I picked up an iPod Shuffle a few days ago and wanted to pass along a report of this tiny little wonder. For $139 bucks (educational priced), it is quite simply one of the most transforming devices I've ever owned.
I got the one gigabyte version and I've been using it mostly for one thing - providing audio in my car when driving. At first, I tried to hang it from the rear view mirror connected via a cable to cassette adapter to the car stereo. It comes with a neck lanyard, so that seemed like a good idea. In truth, it was a disaster. The thing swung around with every turn and whenever I wanted to make a change in the settings, I had to reach out and catch it, figure out the buttons and go from there.
Then I figure, "Hell, it was meant to go around my neck. Why fight it?" So I wore it around my neck and plugged it into the car. Perfect. All the controls are on my chest and to be honest, there's a weird and wonderful feeling of the music (or iPodcasts) coming from my own body. I like it.
With the one gig Shuffle, I can fit upwards of 15 hours of media onto the player. The iTunes software offers an option to reduce every mp3 to a max of 128K in quality. That setting sounds fine to me and extends the capacity. The only controls are PLAY/PAUSE, VOLUME UP/DOWN, NEXT/PREVIOUS TRACK. So, much like when listening to radio, you can choose to stay with the current program or switch to the next one. On the rear is a switch that goes from OFF to PLAYLIST IN ORDER to SHUFFLE. Since my playlist is random, it really comes down to a choice of ON or OFF.
Usually, I fill the Shuffle up at night with a variety of podcasts and music, then hit play in the morning when I start my 30 minute drive to work. If something bores me, I press NEXT TRACK and get something else. I've never come close to exhausting my possibilities in one round trip. The sound quality is stunning, especially when you consider this thing is about as big as a half-empty pack of gum.
Until now, I had been using a 5 gig iPod in my car. It was great for longer trips, as I could store hundreds of albums in it. As I'm something of a album fan, I never got into playlists - mixing dozens of tunes in some way. Instead, I looked at it as a portable CD collection. The Shuffle makes you think of things differently. The lack of a screen and the minimal memory makes you value every track added . So playlists are the only way to (or, I should, a single playlist). When you're adding 200 songs every day, there's a wonderful random element that matches the best radio station.
The 5 gig iPod's controls forced my to look at the screen, which was a pain in the ass when driving. As I worried about battery life, I ran a line from the firewire port to the car lighter and keep it charged. With the Shuffle, I've forgotten the AC issue entirely. The Shuffle's battery - if you turn it to PAUSE instead of shutting it off - will last for several days. If you leave it on PLAY, you're looking at 12 hours or so of sound.
There are some issues with the Shuffle that bother me. The NEXT TRACK feature, for one, could stand some improvement. If I'm listening to an hour-long DJ mix Podcast, it reads as one track. I would love to jump 5 minutes ahead, but I can't do that with the Shuffle. It's either NEXT TRACK or the sluggish Fast Forward of holding the NEXT TRACK button and skipping ahead maybe by 4x. A preset of 2 or 5 minute jumps would be welcome for moving through those long tracks.
And here's a weird feature...unlike other iPods, one can't listen to the Shuffle's track on any computer except the one that it's linked to. With my other iPods, I could record a bunch of songs on one computer (home) and then play them back on another computer (at work, for instance). I couldn't load new songs to the iPod from this second computer, but I could listen to iPod tracks with it.
The Shuffle only works with one computer. If you load it at home and plug it in elsewhere, a warning comes up telling you this Shuffle is linked to another computer and would you like to erase it and fill it with tracks from this second computer? The workaround is to plug in the audio out mini plug of the Shuffle, not the USB connection. Then you can play it anyway.
Another issue - the Shuffle uses USB 2.0, which is a fine pipeline but not something I have on my home computer. My home boxes use USB 1.0, which is MUUUUUCCCCCCH slower than USB 2.0 (the Shuffle defaults to whatever USB speed is found). If I want to fill the entire one gig Shuffle, I have to leave it connected for 30 to 60 minutes. Much of that time relates to the time involved with converting tracks down to 128K, but still, compared to Firewire, USB is slowwwwwwwwww.
Finally, the Shuffle doesn't play AIFF files, so if you use those, you have to convert.
But there are some nice aspects to the new iTunes software for the Shuffle -- using a slider, I can set the amount of space (currently 128MB) which will be reserved on the Shuffle for hard drive use. That way, when I plug the iPod into any computer, I get 128MB of protected hard drive disc space. That allows me to use the Shuffle for both audio and as a USB flash drive.
So those are my first impressions. I like this device a lot and will likely use it more than my current (larger) iPods. There's something way too cool about carrying 200+ songs around my neck and still having room to back up a day's worth of office work on the same device.