Apple likes to refresh its products fairly regularly. Each year, the iPhone and iPad get a facelift, but some of the iPod brothers aren't so lucky. The iPod Classic hasn't been overhauled properly since 2007, and the iPod shuffle has been the same since 2010. But has anything changed in the 2012 iPod Shuffle, and is it still worth buying?
The iPod shuffle was given a nod at the launch of the iPhone 5, making us wonder whether Apple had decided to tweak the design of this tiddly solid-state music player. It hasn't, not much anyway.
The biggest change made to the iPod shuffle in 2012 is that several new colours have been introduced. It's now available in six colourful hues - red-pink, full-on red, purple, lime green, green, and turquoise. The aluminium construction hasn't changed, lending each a subtle metallic finish.
There are many criticisms that can be aimed at the iPod shuffle, but the build is hard to fault. The one seam in the little metal body of the player keeps tightly to the outline of the clip on the rear, making it invisible in normal use. To adopt today's smartphone terminology, the iPod shuffle uses an all-metal unibody style design that makes almost all other players at the price seem a little flimsy.
It's not just the use of metal that upholds the Apple reputation for build quality, either. The button action and the satisfying clunk of the function switch up top are all that bit better than you'd get from most rivals at the price.
The iPod shuffle works best as a sports MP3 player. It's small at 3cm long, ridiculously light at just 13g and offers a sturdy metal clip that's ready to attach to clothing.
The hardware downsides to the iPod shuffle are obvious, though. This is a painfully simple device, with no screen and limited control over which track is playing.
Basic control over track playback is actually much better than average, the whole front of the shuffle given over to an immensely thumb-and-finger-friendly circular control dial that is contoured for blind use. It's the wider control over what's playing that's the issue.
For this, you have to rely on the 3-setting switch up top. Position one turns the player off, position two plays the tracks in the order they are arranged on the player, and the last turns on the shuffle mode that the player is named after.
To get any real sense of control over the order of tracks, you'll have to use playlists, made using iTunes. However, you're not left entirely out at sea if you don't know your music collection by heart either, thanks to the VoiceOver button that sits next to this playback switch.
Tap once on this button and a voice synthesised read-out of the title of the track playing will pipe out. A long press on the button will tell you the album, track and playlist that the track belongs to, while a double tap reads out the battery level. The standard synthetic voice is a rather well-spoken woman of near-RP English accent. It works surprisingly well, and lacks the cringe-factor of rival audio-based features such as Sony's Zappin mode.
VoiceOver doesn't rely on any involved processing on the iPod shuffle's end. Instead, it is something that has to be enabled within iTunes during the setup of the player. iTunes generates mini sound files of the readouts, transferred to the shuffle along with the songs themselves during sync.
Like every Apple music player, you need to sync using iTunes with the iPod shuffle. There's no option to drag and drop, which is likely to annoy those who don't already use iTunes as their go-to computer music source.
Format support is also the standard among the iPod family. AAC and MP3 are the two main types supported, with Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV available for those not willing to sacrifice quality for file size. With just 2GB of internal memory, though, using lossless formats is not a great idea. Stick to 192kbps quality or lower and you should be able to fit 25-30 albums on the shuffle.