There's absolutely nothing to see here aside from the matte anodized aluminum finish of the Shuffle's casing.
Yet again, there's nothing to see here.
You guessed it - nothing here on the right either.
Finally - some features to describe! On the left, there's a 3-way switch here that turns the Shuffle Off, turns it on to play music in order, or turns it on to play music in shuffle mode. In the middle, there is a tiny status light, and on the right is the 3.5mm headphone jack.
As with the majority of the Shuffle, there are no features on the bottom.
As with the previous iterations of the shuffle, the back is dominated by a clip to allow you to easily attach the Shuffle to your clothing or a bag. This time around, the clip is made of polished stainless steel and it has the Apple logo etched into the center. Above the clip are labels for each position of the 3-way switch.
The Shuffle's battery is not user-accessible without disassembly.
The Shuffle comes with 2 accessories - a pair of headphones with an integrated remote and a USB cable to connect the Shuffle to a USB port on your computer through the headphone jack.
To test durability, we subject a device's screen and casing to a vicious attack by a common house key. The Shuffle has no screen so we were only able to test the casing and it performed admirably here, earning no lasting marks whatsoever. The only moving part on the Shuffle is its clip and it is very solidly installed with no play whatsoever side to side and up and down, and it's very strongly sprung to hold on tightly to whatever you clip it to. The Shuffle earns extra points here for its overall robustness compared to other more delicate devices we've seen.
The new Shuffle is a very plain device, featuring no ornamentation aside from the Apple logo on the back, which will generally be hidden from view during use as it is. Despite its lack of any adornment, it is sleekness personified with its minimalist design. We find the matte finish with the polished clip to add a little spice to be quite attractive, but it's still simple enough to not draw too much attention or embarrass anyone in a business setting.
At just 1.8 inches high, 0.7 inch wide, and 0.3 inch thick, the Shuffle is the smallest media we've reviewed and probably the smallest one we've ever seen in person anywhere. Weighing in at just 0.38 ounce, it's easy to forget that you're even wearing or carrying it. In fact, we're surprised that there's no warning on the box that it could be a choking hazard for small children and dogs given its near-microscopic size. Under our scoring guide, the Shuffle earns mega points here with its
The Shuffle can play back AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF file formats. Of course, there's no video or still image format compatibility since the Shuffle lacks a screen for any sort of visual playback.
**Physical Controls*** (5.5)*
The only physical control on the Shuffle's body is the 3-way switch to turn the shuffle off and set the playback mode. All other controls reside on the headphone's remote. Here, there are volume and up down buttons at both ends and in the middle is a button that offers several functions.
All of the buttons on the remote offer good tactile feedback but not much travel and they're a bit small and easy to fat-finger. The sliding button on the Shuffle is a bit hard to catch unless you use a fingernail, but once you do get it, it slides firmly with noticeable a noticeable stop point in the middle to set it to play in order in between the off and shuffle positions.
The Shuffle has no screen and earns no points in all screen-related sections.
The Shuffle does not have any built-in speakers to allow music playback without headphones.
The Shuffle connects to a USB port on your computer through its 3.5mm headphone jack, and a special cable for this is included in the box. This is a proprietary connector, which we don't like since it just makes it harder to find a replacement should you need to replace as they aren't a common cable sold in any old store.
The audio jack is a standard 3.5mm size, which is great since this offers the most flexibility in options if you want to buy or use another pair of headphones with the Shuffle. There is one significant caveat to this, however - there are no other headphones currently on the market that have the playback controls on a remote that will work with the Shuffle. Rumor has it that Apple will release an adapter with playback controls to allow you to use other headphones, but there's no official word on if and when this will happen. 3rd-party vendors may come up with a solution, but at the moment, the full Shuffle experience is quite limited unless you use the included headphones, which we've generally found to be awful with every other iPod model.
The Shuffle comes in only one size with 4GB of storage. When we first connected the Shuffle to our computer, it showed 3.77GB of actual capacity. Apple advertises that this amount of storage is enough room for 1,000 songs, though the number of songs that can fit on it really depends on the format and bit rate of the music files you store on it. Regardless, this amount of storage should be more than sufficient for a device geared for use during physical activity, such as running and working out at the gym. If you do manage to get 1,000 songs on to the Shuffle, it would take nearly 60 hours for you to listen to every song assuming the average song length is 3.5 minutes. Unless you have workouts that last days, the Shuffle's internal storage should be more than enough for you.
The Shuffle does not have an expansion card slot to add additional storage.
To test battery life, we fully charge a media player's battery, load test music onto its internal storage, set it to play in repeat mode at the highest volume level, and time how long the battery lasts. Apple claims playback time of 10 hours for the Shuffle, which sounds pretty impressive for a device smaller than many USB thumb drives. As we often see, the Shuffle lasted less than Apple's claimed time, dying an ungainly death at 8 hours and 44 minutes. This is good enough to last you for an entire work day, but be prepared to charge it if you want to enjoy your tunes into the evening and beyond.
