I'm a big fan of Apple's iPod. The iPod Mini would be my top recommendation for anyone seeking a digital music player. Unfortunately, Apple's new Flash-based iPod Shuffle really doesn't live up to the reputation forged by its stablemates.
Like most Apple products, the Shuffle is very easy to use. Just plug it directly into your computer's USB port and load music via the iTunes program supplied with the package.
In terms of sound quality the Shuffle is the best Flash player I've yet heard. Personal music systems won't satisfy those in search of sonic perfection but the player, in conjunction with Apple's signature headphones, produces a clean, nicely balanced sound. It rather lacks depth, but it's perfect for when you're sitting on the bus or taking a walk -- the sorts of situations for which it is designed -- and being the size of a packet of chewing gum it is incredibly light and portable.
However, I found the Shuffle's lack of features a real annoyance. The player has no display at all. You can control the volume, shuttle forward, rewind and pause, and there's an option to play the songs in order or randomly. That's it.
Apple has attempted to turn this shortage of features into a selling point, and it's true that you can still listen to a cassette, for example, without a display to tell you which track is playing. But then, you can still clean a chimney by pushing an eight-year-old up it with a brush, should you wish; we don't because there are better ways of doing things.
The Shuffle is flimsy, too. While the iPod Mini has a comforting solidity about it, the Shuffle is just too plasticy to inspire much confidence: heaven help you -- and it -- if you sit on one.
So for those seeking a highly portable player with good sound, the Shuffle could fit the bill, but anyone wanting to do more than just play "guess that tune" while waiting in a traffic jam may wish to look elsewhere.
Price: $149; $229 (2GB version); Distributor: Apple Computer; Phone: 133 622; URL: www.apple.com.au