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Monday, September 20, 2010

Apple iPod shuffle Chips, Battery, Capabilities and charging

Thanks to its built-in lithium-ion rechargeable battery, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle promises 15 hours of audio playback—a number that is a little more complex than it initially seems. First, that’s up by 50% from a claimed 10 hours in the third-generation shuffle, versus 12 promised hours in the first- and second-generation models. Second, Apple’s promised run times for iPod shuffles have always been conservative, with actual battery life surpassing the claims by variable amounts from model to model. First-generation shuffles actually ran for 16-18 hours, while second-generation models hit nearly 18, and third-generation models ran for around 12.5 in our tests.
Our battery testing for the fourth-generation iPod shuffle showed performance almost precisely in line with Apple’s claims: set at 50% volume with a pair of Apple’s Earphones connected, and randomly playing audio files at various bitrates ranging up to Lossless quality, the new shuffle ran for 15 hours and 10 minutes before chiming and turning off. While different audio settings and files can yield slightly better or worse results, this playtime places the fourth-generation shuffle ahead of the third-generation model in run time, but modestly below the first- and second-generation versions—an acceptable rather than impressive performance.
Charging the fourth-generation iPod shuffle is just like charging its predecessor. Apple’s included 45mm USB cable connects to the device’s headphone port, and provides a full charge within 3 hours, bringing a dead shuffle back to 80% of peak capacity within 2 hours. The company also sells a $19 accessory set called the iPod shuffle USB Cable with a spare 45mm cable and a 1000mm (39”) version in the same box if you want additional cables; any spare USB port or Apple iPod wall charger will work to refuel the little device. Note that the iPod shuffle remains the only iPod model that cannot simultaneously recharge and play music through headphones, as the headphone port is occupied by the special USB cable.

Apple iPad Dock

Apple's first iPod Dock appeared in 2003, packed in with the third-generation iPod -- the first model to include the company's 30-pin Dock Connector on the bottom -- and since then, there have been dozens of alternatives, most of them better than the original. The single most influential innovation was the 2005 Universal Dock, which introduced a wider, deeper docking well that could be resized with plastic Dock Adapters or left alone for use with thicker cases, a design that continued with a very similar 2007 re-release that also worked with the iPhone. Unfortunately, Apple's iPad Dock ($29) steps backwards in time to the first 2003 iPod design, and though it will be entirely fine for some users, anyone who needs a case will either have to pass or wait for cases that are compatible with Apple's unnecessarily tight mount.
On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing controversial about the iPad Dock: it’s roughly 2.75” deep and 2.75” wide, with a slanted 1.25” tall lip that stands considerably above its 0.38” tall base. Like virtually all of the iPod Docks and iPhone Docks that have preceded it, there’s a gray rubber base on the bottom and both 3.5-millimeter audio-out and 30-pin Dock Connector ports on the back. It is typically Apple in its elegance and purpose: the slanted lip defines the angle that the iPad will rest on when docked, while it and the base provide just enough of a footprint and support to enable the aluminum device to recline vertically without any fear of tipping over. The top of the iPad forms an invisible line straight down to the back of the base—clean, precise, and attractive.
Once it’s docked, the iPad can be charged, synchronized, and used for line-level audio out, assuming that you’re willing to provide the cables and charger yourself, as they’re not included in this box. Audio sounded strong and problem-free through the line-out port, which always outputs sound at the iPad’s peak volume for subsequent attenuation by your connected audio receiver and speakers; the iPad disables its own volume controls when it’s connected to the Dock. When the line-out port isn’t in use, the iPad performs sound through its bottom speakers, which stand enough above the surface of a table to be heard without an issue.
Synchronization similarly worked fine with Apple’s Dock Connector to USB cable, and charging wasn’t a problem with the iPad’s 10W USB Power Adapter; the iPad Dock essentially just passes through whatever power and data it receives from a connected cable. Similarly, Apple’s separately-sold composite, component, and VGA video accessories can be connected to the iPad Dock, and since the iPad has integrated Bluetooth capabilities, it can be used with wireless keyboards, speakers, and headphones while in the Dock, as well.
If you need a hardwired keyboard for the iPad, and don’t mind the fact that it wont be able to sit on the typical slide-out keyboard tray of a desk, Apple’s iPad Keyboard Dock is another, more expensive option with a very nice keyboard that looks like it was physically grafted onto the front of this accessory; the screen recline angle is actually a little more pronounced on the Keyboard Dock. The result is a 7 1/8”-deep alternative that some people will find convenient and others will deem unusable. Pairing the iPad with the standard iPad Dock and a $69 Apple Wireless Keyboard is yet more expensive, but will work on any desk.
There’s one and only one reason that we wouldn’t rush to recommend the all-Apple solution, and that’s the iPad Dock’s slanted lip. It is, like the original iPod Dock, precision fit to a specific maximum depth of a specific unencased Apple product. If you want to use the iPad Dock with an unencased iPad, it works without a problem; Apple has actually designed the dock with a little rubber pad around its male Dock Connector, and the iPad with a tilting female Dock Connector port, enabling users to tilt the iPad forward while removing it without breaking either the iPad Dock or the iPad itself. But because the hard white plastic lip doesn’t have any give, the docking system doesn’t work when you try to use it with an iPad case. Even the thinnest of the dozens of cases we’ve received for testing doesn’t fit properly. Consequently, if you want to use the iPad Dock, you’ll need to pull your case off, then put it back on again every time you’re done, a problem that Apple’s Universal Dock avoided completely—at least, with the vast majority of iPod and iPhone cases.
Over time, if full body films or Dock-sculpted case bottoms become popular for the iPad, this may change, but the iPad Dock leaves considerably less room for accommodation than the Universal Dock did for encased iPods and iPhones. Perhaps Apple will release a follow-up dock for the iPad; regardless if it does or doesn’t, third-parties will certainly step up and produce solutions such as stands and alternative docks that are more flexible, if not as elegant as this one. For now, the iPad Dock is a good enough docking solution to recommend to those users who plan to use their iPads without cases, but everyone else should hold off in favor of a more convenient alternative.