**Basic Playback*** (6.0)*
As previously mentioned, all playback controls are on the remote incorporated into the included headphones, with only a simple 3-way switch on the Shuffle itself to set the playback mode or turn it off. You adjust the volume with the up and down buttons on the ends of the remote and the center button offers navigation control. A single click will pause and play music, a double click will advance to the next track, and a triple click will jump back to the beginning of the current track or skip to the previous track if you do it before 6 seconds have elapsed in the current song. Pressing and holding the center button will fast-forward through the current track, while triple-clicking and then holding will rewind the current track.
Unlike the Shuffle's larger sibling, the iPod Nano, there is no hold switch to avoid accidental playback control input. With all of the controls on the headphones, there's no worry in accidentally pressing a button the Shuffle itself when you put it in your bag or pocket.
These are a lot of button click combinations to remember at first, though it's easy to get used to after a short time with the Shuffle. We can't help but think that it's a little more cumbersome than it really needs to be compared to a device with actual buttons that can accomplish all of these functions so easily.
[Photo: screen cap of controls]
This center button on the remote also controls the VoiceOver technology to tell you the name and artist of the current song as well as let you select a playlist to listen to you. This is where the new Shuffle differs vastly in its operation from the previous version that had physical buttons and a visual interface to aid in navigation. On the new Shuffle, a long press on the remote's center button will prompt an announcement of the current song's title and artist. Pressing and holding the center button will prompt a short beep followed by a recited list of the playlists saved to the Shuffle, during which you can skip forward and backward using the volume up and down buttons, and then select one by pressing the center button again.
This is pretty neat functionality in a media player that we haven't encountered before. It sounds awkward on its face and we expected it to be clumsy and slow to respond, but it's not. Announcements of song and playlist information happen quickly and, despite the robotic sound of the voice, are completely intelligible. VoiceOver makes the shuffle even more amenable to use during physical activity since it avoids the need to focus on a display screen to control playback. We can envision this as a major selling point to those who want a media player than can play their music and not be a distraction to use when engaged in other activities.
As with the previous Shuffle, a simple switch offers 2 playback modes - shuffle or play in order.
Without a screen, navigation on the new Shuffle is pretty limited to what you can do with the VoiceOver feature and the in-line remote. In order to use VoiceOver, you must first enable this feature in iTunes on your computer when setting up the Shuffle. After it is loaded, pressing and holding the control button the headphone's remote will read a list of the available playlists to you, and you simply press the control button again after hearing the playlist you want to select. Pressing and holding the control button during music playback and then clicking twice or three times to skip forward and backward will allow you to hear song/audiobook information and navigate this way as well.
Using the in-line remote on the headphones is easy, though the combination of clicks required to get around is slightly more tricky than clicking a button to follow on-screen menus as you'd do on just about every other media player. We test how easy it is to navigate by playing a test song and them timing how quickly we can skip to a specific test song further down in the playlist. On the Shuffle, skipping to the next song requires a quick double-click on the remote button. Of course, skipping several songs requires several double clicks in a row and it's easy to lose track of where you are unless you've thoroughly memorized the order of the songs in your playlist. This is where VoiceOver comes in handy, though this slows down your navigation as you pause to do a single long press on the remote button to hear the name and artist of the current song.
Performing our navigation test on the Shuffle took a whopping 31.79 seconds - the lack of a screen to see where you are in a playlist really makes it hard to get to a specific song. VoiceOver helps you along, but it's still more time-consuming than having a display to give you more information as you navigate.
The Shuffle offers no sorting options on the media player itself - you can only do this in iTunes before syncing your music to the Shuffle.
The only Search function available on the Shuffle is the VoiceOver technology that recites the names of song/podcast/audio book titles, artists, and playlists, allowing you to choose from them with a click. Other than this, there is no other way to search through your music.
Playlists cannot be created directly on the Shuffle. You can only create them in iTunes on your computer and sync them to the Shuffle.
Just like the previous version, the 3rd-generation Shuffle is as simple as it gets without any on-board equalizer or filter settings. You can choose 2 options in iTunes on your computer - Sound Check and choosing a maximum volume limit. Sound Check ensures all songs are played at the same volume level. Choosing a maximum volume limit is probably most useful for parents who want to make sure their children don't listen to music too loudly. Since both of these options can only be set in iTunes and not on the Shuffle itself, they earn less points here than they would otherwise.
