The bottom edge of the player houses two switches -- one for powering the unit on and off and the second for toggling between shuffle and repeat modes. A standard-size headphone jack, which doubles as the Shuffle's USB syncing port, rests on the top side of the device. There's also a tiny LED indicator that lights up different colour combos (orange, red and green) depending on the status of the player.
To charge and sync content to the iPod Shuffle, you'll need to use the included cradle. It's a rather cute little piece, but we'd prefer a standard mini-USB port or the older Shuffle's built-in USB interface. Some users, however, may prefer the 1m cable attached to the dock for easy USB access. Apple also includes a pair of standard white iPod earbuds, which for some reason aren't the newer and sleeker 'phones currently shipping with bigger iPods. (See editor's note below.)
For music management, you'll need to download the latest version of iTunes (currently 7.0.2) from the Apple Web site. As with all iPods, the Shuffle supports MP3, WAV, AIFF, Audible and both protected and unprotected AAC files. And like the previous Shuffle, you can click Autofill in iTunes to automatically replace the contents with music from your music library or playlists.
As you might expect from such a small player, the Shuffle's rated 12-hour battery life is nothing impressive, though our tests proved that Apple underestimated the player: we eked out a decent 15.8 hours. In cursory testing, we found the Shuffle's audio quality to be decent through the included earbuds, but bass was lacking, and we could detect some light static when we twisted the headphone plug during quiet moments.
Swapping in a pair of Shure E4cs improved the bass situation, but overall, music was still too bright and lacking in warmth for our tastes. We could also detect noticeable background noise during silent segments. Suffice to say that the newer Shuffle doesn't sound as good as the older one.
In final analysis, the iPod Shuffle is a decent player that offers a sleek, compact form factor, an excessively simple user interface and a low price. Fans of ultraportable gadgets will no doubt be drawn to it, but audiophiles, beware -- this is not the player for you. If you're discerning about audio quality or tend to misplace things easily, steer clear.
Editor's note: Our review copy was supplied with the older, bigger earbuds, but recent retail units we've seen have come with the new sleeker 'buds. Note that this may not be an improvement -- as they are smaller, they may fall out of your ears more easily.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Kate Macefield