Griffin Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable

When Griffin introduced the Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable ($30) at CES this year, the idea was good enough to win a Best of Show Finalist award, but not to take home the final prize. With a single, simple cable, the company turned a car with an auxiliary audio port into a giant speakerphone for the iPhone, iPhone 3G, or iPhone 3GS, adding a cool-looking chrome microphone and a one-button remote control for starting and stopping calls or music. It made sense, didn't break the bank at that price, and as with all Griffin products, looked nice -- except for a little slice-like defect in the mic's chrome surface.
The bigger issue we anticipated during the Cable’s first showing turned out to be legitimate: the microphone’s placement is going to be an problem in some cars. In the name of efficiency, Griffin places the microphone and the auxiliary audio plug in the same housing, having the mic stick directly out from the aux plug, wherever it may be in your car. If it’s at the right height—say, at the top left of your car stereo, and you’re the driver—callers will hear you just fine even over road noise at typical driving speeds. The auxiliary audio cable will play your iPhone’s music through your car’s speakers, requiring volume adjustment initially on the iPhone’s integrated controls, and callers will sound as loud and clear as the device’s volume and car speakers are capable of rendering them. Griffin’s single remote button is easy enough to grab and press for calls, and to play, pause, or skip forward and backward through audio tracks.
But try to use the Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable in the wrong car and you’ll have major, major problems. Our test Toyota Highlander happens to have an auxiliary audio port at roughly knee level on the driver’s side, a distance and position that rendered our voice almost inaudible over ambient noise—even the iPhone 3GS’s Voice Control feature couldn’t discern caller names when we tried to dial automatically. Your voice will vary considerably based on your position in the car relative to that auxiliary port: if you’re a passenger and in a Honda Fit, for example, you’ll be closer to the mic and more audible than the driver, solely because the aux port’s on the other side of the stereo.
The decision to place the microphone at the aux port may be efficient, but it’s not inevitable. Scosche’s upcoming Plug and Play Handsfree Car Kit uses a similar design, but also includes a wired extension cord and dashboard microphone mount for use in cars where the aux port is too far away from the driver. While Scosche’s solution sells for twice the price of Griffin’s, it also includes other features such as Bluetooth support and a battery, bolstering its value and functionality; for the $30 asking price, Griffin could and should have included a similar extension cable and mount. This is the rare situation when the normally uber-smart company was out-thought by a competitor.
That having been said, the Hands-Free Mic + AUX Cable has a couple of advantages even in its current form: it’s the lowest-priced solution of its sort that we’ve tested, and unlike Scosche’s product, it doesn’t need to rely on batteries. Griffin’s solution will not work in every car, and if the aux port in your vehicle isn’t at the top corner of your stereo near the driver or passenger—whomever’s going to be doing more talking—save yourself the effort and don’t even bother trying it. Yet if the aux port’s in the right spot, this is a budget-priced solution that provides a convenient alternative to wiring up your car with a more deluxe hands-free option. If it was more universally vehicle-compatible, it would be a lot easier to recommend to everyone.

