As far as charging goes, the shuffle comes with a 10cm (4-inch) USB adaptor that connects between the headphone output and your computer. The shuffle is rated at 10 hours of playback time -- 2 hours less than the previous generation, but still enough to get you through a week's worth of casual use. A full recharge should take about 3 hours.
It's also worth noting that the shuffle can be used on your computer in disk mode, allowing you to store and transfer files without interfering with the audio content on your iPod. As expected, you can't access the music files stored on the shuffle without going through iTunes (version 8.1 or later is a required download for the shuffle).
Compared with other sub-£60 MP3 players on the market (for example, the SanDisk Sansa Clip or Creative Zen Stone Plus), the shuffle's microscopic design isn't enough to make up for the limited features, relatively high price, diminished battery life, quirky navigation and a headphone remote system that reeks of planned obsolescence.
MP3 players like the shuffle that are aimed at the gym and jogger crowd are particularly susceptible to issues of headphone fit, comfort, and wear and tear, and Apple's headphone remote needlessly complicates the process of replacing or upgrading the shuffle's earbuds. This is not to say that the headphone control is a bad feature, but also having controls on the actual device would help avoid navigation-related confusion and improve the product's usefulness in the long term.
The third-generation shuffle's audio quality is noticeably better than that of the previous generation, and sounds comparable to that of the fourth-generation iPod nano and second-generation iPod classic. The sound has a fuller range, with better bass response and less background hiss. Of course, the improvement in audio quality is hard to notice using the bundled earbuds, and standard headphones lack the remote control necessary for adjusting volume and skipping tracks. But, when the shuffle is connected to a standard pair of headphones and then powered on, it automatically starts playing music at the volume level it was last set to.
Third-party accessories such as replacement headphones, headphone adaptors and remote-equipped auxiliary cables will soon be available for the third-generation shuffle. If you expect to use the shuffle with an existing pair of headphones, a home stereo or a car stereo, you should add the cost of some of these accessories to the purchase price.
The third-generation shuffle has plenty going for it: the aluminium and steel construction is sturdy, the design is unobtrusive, there's a whopping 4GB of storage, and the VoiceOver technology allows you to control playback without taking your eyes away from what you're doing. But sacrifices have been made elsewhere to achieve the small size and minimalistic design, and we have a hard time giving the shuffle an unqualified thumbs-up.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet