2009
03.21

A few weeks ago Apple introduced a new iPod shuffle…you guessed it…now with less buttons! No buttons on the unit, in fact. Just a switch to toggle between stright, shuffle and off. The new form factor is long and slender, reminescent of a new iPod nano, just without the screen or the click wheel. If you’re looking for capacity, the little guy fares well: 4GB of storage means that, two hours later, you still haven’t found what you’re looking for…found a song that is, not necessarily that song.

So where are the controls? Conveniently placed on the earbuds. Ergonomics win, right? Maybe, if you like Morse code…one click to play/pause, two clicks to go to the next track, three clicks to jump back a track, or to the beginning of that track, three long clicks, three short and three long for SOS. Sorta like the iPod touch, but with no screen. You do get two volume buttons nearby, but of course there’s no right-click :p.

But wait, it gets even better. If you want to hear what’s playing on your chip clip iPod shuffle, just hold down the play/pause/forward/reverse button for a bit. The music will fade down and a voice, encoded on your computer and male or female depending on the operating system (Mac OS 10.5 Leopard uses “Alex”, Tiger and Windows use a female voice), will tell you the artist, album (News Flash: Apple tries to kill albums to pad iTunes profits!) and track name. Nifty if you’re trying to sift through a thousand songs that sound the same.

Even better, the darned thing supports playlists, so you might might be able to find the song you’re looking for! Hold down the play/pause/forward/backward/VoiceOver (that’s what they call their text to speech system) button down until a cute little tone is heard, and you get a list of your sync’d playlists. Hit the play/pause/forward/backward/VoiceOver/playlist button again when you hear the one you want, and it’ll start playing. A genius way to use way too few buttons.

As an added bonus, if you lose the earbuds, or decide that Apple isn’t the way you roll when it comes to hi-fi assaults on your eardrums, your $79 shuffle becomes a chic chip clip, until you shell out $29 or $79, depending on your preference of in-ear or normal, for another set of Apple-branded earbuds. Vendor lock-in for the win, right? You’re similarly screwed if you lose the minijack-to-USB cable that comes with the shuffle…that’s how you charge the ten-hour built-in battery.

Will I be reviewing the new shuffle, rather than just dishing out smack talk about the poor thing? Highly likely. Will I rant and rave about how the cheaper ($49, 1GB, more squarish, colorful) shuffle can use my pair of $25 in-ear ‘buds (Koss, and they do sound decent), and this little guy can’t? Yes. Will I keep calling the world’s most advanced screenless MP3 player a chip clip? You betcha.

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