Griffin A-Frame Tabletop Stand for iPad

Until you've actually used the iPad for a few days, you mightn't realize that something very important is missing from Apple's box, but the omission will soon becomes obvious: hand-holding the iPad becomes tiring, particularly at night, so you'll most likely want a stand -- perhaps even two or three for different rooms around the house. Your options today are cheap stands such as plastic or wood photo holders, good but not great holders like Apple's iPad Dock, and a collection of new custom-designed metal stands from accessory companies including Griffin, Thermaltake, and Element Case. Griffin's A-Frame ($50) is the first we've actually received for testing, and though it literally has some rough edges, it's otherwise a very good option.
The A-Frame is a solid aluminum stand for the iPad that uses gray plastic for padding and hard metal everywhere else, providing an attractive, iPad-matching mounting solution for desks and other flat surfaces. In addition to the plastic, which is in soft rubber form for a bottom-of-iPad lip, desk pads, and two back-of-iPad rings, A-Frame consists of two pieces of metal: one holds the iPad, and the other serves as a pivoting rear arm, allowing you to adjust the iPad’s viewing angle from almost completely upright to a gentle recline that’s similar to the one on Apple’s official iPad Dock.
Yet unlike Apple’s Dock, you can use A-Frame with play-through encased iPads—obviously not sleeves—and turn them on their sides for landscape-orientation viewing. The importance of these two features cannot be overstated, particularly after trying Apple’s Dock and seeing how limiting it is; there’s very real convenience in being able to just drop the iPad into A-Frame while it’s still inside a case, and change the iPad’s orientation to landscape mode at will.
Given that the other landscape viewing options available today are to hold the device with your hand or try to prop it up on other things for the duration of your videos, having a stand transforms the iPad from a cool little handheld computer into a downright addictive alternative to a television.
Additionally, though it mightn’t be obvious from pictures, A-Frame permits both USB cable and speaker access through holes and grooves cut in the bottom rubber padding. In practice, the speaker groove works seamlessly to rechannel a vertically-oriented iPad’s sound without diminishing its volume, and if you supply your own cable, charging and synchronization aren’t a problem regardless of whether the iPad is upright or on its side.
A-Frame isn’t perfect, however. Griffin’s web site suggests that it’s useful either standing up or laying down, but we found virtually no value in using it in the latter position; if its bulging rear hinge was thicker, making its angle on a flat surface more pronounced, this might have been different. More importantly, Griffin’s aluminum machining process isn’t quite up to Apple snuff. While A-Frame looks beautiful, all it takes is a few seconds of handling before its unpleasantly sharp and occasionally slightly rough edges become obvious. Though these edges never make contact with the iPad or table thanks to the rubber padding, A-Frame really needs gentle, iPad-like beveled sides in order to feel safe to carry around in your hands. We found ourselves wanting to just set it in one place and not touch it.
Hopefully, Griffin will polish the rough edges in a post-release tweak, as A-Frame is otherwise a really nice accessory, matching the iPad’s looks and expanding its usability past Apple’s own solutions for both desks and nightstands. Though its $50 asking price isn’t cheap, and may well lead some users to question its lack of electronic functionality relative to Apple’s iPad Dock, we’ve found A-Frame to be more useful than Apple’s design for everything other than line-out audio; it or something like it will soon be considered as mandatory for iPad users as a smart protective solution.
Updated July 12, 2010: At some point after the initial production run of A-Frame, Griffin updated the stand with a version that was supposed to have been improved, with polished edges that weren’t as rough on the fingers. We were surprised to find that the new version (shown in the last photo above) had changed, but not really for the better: due to a tweak to either the metal or the finishing process, A-Frame’s prior smooth flat surfaces became grittier—closer to a sandpaper texture—while its edges stayed as jagged as before, merely blending in with the rest of the rough surface. The Griffin logo is darker on the new version, as well, shifting from gray to black, and the inner rubber surface is marked Assembled in Taiwan rather than Assembled in China. Our rating remains unchanged.

Apple iPod shuffle COnclusion

After a tough year and a half with the third-generation iPod shuffle, Apple has returned to form with the fourth-generation model—a less expensive, better-designed alternative that incorporates the features people liked from past models without unnecessarily tossing anything out in the process. While the new iPod shuffle is so familiar as to seem retrograded, its form factor is surely an improvement over anything that came before under the shuffle name, and moreover, the capacity and features it offers for $49 are the best Apple has ever assembled at this entry-level price point.
On the other hand, the reality is that even a good iPod shuffle is a tougher sell today than it was in years past—even its predecessors felt long in the tooth conceptually, as competitors continued to push much harder than Apple to improve their low-end offerings with conveniences such as screens and superior controls. It’s a sad fact that $50 can today purchase a 4GB device with a screen, integrated FM radio, and voice recording capabilities from a company such as SanDisk, whereas the same dollars buy a hobbled but “cute” 2GB player like this from Apple. It’s especially surprising that in order to get a screen and better features, your only iPod option is a full $100 more expensive, unless you’re willing to consider refurbished and/or discontinued models. With its comparable size, rear clip, and similar color offerings, the sixth-generation iPod nano feels more like the heir apparent to the iPod shuffle family than this model does; in an alternate universe, Apple might have killed this shuffle altogether and offered the new nano in a less capacious starting model for $99. It would have made a lot of sense.
But that hasn’t happened, and so for users who are looking for an iPod-branded device with a shiny new shell and familiar interface, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle is a solid buy—assuming that the new slate of colors and single 2GB capacity currently being offered meet your needs. Even though there have been more exciting colors, higher-capacity models, and more daring changes in past shuffle releases, the latest iPod shuffle has enough going for it to satisfy the many fans who told us last year that all they’d wanted was the prior model back. This new model is essentially the second-generation shuffle, but with better sound, a smaller and glossier body, and a couple of new interface frills, markedly improving from last year’s C-rated version, and thereby meriting our flat B rating and general recommendation. If this package of features is enough to satisfy your needs, we wouldn’t hesitate to point you in the new shuffle’s direction.

Apple iPod shuffle : Audio performance and Accessories

The single best piece of news about the fourth-generation iPod shuffle relates to its sound quality, which has—at least under certain circumstances—noticeably improved over the third-generation version. Since the 2005 release of the original iPod shuffle, Apple has played a somewhat unusual game with the iPod shuffle’s sound chips, initially claiming that the first model’s audio had become the gold standard for the entire iPod family, and subsequently making changes that saw later shuffle models fall short of improved and more expensive iPods.
This year’s iPod shuffle is the best-sounding member of its family to date, though the differences aren’t especially noticeable when the device is used with Apple’s packed-in earphones—the ones that most people will wind up using with the shuffle until they break. We currently test all iPods, iPhones, and iPads with extremely high-end Ultimate Ears UE-11 earphones that reveal all of the hiss, clicks, and beeping noises that a device inadvertently puts out, as well as the crispness of treble, smoothness of midrange, and richness of bass heard when music is playing—all of the details that can be heard with earphones that cost $150 and up, plus some that are only audible with the most deluxe gear.
Apple clearly didn’t build some of its iPods to be used with super-premium headphones, but the fourth-generation shuffle is an exception: it’s up there with the best of them. As we noted in our review of the second-generation shuffle, there used to be a very audible level of background hiss during silences that Apple reduced markedly in the third-generation model, but accidentally offset with some signaling beeps at the same time. The fourth-generation model cuts the hiss down to a level that’s basically inaudible with high-end earphones, and removes the beeps, together creating near-silent transitions from song to song, plus cleaner sound when tracks are playing. Voices consequently stand out more from instruments playing in the background, and Apple has made small tweaks to the treble and bass, generally to positive effect. While we noticed an ever-so-slight tendency towards sibilance—a dragging of S sounds—in the treble, it’s offset by more powerful bass that generally makes songs richer and more engrossing than before. Flipping between the third-generation and fourth-generation shuffles, there was no doubt that we’d prefer to listen to songs on the newer model, and that’s exactly the sort of improvement we’re always happy to report.
From an accessory standpoint, the single best feature of the fourth-generation iPod shuffle is that it no longer requires you to buy the $20 remote control accessories—or $20-$30 more expensive custom remote-laden headphones—that were needed just to operate last year’s model. With the exception of specific remote add-ons made by several companies to fit only the third-generation shuffle, the majority of iPod-agnostic remotes and earphones we’ve seen still work with the fourth-generation model, as do the third-generation shuffle charging and synchronization cables Apple and others released last year.
On the other hand, cases designed for prior iPod shuffles will not work with this model. While iPod shuffle cases have been the family’s least popular for years, with very few companies still producing options, H2O Audio’s waterproof designs and the few color shifting shells we’ve seen over the past year will need to be redesigned to accommodate the new model’s dimensions and buttons. Until and unless that happens, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle will be limited to Apple’s primary intended use model, hanging either at shirt or at belt level from its included clip.

