It's hard being the runt of the litter, and the iPod shuffle knows it. When your bigger siblings are the iPod nano and iPod touch, it's hard to impress anyone if you're little more than a piece of flash memory with a headphone jack. Not that there isn't a market for the iPod shuffle's class of player, but it hasn't had the easiest development.
If we were being generous we might argue that the world just wasn't ready for the groundbreaking and innovative removal of controls from the third generation device. If we were being realistic we'd point out that that it was an ill-considered and unwelcome move for Apple. Suffice it to say that the re-addition of controls to the body of the fourth generation iPod shuffle tells us everything we need to know about the reception received by the last one. Attractive it may have been, but it was definitely flawed.
Fortunately for the iPod shuffle, despite the presence of volume, track selection and a play/pause buttons on its face, along with a three-way selector and a small VoiceOver button up top is far from ugly. And though its larger than its predecessor, the 29mm x 31.6mm x 8.7mm, 12.5g device is still small and light enough to be barely perceptible when attached to your clothing using its built-in clip.
The VoiceOver button takes the place of the press-and-hold action on the in-line remote of the previous iPod shuffle - although if you have a compatible headset, that still works. A press has the iPod shuffle pronounce the currently playing song and artist to you, while a hold cycles through the available playlists, with a further press selecting the last mentioned. Because this control no longer doubles as the play/pause and track-skip button as it did with the in-line remote it's much easier to navigate between playlists now.
You probably won't have all that many playlists on your iPod shuffle, though, because it now comes exclusively with 2GB of flash storage - your only options are what colour you decide on. However, considering how portable the new iPod nano is, the issue isn't the lack of a larger capacity but equally portable player in Apple's iPod line-up, but rather that of pricing. The gap between the 2GB, £39 iPod shuffle and the £129, 8GB iPod nano is enough that we doubt anyone looking at the shuffle would consider making the jump.