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7/10

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Apple iPod shuffle (Third Gen)

Okay. Hands up. We know we're a bit late on this one, but we've only just been able to get hold of the, ahem, brand new (ish) iPod shuffle. We're at least 99 per cent sure that the delay is a case of limited product samples and nothing to do with our slightly negative initial impressions.

All we can say is that we've definitely come to the shuffle with a completely open mind. After all, we rather liked the last one, and while it has been outclassed by a number of rival devices in terms of sound quality, usability and value, it's still one of the finest micro MP3 players on the market.

In some key respects, the 3G shuffle makes an even better first impression. I've seen an awful lot of players in the last few months, but the Apple's latest has serious ‘wow' factor, and it's all down to a killer combination of size and style. I knew the shuffle was small, but I didn't expect it to be this tiny. Take it from me, reading that it's around 4.5cm long, 1.7cm wide and 5mm thick is one thing, but seeing this thing in the metal is something else.

It's hard to imagine how Apple packed the processing and output circuitry in there, let alone the flash memory and a Lithium Polymer battery. With nothing on the smooth, aluminium body bar a spring clip and a three-way slider switch it's also probably the most minimalist electronic device of any type I've ever encountered and one that looks - in my opinion - ridiculously cool.

The ‘gun metal' version I have here resembles nothing so much as 2001's monolith shrunk to ant size. Maybe that's appropriate, because it feels like a rock-solid, indestructible, inscrutable piece of alien tech.

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