Apple iPod shuffle : capacity, transfer speed, VAlue

Over the years, Apple has offered iPod shuffles in either one or two storage capacities at a time, twice introducing the device with only one capacity and later adding a second at a higher or lower price point. For the time being, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle comes only in a single version that officially has 2 Gigabytes of storage capacity, but actually provides 1.88GB of usable space, with 1.83GB initially available for audio content. That’s enough for between 250 and 500 songs, depending on the size of the songs, and to a minor extent whether you turn VoiceOver on. If so, iTunes will pre-generate spoken song titles and artist names that add roughly 10MB per gigabyte of songs—not much, but enough to cut the capacity down a little.
Every year, we test new iPod models against prior models to see whether Apple has improved, held constant, or noticeably diminished the quality of their internal components. Since it’s so small and limited in features, the iPod shuffle doesn’t have much to evaluate, save for audio quality, transfer speeds, and battery life. To compare iTunes transfer speeds—the time that it takes to fill an iPod shuffle with music—we used a 1-Gigabyte test playlist with 180 songs of various lengths and sizes, starting with an empty third-generation iPod shuffle and an empty fourth-generation iPod shuffle. As we’ve noted in the past, shuffles are generally very slow compared with Apple’s other iPods, so you wind up sitting around for a while waiting for a relatively small amount of music to transfer. Last year’s tests showed the iPod nano to be 3.6 times faster than the shuffle, a sluggish pace that may matter to people who want to quickly load up their shuffles with new music and run out of the house.
In this year’s testing, the third-generation shuffle took 5 minutes, 23 seconds to transfer the 1GB of music with iTunes 10—nearly identical to the time we saw during last year’s test with iTunes 9. Surprisingly, the fourth-generation shuffle took an even longer 5 minutes and 54 seconds to transfer the same 1GB playlist with iTunes 10, plus an additional 5 seconds to complete the synchronization process. Another way of looking at these results: if you’re planning to completely refresh the contents of your 2GB iPod shuffle with frequency, leave yourself roughly 11 minutes per refill plus the time it takes to select the new songs, with fewer minutes necessary if you’re only adding or removing handfuls of songs at a time.
Then there’s the issue of value for the dollar. Though doing straight GB-for-the-dollar value assessments isn’t entirely fair with some iPods given the other features they include, the iPod shuffle’s extremely bare and only modestly evolving feature set makes such comparisons reasonable. Back in February 2008, Apple introduced the first 2GB iPod shuffle for $69; in September 2009, it released a $59 2GB model, and the new 2GB model sells for $49—the lowest price yet for an iPod with this storage capacity. It goes without saying that this fourth-generation shuffle offers the most affordable way to enter the iPod family and to give an iPod as a gift, although as with all previous iPod shuffle models, you give up so much of the functionality of a full-fledged iPod that you need to go in with modest expectations.
Other sub-$100 options include refurbished iPod nanos, which at press time sell for $99 with 8GB of storage capacity, video playback, recording, and gaming capabilities, superior battery life, and nine color options, and products from Apple’s competitors, which have been considerably more aggressive in adding screens, radios, and other features to their $50 and similarly low-end models. While the iPod shuffle is an affordable iPod, and one of the smallest music players out there, it’s just not a great value when the broader marketplace of options is considered.

