Back in the day, working out to music meant lugging around a handheld CD player, which was great if you were a ninja in training, because you had to step ever-so-lightly to prevent it from skipping. Alas, not being a ninja, my workouts were accompanied by short bursts of my favorite songs followed by long moments of silence as the laser on the CD player tried to find where it had been prior to being interrupted by my plodding Neanderthal feet.
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Things were a little bit easier with tapes, but as a fading technology, it was hard to find the songs I wanted on tape, and just as cumbersome trying to record them. Not to mention the inconvenience of carrying tape players, those trendy Velcro hand straps not withstanding.
I’ve had my iPod Shuffle (generation 2) for nearly four years now, and as often I use it and marvel at its convenience, I’ve never taken the time to write a review on why I like it so much. Grab a cup of coffee, and join me as I tell you why it’s so cool.
The Shuffle was and continues to be one of the smallest digital music players on the market, which was one of the main factors when I purchased it. I use it almost exclusively for working out because it’s practically non-existent in terms of weight and size. It weighs 15.5 grams, or .55 ounces. For perspective, that’s equivalent to just over six 1982 Lincoln Memorial US pennies!
The Shuffle is a little over 1 ½ inches long, an inch wide and less than half an inch thick. About half of its thickness though, comes from the built-in spring loaded clip that makes it so convenient. It will clip on to just about anything, including a shirt collar, belt, head band, hat, waist band or your ear (though the later isn’t very comfortable).
Lacking a display of any type, the Shuffle’s controls are minimalistic. The round control interface on the front allows you to adjust the volume, skip to the previous or next song (fast-forwarding or rewinding through a song are accomplished by pressing and holding either button) and to play and pause. The only other controls are an off switch which prevents the shuffle from being turned on accidentally, (which can be a problem because there is no indication it’s on other than a small green LED on the side), and a switch that can be toggled to Shuffle the play order. (Shuffle is such a weird word.)
According to Apple’s environmental report, the body is made from “highly recyclable” aluminum (6.8 grams of it), and is brominated flame retardant-free. I have no idea what that means. The Shuffle is beautiful in a very functional way, and construction is top notch. Over the years the finish on the Shuffle has proven its durability and remains intact despite much abuse and use.
The Shuffle has progressed through four generations, and the second generation is markedly different from the first and closely resembles the latest. Much like cars only have two main styling influences (round or square), the Shuffle has shifted from stick to block over its lifespan. I much prefer the block style.
The gen 2 Shuffle plugs into the computer’s USB port via a docking station that connects to the Shuffle’s headphone jack. It serves to both transfer songs and to charge the lithium-ion battery, which it does fully in about four hours. An 80% charge takes about two hours, and playback on a fully-charged battery is rated up to 15 hours, thanks in part to no moving parts, no display and flash memory.
The 1GB shuffle can also be used as an external disk to store data files if “Enable disk use” is selected in iTunes. However, that task is far better suited to a USB memory stick, and the shuffle suited to playing music. 1GB of memory will allow you to load approximately 240 songs of average length encoded at 128 kilobits/second. Here’s a better way of putting it: I can do a full week’s worth of workouts without ever having to listen to the same song or having to recharge it. I’m not sure if that says more about my workout routine or the Shuffle’s capabilities.
Certain audio file formats are not supported by the Shuffle, including Apple Lossless, WMA, MPEG Layer 1, MPEG Layer 2 files, or audible.com format 1. But given the flexibility of iTunes (which you’ll need to load songs on the Shuffle whether you’re using a PC or a Mac), you can always create a supported file type if needed. These formats include:
- AAC (M4A, M4B, M4P) (up to 320 kbps)
- MP3 (up to 320 kbps)
- MP3 Variable Bit Rate (VBR)
- AA (audible.com spoken word, formats 2, 3, and 4)
There are a few very minor issues regarding how iTunes loads songs and controls the playlists on the Shuffle, but I feel that iTunes’ behavior really ought to be understood and weighed independent from that of the Shuffle. Suffice to say that once you understand and know how to control these nuances, they in no way impact the Shuffle experience.
Now that we’ve navigated that little bit of alphabet soup, let’s talk about the fact that the Shuffle doesn’t have a display. There is some information you simply can’t see (such as play lists or albums) and other information which takes a little self-education to figure out.
Finding songs is pretty much a hit and miss affair, and if this vexes you, then the Shuffle probably isn’t for you. This being about its only limitation, and a deciding factor in allowing it to be so small and energy efficient, I find it rather enjoyable to have a random song come up. If I don’t like it, I simply skip to the next song. The underlying assumption is I haven’t loaded any music onto my Shuffle that I actually dislike. That’s logic that’s hard to challenge.
Apple has a very boring technical document entitled “iPod shuffle (2nd generation): Understanding status light behavior” which I have taken the time to read on your behalf and will now summarize here: when you’re shuffle is no longer playing, its battery is dead and you should return it to the charging dock.
Seriously though, if that sage bit of advice seems too simplistic and you must know whether or not your battery has a 10-30% charge remaining, there is a sequence of red, orange and green light pulses from the small LED that will tell you how much battery life remains. In reality, actual playback life is very close to Apple’s estimates.
I’ve always thought that Apple’s System on a Chip processor combined with their headphones offered quality playback and excellent response throughout the sound spectrum. From deep bass to high frequencies like voice, guitar and certain drum instruments, the Shuffle renders high-fidelity sound.
Now, the earphones aren’t that comfortable and sometimes don’t stay in well. I guess my ear doesn’t quite fit the average mold of the rest of earth’s 6.3 billion human inhabitants – something I can’t fault Apple for. For vigorous work outs, I suggest investing in a pair of headphones suited to the task, like something that’s in-ear, or is worn over the ear. Alternatively, avoid vigorous workouts.
A word of warning, Apple’s website says the Shuffle has operating limitations up to 10,000 feet. I feel this is a major point of geographical and cultural discrimination against the inhabitants of Tibet, where the average elevation is near 13,000 feet, and suggest it is possible grounds upon which to boycott this product.
However, if you’re a looking for a purpose-built music player to accompany you on your workouts, and you really don’t ever plan on visiting Tibet, you can have a refurbished gen 2 Shuffle for well under $50 – and I’d say it’s more than worth the money. Newer models are a bit more, but given the combination of size, utility, simplicity and durability, I think the Shuffle offers good value and is recommendable.
Most importantly I don’t have to worry anymore about songs skipping while I work out, although it could be my workouts aren’t as vigorous as they once were.
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Amount Paid (US$): 50
Recommended for: Athletes - Lightweight and Portable, Perfect for the Gym