The fourth-generation Apple iPod shuffle is a sleek and easy-to-use device, largely thanks to the return of the controls offered by the first- and second-generation shuffles. The VoiceOver feature is also a big winner.

Apple's iPod shuffle has returned to its roots: unlike the third-generation iPod shuffle, there are physical playback controls on the MP3 player itself.

The new iPod shuffle looks very similar to the second-generation model that was released in 2006. It is slightly smaller than the new Apple iPod nano and its case is made from a single piece of aluminium.

As with its other iPods, Apple seems to have included as little as possible in the sales package: headphones, a USB to headphone cable, an Apple sticker and a mini manual.

Apple has reintroduced a plastic control system and an aluminium clip. There are buttons to alter the volume and next and previous buttons to skip tracks. A play/pause button is embedded in the centre of the iPod shuffle. The clip feels sturdy and attaches to clothing very easily.

On the top edge of the iPod shuffle is a three-position switch that allows the user to switch off the iPod, shuffle and play tracks in order. There is also an indicator light that highlights the battery level of the iPod when charging — green (full battery), orange (25% battery) and red (low battery) — and a VoiceOver button that tells you what track is playing, what your level of battery is and what playlists you have available.

To activate the VoiceOver function you simply push the button once to hear the track name and artist, twice to find out your battery level, and hold it to scroll through available playlists. You can skip through these quickly using the next/previous buttons or just listen to the playlists as the voice reads them out. You can select a playlist by pushing the play button.

The new iPod shuffle is very easy to use. Changing playlists or from shuffle to normal mode is a seamless experience, as is switching tracks and changing the volume. People with in-line earphones or third-party earphones with buttons will be pleased to note that they will be supported by the shuffle. However Apple has bundled its regular bud earphones with the iPod. Conveniently, the VoiceOver function supports 25 languages including English, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.

One issue with the iPod shuffle is the lack of a hold/lock button to prevent buttons being accidentally pressed. Apple's support forum details users experience of accidentally changing tracks as a result of this.

According to Apple, the new iPod shuffle delivers 15 hours of audio playback off a single charge, equating to five hours longer than the previous model.

Sound quality is adequate, but the included earphones aren't the best and the lack of in-line controls makes no sense, especially on a device that ideal for fitness use.

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Apple iPod shuffle: Specs

  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
  • AAC (8 to 320Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (8 to 320Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV
  • 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack for audio and for USB charging
  • 2GB flash drive
  • Stores data via USB flash drive
  • 29x31.6x8.7mm
  • 12.5g
  • Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
  • AAC (8 to 320Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (8 to 320Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, 4, Audible Enhanced Audio, AAX and AAX+), Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV
  • 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack for audio and for USB charging
  • 2GB flash drive
  • Stores data via USB flash drive
  • 29x31.6x8.7mm
  • 12.5g

OUR VERDICT

Apple's fourth-generation iPod Shuffle is a sleek and easy-to-use device, largely thanks to the return of the controls offered by the first- and second-generation Shuffles. The VoiceOver feature is also a big winner.

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