Apple iPod shuffle : Using the fourth generation ipod shuffle

As with all iPod models, you’ll need to download Apple’s free media management program iTunes before you can use the new iPod shuffle, then connect the device with its special USB cable to any free USB port on your computer. iTunes organizes your music, podcasts, and audiobooks for individual or collective transfer onto the device. Once again, Apple includes a feature in iTunes that will shrink your songs down to a maximum 128kbps to take up less space on the shuffle, enabling you to store up to 500 tracks on the 2GB device at once. You can also use the iPod shuffle as a flash storage drive for your Mac or PC, using the computer’s desktop to drag and drop files into its modestly-sized main folder.
Once you’ve loaded the shuffle with audio, you can either leave it connected to your computer to fully recharge its battery—the level of which is indicated upon disconnection with a green (“50% to full”) / amber (“25%”) / red (“battery low”) light on its top—or start using it right away. Thankfully, there’s nothing intimidating this time about the controls. Last year’s buttonless model required a convoluted scheme to navigate tracks, but with the return of the shuffle’s built-in buttons, the challenge is gone: the new model is nearly as easy to use as the first- and second-generation models.
On its face are five of its six buttons: the oversized play/pause button is strictly for those features, with + and - volume buttons above and below it, plus track backwards and forwards buttons to its left and right. As with all iPod shuffles, this version’s screenless design restricts you to navigating either in a linear fashion through your collection of songs, or randomizing (“shuffling”) playback so that hitting the forward track button moves to something unexpected. You flip between ordered and shuffled play by moving the top power switch from its far right “off” position into far left “Shuffle” position or middle “ordered playback” position, all control carry-overs that have survived from the very first iPod shuffle.
Last year’s shuffle introduced an additional feature, VoiceOver, which speaks the name of the currently playing song or playlist, for the first time enabling the shuffle to contain and switch between multiple playlists. Previously, you activated VoiceOver by holding down the play/pause button, but Apple now wisely gives this feature its own button—the one that’s on top of the shuffle alongside the power switch. Pressing this button quickly says the song title, holding it says the playlist’s title, and hitting it twice provides verbal battery status so that you needn’t rely solely upon the three-colored power indicator on the shuffle’s top, or flip the power switch back and forth as was necessary in the past, a small but welcome improvement. Hitting the track forward or backward button while you’re in VoiceOver mode switches to a different playlist, while the play/pause button selects it. The new iPod shuffle can also synchronize “Genius Mixes” from iTunes, which are just automatically created playlists of songs iTunes says will sound good together.
If you loved last year’s shuffle or just want to know whether you can still control it with an in-line remote, good news: the answer’s yes. Plug in any Apple or authorized third-party three-button remote control and the volume, play/pause, track control, and VoiceOver features work just as they did before, relying very heavily upon the central remote control button and a sometimes confusing system of multiple clicks and holds to change tracks.
In summary, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle combines the second-generation version’s ease of use with the third-generation model’s multiple playlist, VoiceOver, and battery status verbalization support. From a user experience standpoint, it’s a lot easier to like than last year’s model, and we’d be a lot more likely to actually clip this one on than its predecessor. Notably, the rear clip is firm enough that the shuffle’s not going anywhere when it’s on your shirt; wristband, armband, and other accessories should be considered strictly optional for wearing this model.

