Monday, October 22, 2012

Apple iPod Shuffle 4th Generation Review

Hey guys, today I have for you a review of the iPod Shuffle. I know running with music is sometimes a point of contention in the running community, so I'll just state my opinion. I do agree that running with music can be a safety hazard. No matter what you may argue, its harder to hear vehicles, other runners, and your environment when you have headphones on. But on the other hand, at times running can be boring, especially when you're logging a lot of miles, and music undeniably pumps you up and makes hard runs seem just a little easier. As such, I think that when deciding whether to run with music, there are several things to consider. First, what is the environment? Are you going to be running on a road and need to hear cars coming? A bike path or heavily populated trail with other people around you? If so, probably not a good route to listen to music on. Also, a lot of races have a no iPod policy, and I'd strongly discourage music during races, simply as a safety precaution. You never know when another runner is coming up behind you. On the other hand, if you're running along a less heavily traveled area, its probably okay to play music, but at a low volume. You always want to be able to hear your surroundings, so if others can hear your music its probably too loud. Personally, I'll run with music on most of my runs simply because I do most of my miles alone and it gets pretty tedious at times. But, I'm always cautious of my surroundings and keep my volume low.
The 4th generation iPod Shuffle
Now, on to the review. I've owned several MP3 players, including the SanDisk Sansa (never ran with it), iPod Nano 3rd Generation (ran with until battery started dying), iPod Nano 5th Generation (ran with until recently), and now the iPod Shuffle 4th Generation. My decision to purchase it was based on a few factors: for one, I was just sick of wearing an armband all the time to carry my iPod. It was cumbersome, uncomfortable, and had the makings of a nasty tan line. Also, my Nano's click wheel was starting to act weird, probably from all the sweat that has gone into the device. And lastly, I had a coupon that allowed me to pick up a refurbished Shuffle for around $20. Not a bad price at all.
This thing is small! For comparison, plug is standard USB size (~1 inch)
The 4th generation Shuffle is a beautiful device, sporting the typical Apple aluminum exterior. Also, this thing is SMALL! Thin and light so not gonna add any extra weight. Although it may lack fancy extras, it has a number of features that are essential for most runners. The first of these is the clip. You can literally clip this thing onto any piece of clothing: waistband, shirt, hat, etc. The clip is pretty strong and the device is light so it doesn't work its way loose too easily. Still, I prefer to keep it clipped on my waistband to have gravity on my side. Among the other features essential to runners are the 5 buttons on the front. Play/pause, fast-forward, rewind, volume up, and volume down. The previous Shuffle lacked these in favor of a finicky headphone control, but now they're back. Having physical buttons instead of a touch screen such as the 6th generation Nano is helpful when you're covered in sweat and trying to change that song. The other buttons on the device are a switch that controls the mode (off, shuffle, play sequentially), and the VoiceOver button. Given the lack of a screen, I actually found the VoiceOver to be helpful once I got it working (it was a little difficult to set up, but I'll cover this later).
The clip, VoiceOver, and mode buttons
My biggest concerns before purchasing the Shuffle were the small storage size (2GB) and the lack of a screen. Having never owned an MP3 player without a screen before, this was something of a foreign concept. How would I select songs or see what's playing? Well, luckily this is kind of the whole point of the Shuffle. First off, 2GB of storage is plenty as long as you aren't trying to bring your whole library. I have a playlist that is about 2.5 hours long, so long enough to cover my long runs and then some, and this is only a couple hundred MB. So if you're like me and you have a few running specific playlists, you'll be fine. If you'd rather have your whole music library on and just play songs from it randomly, then you may need more space. I'm guessing this isn't too much of a concern for most runners, and worst case you have to rotate your songs every once in a while. Still not bad for the price.

To address my fear of the lack of a screen, well, that is also why I found the Shuffle refreshing. Instead of the distraction of a screen and picking what songs I want, I'd load up 2 hours worth of songs I want to listen to, and just have it shuffle them at random. That way I'd always be listening to something I want, and I wouldn't have to worry about fumbling with the device to change tracks. The utter simplicity is refreshing. Clip on, turn on, and go. Now don't get me wrong, I love gadgets and technology (hence my decision to major in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science), but when I'm running it is refreshing to be able to focus solely on the run. Not to mention, the Nano's click wheel or the newer touch screen tend to dislike sweat (meaning they fail to work at times). Nothing is more annoying than having to stop in the middle of a run to fumble with your iPod, or trying to turn the volume down only to have the click wheel malfunction and blast your eardrums. And if you really must know what song is playing, just press the VoiceOver button and the robotic voice will announce it (assuming you have the feature enabled in iTunes).

Speaking of VoiceOver, I'll admit it was not that easy to install. I tried several times, and each time the installer failed or froze (even after a complete restore of the iPod). This problem isn't specific to me either, as a quick search revealed many other users with the same problem. Eventually I gave up, and then one day I accidentally pressed the VoiceOver button and it worked. Seems like it had installed behind my back. So just don't be surprised if you have difficulties installing.

