Pros: So small and light. Easy to use. Good value.
Cons: No LCD screen, no 'wheel'.
The iPod Craze
The iPod Shuffle is the third completely different kind of iPod to come out in recent years (following the regular iPod and the iPod Mini...the iPod Photo is basically just the regular iPod with a color screen and the ability to show pictures). The Shuffle is by far the smallest and lightest of the iPods, but also can hold the least amount of music. Still, at 512 megabytes and 1 gigabyte, the iPod shuffle can hold hundreds of songs in the .mp3 (or apple's other formats like the iTunes music stores .acc format) music format, enough for hours of listening enjoyment.
The iPod Shuffle versus the regular iPod
I now own both an iPod Shuffle and a "regular" 40 gigabyte 4th generation iPod. People often ask why I would buy the Shuffle if I already had the other iPod. Well for me it was all about the size and price. I wanted an iPod that I could easily take running or to the gym; the regular iPod could certainly work for those purposes, but to me seemed a little bulky and cumbersome for exercising. I had been using another small mp3 player when I went to the gym, but it was old and hardly met my storage needs.
A Smaller Music Player
I decided on the iPod Shuffle because I liked my iPod so much. I was also addicted to iTunes (no doubt what Apple intended) and as everyone knows by now, songs you buy at the iTunes music store can only be played either using iTunes or on an iPod (since they are in the new .aac format instead of .mp3). This was a pretty smart move on Apple's part making it so anything bought on iTunes had to be played on an iPod (yes there are ways around it, such as burning the song to a CD and re-ripping it in mp3 format, but we won't go into that).
I bought the 512 megabyte version of the iPod Shuffle for $99. This price is important, as it is the only iPod that is available for under $100 (my regular iPod cost $399). For only $50 you can get double the capacity to 1 gigabyte in the exact same iPod Shuffle body, but I didn't see a need for having that much storage when I was just going to be using it for working out.
The 512 MB iPod can hold around 120 songs, more then enough for a weeks worth of working out. This is about 8 hours of music on a device that is, as advertised, about the size of a pack of gum. I have yet to run the battery all the way down, but I'm told it lasts for about 12 hours on a single charge, which is excellent, much better then the first generation iPods.
The iPod Shuffle is a flash memory-based music player. That means that unlike the other iPods, this one has no hard-drive inside. Instead all the songs are store on flash-memory, which are those memory stick you see at the store, the same things that go into your digital camercas and other equipment. Using flash eliminates the need for a hard drive, which can be heavy and slow. Instead the flash is instantaneous and incredibly light! You can literally have the iPod Shuffle in your pocket or around you neck (with the included lanyard) and not know you have it on you. Many experts are saying that flash will be the immediately future of storage technology. Unlike hard drives, flash doesn't skip (because there are no moving parts), is extremely small and light, and with falling prices just makes more sense, especially in portable music.
Ease of Use
The iPod Shuffle is extremely easy to use. When you remove the bottom cap you notice a USB port. This is not only how you get songs onto your iPod Shuffle, but also how the Shuffle charges itself. Using USB 2.0 technology, you can simply plug the Shuffle into a USB 2 port, and it automatically syncs with your iTunes software and it charges itself. If you don't have USB 2.0 ports there is additional equipment available to use your Shuffle, but with the additional cost of that equipment I'm not sure how much the Shuffle is worth a purchase. If you have purchased a computer recently however, you more then likely have USB 2.0 ports on it, and should be ready to go.
The iPod Shuffle gets its name from the "shuffle" feature on regular iPods and iPod Minis. These feature allows the iPod to randomly select songs it wishes to play. The Shuffle works by not only randomly playing songs, but it can also randomly put songs onto your Shuffle from iTunes. When you connect the Shuffle to your computer, a button in iTunes allows you to 'autofill' your iPod Shuffle. Hitting this button replaces any current songs on the Shuffle with random ones (this can be based on your recommendations, for example you have iTunes only fill it with random 'Rock' songs).
The major complaint about the Shuffle is that it has no LCD screen to see what you are listening to. I don't really view this as a problem since as I said I use it while I work out and don't look at the songs anyway. For people that have a problem with this lack of LCD screen though, I would definitely suggest an iPod Mini (which is a bit bigger but holds more and has the screen...and is of course more expensive).
There is also no 'scroll whell' or 'click wheel' on the iPod Shuffle. This is a favorite feature of iPod owners, but the Shuffle is just too small to have one. Instead it has buttons similar to the first generation iPod, the next song and last song buttons are on the left and right side, while the volume up and volume down buttons are on the top and bottom of a circle. In the middle of this circle is the play/pause button. Though it may not look as snazzy as the regular iPods, these buttons work perfectly for something like going to the gym, they are simple and smartly placed. You turn the Shuffle on and off in the back with a sliding button. Some people complain this is hard to use, but it really isn't. It has three positions, off, play in order, and shuffle. Yes, even on the iPod Shuffle you do have the option of playing songs in order. This is good if you want to put a single album on the Shuffle and listen to it, or likewise with a specfic playlist you have made on iTunes.
You can't get me to say anything bad about the iPod Shuffle. I realize some people have problems with it (mainly the lack of LCD screen) but it works absolutely perfect for what I use it for, going to the gym. To be honestly I quite often find myself now leaving the house with my iPod Shuffle instead of my regular iPod when going anywhere. The Shuffle is just so much smaller, and as I said you literally cannot even tell you have it on you. I'm not an audio expert, but the sound quality sounds great to me! Just as good as the regular iPod, and honestly I think just as good as any portable CD player I've ever listened to. I still can't believe that something as small as the iPod shuffle can hold what it used to take 6-10 CDs to hold in music. Apple has made another winner.
Rumors are flying about a 2 GB and 4 GB iPod Shuffle later this summer. Possibly even a flash-based iPod or iPod mini. Keep your ears open for these products as not only will they have to be taken into account when making a purchase, but they will also likely drive down the already low prices of the current iPod Shuffles.