Apple iPod shuffle Body, Screen and Packaging and Pack-Ins

Apple has used every new iPod shuffle as an opportunity to shrink the size of both its music players and its packaging, and though the fourth-generation model breaks a little from that tradition, it continues in the same general direction. Like the second- and third-generation models, it’s made primarily from aluminum, this time either silver with black plastic controls, or colored pink, blue, orange, or green with white plastic controls. There’s still a metal clip on the back, adorned with the Apple logo, while a model number, international electronic certification tags, and a “Designed by Apple in California” inscription are found underneath the clip, invisible unless you’re looking for them. The serial number is hidden on the pinching edge of the clip in squint-inducing text.
While our pictures make the size differences between the models fairly obvious, the specific numbers are worth noting for spec-obsessed readers. The most obvious comparison is between the new model and its second-generation predecessor, which it most resembles: this year’s version measures 1.14” tall by 1.24” wide by 0.34” deep and weighs 0.44 ounces, slightly taller than the second-generation iPod shuffle (1.07”) but smaller in each other dimension (1.62” wide by 0.41” deep) and lighter (down from 0.73 ounces), besides.
An 18% increase in the size of the circular “control pad” on the face of the device is obvious when doing comparisons, seemingly to leave as little empty space on the front as possible—a trick to make you think the new shuffle couldn’t be smaller if Apple tried. The overall slimming otherwise feels like a nice improvement if you use the late 2006 shuffle as a benchmark. Relative to the third-generation shuffle, however, the new model is a volumetric step back. Last year’s version was 1.8” tall by 0.7” wide and 0.3” deep, weighing 0.38 ounces and possessing a “true volume” of 0.26 cubic inches, relative to the 0.5 cubic inch second-generation shuffle and the 0.35 cubic inch fourth-generation model. Seeing the third- and fourth-generation models next to each other leaves no doubt that the new one is a little larger overall, though the improved functionality will guarantee that no one complains about the increased size.
The fourth-generation iPod shuffle also features a subtly redesigned housing, using a smart engineering trick from the third-generation iPod shuffle to create the impression that its body is sculpted from a single piece of aluminum, contrasting with the aluminum frame and plastic core of the second-generation model—and most past iPod nanos. As with last year’s shuffle, the new model’s top, bottom, sides, and back are now entirely metallic save for the controls; a circular metal button and three-way switch are found on the device’s top surface, off to the right of its headphone port and a tiny status indicator light. Apple has done away with the scratchable stainless steel shirt clip it introduced last year, replacing it with a color-matched aluminum version like the second-generation model’s, only smaller than the rest of the shuffle’s back, a change that parallels the reduced-size clip of the third-generation shuffle. The clip fits within the outline of a thin seam in the shuffle’s back, exposing the second metal piece of the shuffle’s body: a rear compartment that service technicians can use to assemble and disassemble the device.
Apple has also tweaked the new shuffle’s metals in some interesting ways. Except for a single special edition stainless steel version, prior models were generally made from a matte-finished anodized aluminum in a wide variety of colors; that’s changed. The five current versions use metal that’s been polished to a finish that’s not as glossy as the car paint-like fifth-generation iPod nano, but still shiny; some users may find the rear surface to be too slippery to handle with wet fingers. More important in our view are Apple’s latest color choices, which include tones that aren’t necessarily as bright as their predecessors—a change that detracts from the otherwise positive design attributes of the new shuffles.
Apple’s new orange, for instance, is a dull copper color by comparison with the vibrant second-generation shuffle and more recent iPod nanos; the blue is just on the edge of purple, while green and pink are somewhat muted. As always, you’ll need to see the new models in person to determine whether one of the new tones calls out to you; we found them to be less than thrilling across the board. Apple also decided to remove the swirled metal finish from the circular top controls; they’re now just flat gray metal surfaces regardless of the color of the shuffle, a small but cheapening touch.
One thing that can’t help but impress iPod fans is the new shuffle’s box, which has the smallest footprint ever for an iPod package while preserving the clear plastic and white cardboard combination that has worked so well for the past two shuffle generations. The rounded cube box opens to reveal the shuffle suspended on its own plastic insert in front of a compartment for accessories—a short USB-to-headphone-port charging and synchronization cable identical to the one packed with third-generation shuffles, a pair of earphones, plus one Apple logo sticker, a diminutive but almost completely explanatory “Quick Start Guide,” and a comically small warranty booklet.
The iPod shuffle USB Cable is 45mm (1.6”) long, or too short to wrap from the back of most of Apple’s desktop computers all the way around to the front, while the Earphones have enough length to stretch from the average user’s ears all the way down to his or her waist. Note that the earphones no longer have the in-line remote control that was included with last year’s model and so troubled by moisture during workouts; they’re just a plain pair of Apple earbuds.

Apple iPod shuffle (Fourth-Generation)

Apple’s original iPod shuffle was easy to understand when it debuted in January 2005. Back then, Apple was on the cusp of becoming a mass-market retailer, and the least expensive model in its iPod lineup was the $249 iPod mini. Apple needed something really cheap for kids and grandparents, an iPod it could sell at Walmart and use to build market share in developing countries. So the original screenless, Click Wheel-less, fancy box-less $99 iPod shuffle made sense. It had a big play button, a ring with small track and volume buttons, one port for earphones, one port for charging, a necklace so that you could wear it, and a rechargeable battery inside. Dead simple.
But as the years passed, it became confusing. Every competing device in its price range grew a screen, and Apple refused to follow suit. Instead, Apple tried to find justifications to keep the shuffle around, switching its plastic body to metal with the second-generation version, and making it even smaller. Then, with the release of last year’s third-generation model, the shuffle officially became silly, losing its buttons entirely and becoming a bland-looking metal stick with a clip on the back. It looked and felt like a designers’ in-joke that had somehow made it to market, ease of use and iconic looks be damned. We called it the “worst iPod ever,” and time proved the design to be even more problematic than we’d expected: moisture-related shorting problems with its remote-controlled earphones eventually forced Apple into a rare public recall and replacement program.
To Apple’s credit, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle (2GB/$49) arrived faster than its predecessors, which typically survived for two or so years before receiving refreshes. This time, the company has played things safe: the new iPod shuffle isn’t fancy, revolutionary, or “impossibly” anything—on the surface, it looks like a more conservative redesign of the second-generation model than last year’s version. It also debuts at the lowest launch price point ever for a new iPod, matching the mid-lifecycle $49 asking price of the 1GB second-generation shuffle prior to its discontinuation. And the feature set will be completely familiar to anyone who has followed the shuffle family for the past two years.
But there’s more to the story than that. Some of the third-generation iPod shuffle’s better design and electronic changes have made their way into the new version, so we discuss them—and more—in our comprehensive review below. While you can skip straight to our conclusion that the fourth-generation model is the best overall iPod shuffle yet, there are audio, battery, and transfer speed details worth noting, and we explain the reasoning behind our rating below, as well. Read on for the details, and our buying advice, by selecting from the seven pages above and below.

