updated 02:15 am EDT, Wed September 8, 2010
Design reverts to second-generation form
Although Apple has focused recent iPod marketing on the new Touch, the entry-level offering has not been forgotten. The company has yet to settle on a form factor for the Shuffle, as the design seems to bounce between a vertical stick and a squarish shape. The fourth-generation model brings back the click wheel of the previous three editions, while reverting to a shape similar to the second generation.
The third-generation Shuffle brought VoiceOver, a text-to-speech system that allows users to hear track names, playlist names, or battery status information that would otherwise remain unknown without a display. This was a great addition, although many users were still frustrated with the lack of a click wheel on the iPod itself.
We were happy to see that the click wheel was not omitted from the latest design. While the remote control was not difficult to use, many users likely prefer the traditional iPod wheel. Dropping the remote also enables any headphones to be used without a shoddy adapter. A dedicated switch quickly jumps to shuffle playback when needed, rather than requiring menu navigation or an unintuitive combination of button presses.
While most iPods tend to gain capacity through successive generations, the new Shuffle is only available with 2GB of onboard storage. We would have liked if the latest model retained the 4GB capacity option of its predecessor.
Aside from the hardware features, the new Shuffle also supports Genius mixes. The new option, along with support for multiple playlists, will be welcomed by any users who already take advantage of the playlist features in iTunes.
Overall, the new Shuffle combines most of the best features from the previous three generations. The entry-level device lacks the bells and whistles of the Nano, Touch and Classic, but it better fits the niche for a $50 iPod that can be tossed in a pocket or clipped to a shirt.