To charge and sync content to the iPod Shuffle, you'll need to use the included cradle. It's a rather cute little piece, but we'd prefer a standard mini USB port or the older Shuffle's built-in USB interface. However, some users may prefer the 3-plus-foot cable attached to the dock for easy USB access. Apple also includes a pair of the newer iPod earbuds now; initially, the Shuffle was packaged with the older, less-sleek set. For music management, you'll need to download the latest version of iTunes (currently, 7.0.2) from the Apple Web site. As with all iPods, the Shuffle supports MP3, WAV, AIFF, Audible, and both protected and unprotected AAC files. And like the previous Shuffle, you can click Autofill in iTunes to automatically replace contents with music from your music library or playlists.
As you might expect from such a small player, the Shuffle's rated 12-hour battery life is nothing impressive, though CNET Labs tests proved that Apple underestimated the player: we eked out a decent 15.8 hours. In cursory testing, we found the Shuffle's audio quality to be decent through the included earbuds, but bass was lacking, and we could detect some light static when we twisted the headphone plug during quiet moments. Swapping in a pair of Shure E4cs improved the bass situation, but overall, music was still too bright and lacking in warmth for our tastes. We could also detect noticeable background noise during silent segments. Suffice it to say that the newer Shuffle doesn't sound as good as the older one.
In final analysis, the iPod Shuffle is a decent player that offers a sleek, compact form factor, an excessively simple user interface, and a low price. Fans of ultraportable gadgets will no doubt be drawn to it. But audiophiles, beware: this is not the player for you. If you're discerning about audio quality or tend to misplace things easily, steer clear.
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