I’m a big fan of the iPod shuffle. I would go so far as to say that if it weren’t for the iPod shuffle, I might not be doing triathlons at all. The only way I’ve found to endure 1-hour swims, 2-hour runs, and 3-hour bike rides (which are about to get longer as I start my full Ironman training in a month) is to listen to audiobooks, and the iPod shuffle is the ideal device due to its small size and ease of use. For the past 2-3 years I’ve been using the 2nd generation product, but recently my wife got me a 3rd generation model, which wouldn’t have been necessary except that my waterproof iPod case broke and H2O Audio offered to replace it with their newest waterproof headphone system, which only fits the 3rd and 4th generation iPod shuffles.
In the past week I’ve used it for swimming, biking, and running, and here’s my overall takeaway; there are some things that are better, and some things that aren’t.
1. Smaller. It’s thinner/slimmer than the 2G in two dimensions, and only slightly longer. Overall it’s perhaps 60% as large.
2. Clip. The clip is much stronger, it would appear. I had issues occasionally with the earphone cord getting caught on something, or the iPod being jolted too hard when clipped to the bottom of my t-shirt, and it would fly off. With the 3G that doesn’t seem to be an issue, which I assume is partly to do to it’s smaller size, but the clip does seem to be quite a bit stronger.
3. Dock/cradle. The cradle, dock, or USB connector, or whatever it’s called, is much, much smaller. It’s just a USB plug with a two-inch cord and a plug that goes in the iPod, vs. the 1-foot cord, cradle/base, etc. of the 2G. This makes it easier to transport, since it would go comfortably in your pocket. I guess it makes it easier to lose too, but you can’t have everything.
1. File organization. On the 2G when you plug in your iPod, iTunes shows you all the files. With the 3G you have “options”, such as a music folder or a “books” folder. This means there’s just one more click I have to do in order to see what’s on my iPod through iTunes. For me, I don’t want to organize my files into music and books, I just want all the files like on the 2G, but I don’t see any way to change the settings to allow that.
2. Syncing. With my 2G if I plug it in, it automatically syncs. With the 3G I have to click a “sync” button in iTunes. Why doesn’t it sync automatically when plugged in? I have no idea. But it’s kind of annoying because when I plug in the shuffle the audiobook tracks I’ve listened to aren’t updated in iTunes to show that they’ve been played, so I have to click the sync button once there. Then, after I delete the audiobook tracks I’ve listened to via iTunes, I have to click “sync” again for them to be deleted from the shuffle. Annoying.
Correction: On the shuffle there is a slide-button with three different settings; off, play in order, shuffle. I use play in order, since I’m listening to audiobooks. If this button is left on this setting when plugged in, it will not sync upon being plugged in. However, if you turn it off, then it will auto-sync when plugged in. However, when I delete files from iTunes that are on the iPod, it still does no auto-sync and I have to press the “sync” button within iTunes for those files to be deleted from the iPod. So overall it’s still annoying because I liked how the 2G worked and this is more work.
1. Controls on cord. For a lot of people this has been a big negative because it means you can’t just plug in any old headphones–you either have to use the Apple provided headphones, or you have to buy a Belkin adapter (about $12). I opted to buy the adapter, so I can still use my normal headphones, but what I’m worried about is that if I wear the shuffle on my waist, then the cord sticks out the top of the shuffle and then immediately is bent over since the cord hangs down a ways before it turns around to go up towards my ears. This puts stress on the adapter right where it plugs into the iPod, and I’m worried that might lead to problems with the adapter later on.
However, having the controls on the cord seems to reduce how often the controls are accidentally pushed, which was an issue on my 2G shuffle, so it all sort of seems to balance out.
2. Voiceover. There’s an option where the shuffle will “talk” to you to tell you information about what you’re listening to. Maybe this will grow on me, but at the moment I don’t have any use for it. It doesn’t come on unless I tell it to, so it’s not an annoyance or anything, just something I don’t use, therefore it’s neutral.
If it weren’t for needing to use the 3G for my waterproof case for swimming, I’d stick with the 2G. The things that are better about the 3G aren’t enough to outweigh the negatives. But since the negatives are software-based issues, I’m hopeful they’ll be fixed at a future date.
Update 23 June, 2010: So…that Belkin adapter I got for $12? After all of what, a month? of using the thing it started going out on me. First the left ear was spotty, unless I held the cord a certain way. Then the right ear started going out as well. Now it’s useless and I have to mail it in to get a replacement. This means I have to use the headphones that came with the iPod 3G, which stink. They fall out of my ears, they kind of hurt, and they don’t block outside sound, which makes them useless on a bike with the wind and all because I can’t hear anything. So for the time being I’m going back to my iPod 2G for running and biking, and only using the 3G for swimming.