Photos can only be loaded on to the Shuffle if you enable Disk Mode within iTunes while it's connected to your computer. Then, you can drag and drop photos on to it like a USB thumb drive. However, you won't be able to view photos on the Shuffle itself since it has no screen, and the only thing you can really do is transfer the photos you've saved to another computer. The Shuffle, in all its iterations, was never intended to be a portable display unit for photos.
The Shuffle has no podcast menu or features on the device itself. The only way to get podcasts on to it is to use iTunes on your Mac or PC to subscribe to podcasts. Then, you can choose which podcasts are synced to the Shuffle. You can also create a playlist of podcasts and sync them in this way to the Shuffle. This might be the easiest way to listen to podcasts on the Shuffle if you like to listen to them in a certain order and want to separate them a bit from your music.
The Shuffle is not capable of recording audio.
How a media player performs in terms of audio quality is an important consideration for many, and we test multiple aspects of audio performance to give you this information before you spend your hard-earned money. The first test we do evaluates the media player's frequency response, measuring how accurately it plays back frequencies relative to their actual volume. We test this by loading a specific test file containing sounds at a variety of known frequencies and playing it back while it's connected to our testing system. The testing software analyzes the resulting output from the media player and displays results on a graph. Perfect performance would manifest as a smooth straight line, showing that all frequencies were played back at an equal volume. No player is perfect, so we usually see some variation in this graph showing that some frequencies are played more loudly than others.
The 3rd-generation Shuffle performs fairly well here, its performance on both channels making relatively straight lines up until the very high frequencies where they begin to play back more loudly than they should. Relative to the previous Shuffle model that scored 8.17 points in this area, the new Shuffle's performance isn't quite as good.
Media players are susceptible to distortion, which is when sounds are distorted from their original wave form during playback. Distortion can be caused by poor internal processing in the media player's electronics or even cheap components that simply don't do a good job to begin with. Similar to the testing we do for frequency response, we load a test file with known sounds on it and play it back while the player is connected to our testing system. The testing system analyzes the output and graphs what the media player puts out compared to the known sounds of the test file.
Perfect performance would manifest as a perfectly straight line at the 0 value on the y-axis, showing that all sounds played showed no variation whatsoever from the known test file. We never see perfect performance, however, and don't expect it.
In this test, the Shuffle does well, showing minimal peaks above 0 along the y-axis, indicating that distortion is fairly low though it increases slightly at higher frequencies. With this performance, only keen-eared audiophiles will hear distortion and the rest of us won't notice anything wrong at all. The new Shuffle out-performs the previous Shuffle, which scored 6.30 points in this test.
Media players put out sound in stereo and should accurately play back audio in their respective correct channels for each of your ears. Not all media players do this well, of course, and sometimes make mistakes in playing back audio on the wrong channel. We test for this by feeding audio into each channel using a standard test file and then measure the media player's output to see if it plays back the audio on the correct channels. When an audio is played back on the wrong channel, this is called cross talk. Here, the Shuffle's cross talk was measured at -65.30 dB. This -65.3 dB is a relative number indicating the ratio of cross talk heard in the 'off' channel relative to the level in the 'correct' channel. In the end, this means that the Shuffle has little cross talk and performs well in this test, even beating out the previous Shuffle, which scored 7.53 points, by a wee bit.
The headphones that come with a media player don't usually have the best quality, but before you upgrade to a new pair, you should know whether or not the media player can put out enough power to drive them. Higher-quality headphones usually have higher impedance, meaning that they require more power to operate. We measure a media player's output power to give you an idea of its ability to drive more power-hungry headphones. The Shuffle puts out 16.24 milliwatts, which is low but not entirely surprising for such a small device. Unfortunately, this means the Shuffle won't be able to power headphones that have a high impedance, so consider the power requirements of any 3rd-party headphones you look to buy for use with the Shuffle in the future.
Noise is a specific term in the audio world and indicates the level of other sounds made by the electronics of the media player that are not actually part of the audio it's playing back. To test the amount of noise a media player puts out, we measure the ratio between the audio it puts out using a known test file compared to the noise the player generates as it plays back that file. The lower the value, the less noise a media player puts out. Here, the Shuffle put out -98.80 dB. Like the Cross Talk test result, this is a relative number to show the amount of correct sound put out by a media player compared to the noise it puts out. The previous Shuffle put out -89.12 dB in this test, which is a poorer result since it is a larger relative number, and the new Shuffle beats it here.
As we've mentioned, the headphones included with a media player aren't usually of the highest quality, and we almost always recommend that you purchase a better pair to use with your new media player to get better audio quality. We do test the headphones that come with each media player to see how they perform since most people will use them at first or even for the entire time they own the media player. With the Shuffle, you're pretty restricted when it comes to better headphones at the moment since there isn't anything on the market at the time of this review not made by Apple that offers the in-line playback controls necessary to operate it. If you're looking to upgrade your headphones as soon as you get the Shuffle, you'll need to exhibit a little patience to wait for an adapter or for headphones from a 3rd-party manufacturer that include the controls needed.