Another view of the top
I'll address one more point before I move on to the negatives of the Shuffle. Each of my past iPods have suffered from less than stellar (in my opinion) battery life. I charge my iPhone basically every day without thinking twice, but for some reason having to charge an iPod every week annoys me. Probably because I only use it for running, but I don't know. The Shuffle however, has shown excellent battery life so far. There have been times when I feel like I haven't charged it in way too long yet have been surprised to find there is still plenty of battery left. Of course only time will tell how the battery holds up, and I will be sure to let you guys know of any problems.
Special USB cable for charging and syncing
To be clear, the Shuffle isn't all positives. Obviously, the difficulty in installing VoiceOver ticked me off. Also, the charging cable uses the headphone jack instead of the typical Apple connector, so you won't be able to use your iPhone/iPod cable to charge your Shuffle. As I mentioned before, some people may find that 2GB is not enough space for them, though a little organization should solve that problem. The lack of a screen I found refreshing, but others may find annoying. The headphones that come with the Shuffle suffer from the typical Apple earbud problem, which is that they fit some peoples' ears but won't stay in others, and have relatively poor sound quality. Also, the cord is quite short. I'm not that tall (5'9") and found the cord too short to run from my waist up my back. Easily remedied by some cheap headphones I had lying around. And finally, it is an iPod so iTunes is necessary for the most part, but that is not a huge deal.

To sum it all up, I am pretty impressed with the iPod Shuffle. It fit what I was looking for perfectly. Simple, no frills, and easy to use. Thus far I have not had any serious issues with it, and I'd highly recommend it for anyone who runs with music and is looking for a new MP3 player. Especially if you want one JUST FOR RUNNING (something cheap but high quality that you can sweat all over and not worry about). The pricing is pretty good, although you can certainly find other MP3 players for less. If you aren't into Apple products or just want an alternative, I'd take a look at the SanDisk Clip. I've heard good things about this player but I've had relatively good experiences with Apple products so I decided to go with the Shuffle. Refurbished Shuffles typically go for around $30, and less if you can dig up a coupon. Probably the only reason I wouldn't recommend a Shuffle is if you plan to use it a lot outside of running. When it comes to casual music listening, the lack of a screen and small storage can are serious shortcomings. But, if you already own a more expensive MP3 player and don't want to cause damage from sweat and rain, I'd strongly recommend the Apple iPod Shuffle.

As always, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or experiences!


  1. Ziran, thank you for this very helpful review. Have you had any trouble with all the sweating while running? I imagine that the ipod might malfunction after getting wet?

    Many thanks.


    1. Hi,
      I have not experienced any issues with malfunction. Only time will tell of course, but I ran with this iPod since this summer and have not had any issues yet. I have it clipped to my waistband so it gets pretty sweaty if it is hot outside too. If you are worried you can clip it outside your shirt, or on a hat if you wear one. It should be fine.

    2. I'm in North Carolina. I have fried over five of these things. Always seems to happen on hot, sweaty days. I think it takes just one magic bead of sweat to sniper this Death Star of a music player and it is done. I wish they would come out with an Ipod "sport" or something. In my opinion, the Ipod shuffle is not very durable.

    3. Wow I'm sorry to hear about your bad luck with the Shuffle. Mine is still going strong, but I'd imagine that if I lived in a more humid/hotter environment I'd probably run into the same issues eventually. I agree that it would be nice to have some sort of sport iPod from Apple that is more resistant to water/sweat. A quick search shows that you can in fact buy a third party waterproofed Shuffle for around $150. Seems to get good reviews on Amazon. You might consider that since you have gone through so many of them already!

      Thanks for reading and let me know how things work out if you decide to get that waterproofed Shuffle.

  2. I just had two 4th gen iPod shuffles go bad on consecutive runs. Over 90 degree days & sunny, clipped to waistband, no shirt. I suspect they went bad from direct sun on a very hot day, and both were approx. 2 years old. 1st shuffle, volume suddenly increased to maximum and I couldn't turn it down. I reinstalled the operating system, and tho' music works, none of the controls do. 2nd shuffle more than 1/2 way thru run, suddenly died. Could not restore. I think I will clip my new 5th gen (really a 4th) shuffle inside my short's key pocket on super hot days. (By the way, my 1st gen shuffle still works like a charm.)

    1. Hmm that is really interesting. I haven't had any issues with mine yet, but I haven't had it as long as you... Granted I live in the Bay Area where it is never that hot. I was more worried about sweat causing problems. Good thing is they are relatively cheap, especially if you buy used. Thanks for reading!

    2. I know exactly what you are talking about Anonymous. I could have written your comment verbatim.

    3. What kind of earphones do you recomende?

  3. I have been running with a shuffle for the past 10 years. Ive gone through 6 of them. My 6th died today. The shuffle seems to have a life line of 2 years if you live in a hot and humid environment (I live in NC). I wish I can find a way to keep it dry without adding weight or discomfort (1st world problems).

    1. I used to live in Illinois where the summers are pretty humid and have not experienced any problems... I'm sorry to hear that you haven't had great luck with durability of the Shuffle. Have you looked into Waterfi? They sell a waterproofed shuffle for ~$150 on Amazon. Granted I have not tried it so I cannot vouch for it, but it seems to have good reviews. Might be worth checking out!