Of course, there’s a price to pay for all that studied minimalism; there’s no room for a screen, or indeed any playback controls on the shuffle itself. The three way slider mounted on the top next to the headphone output (which still doubles as the USB connector) simply switches between off and Shuffle and Play in Order modes, and the only other feature on the unit is a small LED indicator for battery status.
Controls are, instead, mounted on the earphones, on the cable below the right earpiece. As with the remote built into Apple’s In Ear Headphones, we effectively get three buttons; volume up, volume down, and a multi-function effort. Here’s where the shuffle gets slightly clever. Click this button once and it pauses or plays. Double-click it and it goes forward one track. Triple-click it, and you skip one track backwards.
All well and good, but that’s not really a lot of control, is it? Well, Apple has come up with a smarter alternative to the screen this time: speech. Click and hold the button and a robotic voice (male or female synced with a Mac or PC respectively) announces the name of the current track and artist. Better still, this is the first shuffle to support playlists. Click and hold the button longer and you get the name of the current playlist, before the shuffle starts cycling through any playlists you’ve transferred to the device. Hear the one you want? Click again and you’re away. It’s simple, but it works, and it’s a more sophisticated AUI (Audio User Interface) than that on the Sony W202 walkman, with its bizarre “zappin’ in” exclamations.
I understand that MacOS users get a more human voice, but the one Windows users get is perfectly usable. In fact, bar the odd bit of peculiar pronunciation, the only weird foible I found was that, when announcing classical pieces by Wagner, the shuffle would suddenly switch to a strange, Germanic male accent. Still, I guess you might call it appropriate.