The iPod shuffle has long been Apple's 'beginner iPod', introducing MP3 amateurs to the world of portable digital music. Its size and portability have also made it the go-to music player for exercise and activity.
Last year, however, saw Apple taking a step too far in the shuffle's simplicity, removing buttons altogether from the device and instead making use of the bundled headphones for controls. I found this extremely irritating as I was forced to make use of the low quality bundled headphones included and ditch my better third party alternative.
Thankfully, Apple has decided to include controls in this year's iPod Shuffle, meaning I can once again make use of my own headphones when out exercising. They have also retained the extremely clever VoiceOver technology found in last year's model which announces playlists and track names making choosing music without a screen relatively easy.
I tend to carry just about all my music with me, either on one of the older generation 120GB iPod Classics or crushed down to 128kbps on my iPhone. This made the initial 2GB included with the Shuffle relatively difficult to cope with. I spent a good while fussing over which songs to fill the it with. A few days passed and I found myself repeatedly listening to the same songs. This became so irritating that I decided to make use of iTunes autofill option, the concept of which a control freak such as myself struggles with. After this, however, the Shuffle came into its own. I got into the habit of re-filling the shuffle each day prior to my post-work jog and every evening was treated to a new selection of songs to run along to.
The new iPod shuffle is even smaller than its similar 2006 counterpart, so tiny, in fact, that misplacing it was irritatingly easy. Its size meant that it easily disappeared on my somewhat messy desk. Thankfully, however, I had a lovely bright pink brushed aluminium model which easily stood out once I searched for it. I would suggest keeping it either permanently tethered to your computer or attached to a gym bag or exercise clothes.
The iPod shuffle is currently the cheapest MP3 player that Apple makes, but this doesn't mean they have skimped on quality. The usual high grade materials and quality design found in any of the more expensive iPod touch or Nano models is retained. The clip on the back is stirdy enough to keep the MP3 attached to just about anything and the slightly larger controls are a welcome addition.
Apple have made the correct decision bringing back controls to the iPod shuffle. It can now return as the king of exercise MP3 players. But as I discovered the shuffle also works great as an alternative to a larger sized iPod touch or Classic. The restrictions applied to your music, coupled with its constant random selections of songs make it a great way to discover tracks that would have once normally been skipped. But all this depends on whether or not you are happy to maintain the shuffle by constantly emptying and filling it from iTunes. For those keen to keep as little contact with iTunes as possible then I would advise heading for a model providing more storage. But if you have the time to spare and aren't bothered by Apple's music program then the shuffle is definitely a more affordable and genuinely viable alternative.