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When my trusty old MP3 player finally packed up in 2009, I decided to buy something a little more up-to-date with the world. A very tech-y friend of mine was quick to recommend the Shuffle, as it was only £50 at the time, and, he said, had received great reviews so far. I didn't want a bulky thing, and my last MP3 player had been smaller than 2GB, so I decided to take the leap into the Apple world that everyone seemed to be raving about.
I usually refrain from negative criticism and try to focus on the positives of a product, but besides the useful size of the Shuffle, I have been very disappointed in various different ways.
Problem one surfaced when I had to upload iTunes to my laptop, in order to upload music onto my iPod. The iTunes software immediately converted all of the music files on my hard-drive - collected over the years to reduce the physical need for CDs in my small flat - into what I call 'iTunes MP3s' - ie the fussy format required by this software in order for it to work. Many of them were already MP3s, but of those that weren't, iTunes was only able to convert a few specific types to its own format. I had to download additional (non-Apple) software to be able to add them to the iTunes library. Also, due to my massive music collection, iTunes could not complete the conversions until I had deleted some of the old formats of the files (which I stupidly did), to make space for the many duplicates. At the time I thought, fair enough, I'll give iTunes a go as my regular music player on my laptop too; it can't be all that bad.
How wrong I was. The iTunes library warrants it's own long review regarding it's many frustrating features. Not least of all, I have occasionally selected a track to listen to in haste and accidently pressed the 'delete' button en route, only for that track to disappear entirely from my laptop, as there are no back ups of my music files now and since it was not a file that existed outside of iTunes, it did not even appear in the recycle bin. I wonder how many other valued tracks I have lost this way.
Now back to the Shuffle. I connected it to my laptop with ease once iTunes was up and running, and I made a set of playlists to load onto it. This proved to be another tedious task, as it requires creating a new folder for every album you want on the Shuffle, which again requires duplicating files from the main library. Okay, fine. I had to do that, because if I didn't then all the tracks would appear in a row on the Shuffle and I would not be able to select individual albums. When this was finally done, I put the headphones into my ears and tested it out. I could select an album by trying to memorise what order they had been uploaded in, or else by selecting each playlist in turn to hear what it was using the button on the iPod headphone set. A voice would say 'playlist 1, playlist 2' etc until I selected the playlist I wanted. I could also use the buttons to skip tracks, although there was no way of going back to a track if I wanted to hear it again. So far, so good.. Or so I thought.
The headphones have caused me a lot of hassle in their own right, partly because of how quiet they are- even when fully charged, the volume of the music heard through them is quiet enough that you can't hear it when walking by a busy road.. And I have very good hearing. Generally though, they are simply poor quality: one earphone stopped working after less than a month of use, so I got it replaced at the Apple Store for free only to find that the same thing happened to the second set. I also baulk at the reliance on Apple products that my owning a Shuffle has created: if I want good quality headphones now (which I DO!), I HAVE to buy a pair from Apple, and they are the only ones compatible with the Shuffle, due to the need for the button on the headphone set to control volume and track selection. For the moment I have been simply refusing to do it- and am therefore music-less whenever I leave the house! (Actually this is not entirely true- my mobile phone plays tracks with more ease than the Shuffle seems able to.)
Back to the Shuffle again, I have frequently spent upto an hour uploading albums into playlists, carefully and correctly, only to find that the last 10 albums are inaccessible on the Shuffle, simply due to the fact that the list of playlists only goes up to 10. After that, the voice just keeps saying 'playlist, playlist, playlist', so you have to count yourself what playlist you have reached (when you're in a quiet enough place that you can hear the voice speaking), and then hope that it is actually the album that you want. What's the point of having 2GB storage if I can only use half of it?
On top of all of this, I have found that the Shuffle battery will die after only a couple of hours use. I spoke to an employee in my local Apple Store about this, and he simply replied that '2 hours is a good amount of playtime for a device that small'. Er, playtime?! I think not.
This supposedly simple device has caused me so much hassle over the years, that I'm pretty sure that I won't ever buy an Apple product again. I'm a huge music fan, and I've really missed the ease with which I used my old MP3 player, which was three times the size of the Shuffle, but half the price and easily twice as useful.
My advice? Shuffle away from this product: it's the least music-friendly device I've ever come across.