JaDu Industries Skadoosh

True docks for the iPad have been few and far between, but stands -- docks without any electronic components inside -- have become numerous over the past few months, most using iPad-matching silver metals as justifications for higher prices than earlier plastic iPod and iPhone stands. Today, we separately review two very different stands from a couple of stand-focused companies: the second is Skadoosh ($100) from JaDu Industries.
When we took our very first look at Skadoosh a couple of months ago, it was a substantially different product from the one that’s shipping: a little rough around the edges from pre-production manufacturing, the relatively small machined aluminum stand contained a novel plastic iPad holder that was capable of ratcheting to change the device’s viewing angle, and a metal flip-out kickstand that was only needed when the iPad was reclined to a profoundly sharp level. JaDu had come up with a design that was considerably more versatile than Element Case’s Joule Stand, and at $58, a lot less expensive, too. There was only one hitch: the plastic iPad holder only accommodated unencased or very thinly encased iPads.
Before we began testing Skadoosh, JaDu let us know that some last-minute changes were being made to its design: notably, the plastic holder was being tweaked to accommodate iPads in cases, a tweak that excited us. Some time later, the final version of Skadoosh arrived with the new and improved plastic part, as well as a matching metal and rubber support arm for the iPad, which helped to lessen strain when the device was placed on a recline. JaDu also added a good enough soft fabric drawstring case for the stand (a Skadoosh bag?) to let users carry it around, and made one other adjustment—the price went from $58 to $100.
That huge price increase put us in a quandary, as we’re now obliged to qualify what previously would have been a high recommendation: though it’s saddled with a price tag that’s just too high, this is the best and most useful iPad stand we’ve tested so far. JaDu doesn’t use as much metal as in some of its rivals, but what it does use gets put to work in the best possible way, as the folded Skadoosh occupies only 4.7” of depth, 3” of width, and 1.4” of height, yet has the ability to hold an iPad on either orientation, at your choice of angles, and with added support from that fold-out leg only as necessary. The thoughtfulness of the engineering puts simpler, less versatile stands to shame, and its handling of iPads inside or outside of cases would put it right at the top of our list as a carry-anywhere, work-anywhere solution.
We’d describe the quality of the metal and plastic components here as nearly great—better-looking than in Thought Out’s Stabile, but not quite up to the level of polish we saw in Joule. The aluminum parts are all precision-machined, with only one really sharp edge that’s found on the back, away from where fingers are likely to go naturally, and the black plastic iPad-holding “rocker” piece isn’t beautiful, but it looks totally fine and holds the iPad without scuff or scratch concerns. A tiny bit of extra polish on both the metal and plastic parts would take Skadoosh from the “good” category to the premium, somewhat wow-inducing territory of the higher-end chrome Joules, though Skadoosh really doesn’t need to do anything that would take its price up further.
That’s because the $100 price tag is already pretty brutal—so high by comparison with Griffin’s A-Frame or Luxa2’s H4 iPad Holder that JaDu is going to face an uphill battle convincing people to pick Skadoosh instead. It helps that Skadoosh mounts an iPad so low on the surface of a table that it can be tilted back to serve as a keyboard, something that neither A-Frame nor H4 accommodates as smoothly, and that it’s so much smaller that it can be more easily tossed in any bag and carried around. A-Frame folds flat but occupies a lot more space in a bag, while H4 isn’t designed in any way to be portable. Skadoosh does have its advantages, but then, so do its rivals.
From our perspective, Skadoosh is a great iPad stand design that loses some of its natural appeal solely on the basis of its price tag. Users who got in on it during its now-expired $58 pre-order stage will be absolutely thrilled by what they’re getting for the price, which represents a very fair value for a solid and versatile product. Everyone else will have to weigh the question of whether its diminutive size justifies the premium JaDu is asking over options from more established rivals. Our hope is that JaDu will continue to produce variants on this design, work to get the price lower, and enjoy the success it deserves for coming up with something so cool.