high, I owned what I thought was the coolest gadget ever: a radio built into a pair of slim, Walkman-style headphones. The radio itself was the size of a postage stamp, and I postulated at the time that it wouldn't be too long before there were dime-sized "cassettes" that one could load into a playback device of a similar size. Lame visions of the future notwithstanding, I can finally declare my "dream" from 1986 to be a reality in the form of Apple's newest iPod Shuffle.

The hardware

Up to this point, I hadn't really ever considered buying an iPod Shuffle; after all, full-sized iPods had more than adequately filled my portable music and video needs so far. And really, how is one supposed to survive with a "mere" 1 GB/240 song capacity when one is used to having any song or video in one's collection instantly available? However, after having recently eschewed my increasingly-boring gym-based workout routine in favor of good, old-fashioned running, I quickly found my iPod video to be somewhat unwieldy while jogging around the neighborhood. The first generation Shuffles almost seemed like they would be worse than even a full-sized iPod, what with the lanyards and the spaghetti-like tangle of headphones, but the recently-introduced second generation models are a whole 'nother animal entirely. Tiny. Integrated clip. Seemingly more ruggedized. Cheap ($79 U.S.). And, to repeat, tiny. When Steve Jobs proclaimed it "impossibly small," he really wasn't kidding. Words don't adequately express to just how small the new iPod Shuffle is, so to employ the arithmetic of a commonly-used saying, here is the equivalent of 4000 words:

Figure 1: Even adding in all the packaging, it's hardly bigger than a full-size iPod.

Figure 2: Yes, that is my hand. And sorry, ladies?I'm already spoken for. Please try and contain your disappointment.

Figure 3: The new Shuffle seems to have borrowed something from the Apple Remote that ships with Apple's latest Intel-based Macs.

Figure 4: With only 319 more of the things on the right, I'd have enough for a second Shuffle.

I'm reminded a little of a line from Arthur, when the late Dudley Moore was explaining the size of the country his, shall we say, companion, was the "princess" of. To paraphrase, the iPod nano could kick the (bleep) out of the new Shuffle in a war. I'm talking small. Now, tiny is good, but tiny can also be bad. If you're prone to losing your car keys, chances are you'll eventually lose this. And the thought of how many G2 Shuffles will be put through the wash is mind-blowing.

But I digress. In addition to the diminutive size, the G2 Shuffle is noteworthy for ditching the white plastic iBook/MacBook-like finish in favor of the anodized aluminum finish found on G5s, Mac Pros, Titanium PowerBooks, MacBook Pros, and the latest iPod nanos. I've had my Shuffle bounced around a bit already with no visible scratches?yet. Welcome news, no doubt, for glossy finish iPod owners who have found that even breathing on it wrong will cause horrible gouges.

The Shuffle, as you might expect, is light on controls. The control pad on the face of the device has five buttons (play/pause, next, previous, volume up, and volume down), some of which pull double-duty. For instance, holding the play/pause button for three seconds will send the Shuffle into Hold mode, and tapping it three times doesn't return Dorothy to Kansas, but it will return you to the first song in the playlist.

Moving on, one edge of the Shuffle is home to a row of two switches and one tiny light (fig. 5):

Figure 5

The switches are of the on/off and shuffle/repeat variety, and as such are fairly self-explanatory. The light is a status indicator, blinking either red, orange or green in rapid succession like so much morse code. For example, you'll see a solid orange light when the unit is charging, you'll see a single green or orange blink with every touch of a control (depending on whether the Shuffle is in hold mode or not), etc. On the other edge is another identical status light, as well as the single point of interface for the new Shuffle: a headphone jack that doubles as the charging and syncing port. One of the reasons why the new Shuffle is so tiny is because Apple has rid it of the built-in USB port, so this could be a big minus if you're used to having your first-generation Shuffle look and act like any old thumb drive.

The last stop on our brief tour of the Shuffle is the back of the unit, where you'll find an integrated (and very handy) clip, the presence of which completely eliminates the need for lanyards or arm bands or whatever else the previous generation Shuffle had in its physical connection arsenal.

As far as what else is included in the box, the new Shuffle comes with a couple of other necessities. First, and most critically, you'll find a teeny-tiny little Dock for charging and synchronizing the Shuffle (fig. 6). And, of course, there's also a pair of the world-famous white iPod headphones.

Figure 6

I'm not sold on the Dock for a couple of reasons. One, for all of Apple's love of simplicity, wouldn't a plain old cable work well in this case? The Dock seems to be overkill. Second, it's pretty easy to break the connection between the Shuffle and the power connector, which can result in interrupted syncing or worse (more on that a bit later). Lastly, the Dock is so closely molded to the Shuffle's form that any bending of the product's single-hinge clip means that you may not even be able to plug the Shuffle into the Dock to charge or sync it, which is, as the kids say, not so good. I'm looking forward to the inevitable third-party cable that will plug directly into the Shuffle's combo port, at which point the Dock can go into a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

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