February 08, 2005

In Depth Review of Apple's iPod shuffle

I finally got my iPod shuffle (512MB) after a 20-day wait. The first thing I noticed about it after I removed it from its green box was that it was very very small and light.

After reading the 32 page user guide, that can be downloaded from Apple here, and taking a quick look at the iPod shuffle reference card I started downloading my tunes (I tested this part out on a 600Mhz iBook G3 with 256MB of RAM), using the new AutoFill function, which randomly picks as many songs as the iPod shuffle can hold (in my case: about 100). It took about 20 seconds per song for my iPod to load-up over my iBook's USB 1.1 (the slower kind). After letting it sit in my iBook's USB plug some more so it could juice up I plugged in the Apple headphones and stated listening. I immediately realized that the sound quality blew away my old MP3 player (It's like your in the same room).

The basic navigation of your music could not be easier: you simply change the switch on the back to the sequential or shuffle style of listening and use the volume up (and down) and the next song (and previous song) buttons on the click-wheel-type control pad on the front of the device. A lot of the other functions, though, are hard to access and require your read the cryptic lights on the front and back of the thing (hence the reason Apple includes the reference card, I guess). I have heard some people complain that it's not really a click-wheel because it requires you to push it, instead of just letting your finger glide over it. This is true, but why would you want that one a device without a screen anyway? I like it the way it is.

Their is a little feature in the iPod's preferences that lets you down-sample all music to 128bit AAC (only the files on the iPod, not your actual music files), this lets you store more music if all of your music is, for instance, 192bit MP3. This feature also lets your iPod shuffle play Apple loss-less files and AIFF files, which the iPod shuffle does not play natively. In my experiences with this feature it took much longer to copy files to the iPod, so I turned it off.

Using it in every day situations

Using it in everyday ways is a blast! The iPod is not to heavy to use with the included lanyard. It is great for just wearing around and then if you want to listen to music you simply pull a pair of headphones out of your pocket. The lanyard is a problem, unfortunately, if you are working on something were you need to bend over or where it might get caught on something. If you are running with it (like I do everyday) it works fine with the lanyard but it would probably be better to get the arm band if it did not cost $30!

iPod shuffle Geekery

Although, I did not make an iPod shuffle RAID I did want to see what tricks this pony can do. First things first: making the RIAA cry. I tried to find-out how hard/easy it was to get your music off this thing so you can give your music to your friends. It was very easy! On Windows XP SP2 (no iTunes installed, yet) you simply open-up the volume that pops up when you connect the iPod to one of the computer's USB ports and inside a folder called iPod_Control are all files associated with the iPod's preferences and the even all of the iPod's music. These files can be easily copied off of the device. On Macs it's a bit harder: the only way to see the iPod_Control folder is by using the Terminal, I am not sure how Apple has managed to hide this folder.

Another question was: how many different OSs could see and access the iPod volume since its native format is FAT32? I was able to access and use the iPod volume without a hitch on Windows XP SP2 and SLAX Linux. When I connected the iPod shuffle to a Mac that was not originally associated with the iPod's music library iTunes launched and asked me if I would like to associate the iPod with that computer's music library. After saying no to this I had complete access to the iPod from the Mac's Finder (A.K.A. File System Browser), except, off course, access to the iPod_Control folder (unless you use the Terminal).

I also tried to install Portable Firefox 1.0 . That install worked perfectly and I was soon browsing the internet (using an anonymous profile) with Firefox that was installed on my iPod's storage space.

Uhh ohh, problems

While using my new iPod I did run into some problems:

1. Sometimes when I was listening to an Audiobook from Audible.com in sequential mode, paused the book and I switched the device to shuffle mode and pushed play and changed to a song nothing would happen.

2. Also, sometimes the lights on the device would not go on or go on late.

3. Pressing the play button three times in one second when in sequential mode is supposed to start playing the first song in your playlist. I usually keep my Audiobooks at the end of the iPod's lone playlist. Then when I want to play them I press the play button three times in one second (when it's in sequential mode) and it starts playing the first song in my playlist, then I change the song to the previous one (which in this case is the last one, which is my Audiobook). But sometimes my Audiobook would not play. This is sometimes annoying and I hope Apple can fix this in the firmware.

Keeping it "Like New"

Once you get your hands on your new iPod you'll want to keep it shiny, white, and clean. The iPod shuffle's surface is much more maintainable then it's big brother's surface. Looking at my iPod right now (7 days after I got my hands on it) I see two barely noticeable scratches and two areas were it looks like it had some friction against something else. Apple's cleaning directions are to use a slightly damp cloth, and that works great.

Would I buy it again?

Yes, I would by this iPod shuffle again. The storage space it has is great for its $99 price tag and it has great features. While it does not have a radio or a screen like a lot of other MP3 players, it does play iTunes Music Store files, double as a thumb drive, and is so light that it dangles around your neck.


Blogger Tyler Riddle said...

I wrote up a new blog for you that details how to get the iPod_Control folder to show up in the finder. You can find it at http://foodmotron.blogspot.com/2005/02/getting-access-to-ipodcontrol-folder.html. Enjoy!

1:57 PM  
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