As we find with most players, the Shuffle can put out sound better than the included headphones can play back, so you will be better served with higher-quality headphones, whenever this option becomes a possibility...
The Shuffle has no wireless connectivity and earns no points in this area.
The Shuffle has no built-in music client through which you can download or purchase music directly on the device, so it earns no points here.
Without any wireless connectivity, the Shuffle cannot stream audio or video.
As with all iPods, the Shuffle syncs with your computer via iTunes. If you don't already have iTunes installed on your computer, it's a free download from Apple's site, available here. When the Shuffle is connected to your computer, it will appear on the Devices list in the source pane on the left. Clicking on it will show you a menu with 3 tabs in the main pane to the right. The 2nd and 3rd tabs allow you to select the music and podcasts to sync with the Shuffle. For music, you can choose to sync all music, though this will only work well if your library is small enough to fit on the Shuffle.
The AutoFill feature that was a primary synchronization option with previous Shuffle models is still there, though it will only become available if you choose to manually manage the music on the Shuffle, foregoing the automatic synchronization.
Syncing goes quickly with the Shuffle. We time how long it takes to sync our standard testing playlist, which loaded onto the Shuffle in 54.3 seconds, a respectably fast time.
You should know that you must upgrade to iTunes 8.1 to sync your music with the new Shuffle - if you don't have this version up front, you will be asked to download it once you connect the Shuffle to your computer.
Despite the bump to 8.1, there are no major functionality changes to iTunes - it is still the same friendly and all-in-one sync machine for your portable Apple media devices that is easy to use and fairly straightforward. It doesn't quite offer us as much control over syncing or library management as we'd like, but it's still quite functional and sufficient for most users.
iTunes will automatically update your library and smart playlists when new music is added, and those changes will be automatically reflected on your Shuffle when it's synced unless you have chosen to manually manage your music. iTunes supports the same file types that the Shuffle does, so you won't encounter any issues where you can play a music file in iTunes that won't play on the Shuffle. With no wireless connectivity, there are no other syncing options that will free you from the need to carry the included USB cord when you travel.
Many people have a love/hate relationship with iTunes - it limits library management options for advanced users but is the only way to sync your Apple portable media devices, which is blessedly easy to do with it. The recently-added Genius feature, which will put together a custom playlist for you that is similar to a target song you've chosen, is neat but doesn't do anything for the Shuffle, unless you create such a playlist on your desktop and then sync it to your Shuffle. Overall, though, iTunes can do it all for most people, taking the lead on organizing your entire library for you and going as far as acting as a full-featured media player for music, audio books, and video, as well as acting as the portal to the iTunes music store where you can buy a wide variety of media to add to your library. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darned good and there is something to be said for how it streamlines the media consumption experience for many users.
Without a screen to provide a visible interface, the Shuffle earns no points here.
As a bare-bones player with no display, the Shuffle has no PIM capabilities whatsoever, earning it zero points in this entire section.
Look elsewhere if you need to keep track of your schedule since the Shuffle turns a blind eye to your calendaring needs.
The Shuffle doesn't care what you need to get done - the only thing it wants you to do is listen.
The only thing worth mentioning here is that the Shuffle can act as a USB thumb drive to shuttle documents back and forth between computers if you enable Disk Mode. However, this functionality doesn't earn it any points here as we only consider the ability to view and/or edit documents on the device itself.
While there are many other games for other iPod models, the Shuffle is left out in the cold with no screen to provide the necessary interaction for just about every game out there.
The Shuffle is a one-trick pony and can't do anything beyond the functions it comes with out-of-the box.
Move along to the next page, folks - nothing to see here!
At its heart, this new Shuffle is exactly the same as its predecessors - it's a small, display-less iPod that will play back your music unerringly as you run, skip, and jump through life. It doesn't promise to do anything else beyond that, but what it does do, it does well. The predominant snazzy new features of this Shuffle are its size and the VoiceOver technology that adds some navigation options that were heretofore unavailable. We're not quite sure if anyone absolutely needed anything smaller than the last Shuffle model since it was already pretty tiny, but if you just couldn't fit that model into that vestigial coin pocket in your favorite pair of jeans, this latest Shuffle will be your new BFF. If you were frustrated that you couldn't navigate different playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks on previous Shuffle models, the new Shuffle's VoiceOver feature has answered your prayers. Other than that, we can't necessarily recommend that anyone with the last Shuffle mode upgrade to the new model, particularly since its audio performance isn't drastically better and its battery life isn't as good. It's definitely sleek and über-small but it doesn't completely knock our socks off.
Meet the tester
Marianne Schultz is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email