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iPod Shuffle (3rd-gen) review, surprises

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell points to his full review of the Apple iPod Shuffle (third generation) and offers some details that surprised him.

CNET's official, rated review of the third-generation Apple iPod Shuffle is up and ready for your perusal. I never thought it would be tough to review an MP3 player without any buttons on it, but the experience wasn't as cut and dry as you'd expect. In some ways, Apple's new Shuffle may just be the most intriguing MP3 player I review all year, even if its design paradoxically bores me to tears. You have to admire the sleight of hand Apple pulled off by adding song ID and playlist navigation to the Shuffle, while at the same time removing its tried and true navigation pad. I'm not crazy about the result, but the concept is fascinating.

Photo of the third generation Apple iPod Shuffle.
A shot before the Shuffle got lost in my desk clutter. Donald Bell/CNET Networks

The CNET review covers the nitty-gritty, but I'm here to offer a few of my own personal observations after spending a day with Apple's new Shuffle. Here's a list of ways the Shuffle surprised me.

Vanishing act. Over the course of just one day, I must have lost the Shuffle at least four times--just sitting at my desk. Nicole Lee can vouch for this. She heard all my screams from the other side of the cubicle. Now, I expected this thing would be easy to lose, but the surprising part is that the Shuffle's tiny size was only part of the problem.

The Shuffle's resemblance to a USB stick probably threw me the most. Since I typically have at least two or three thumb drives scattered on my desk at any given time, the addition of a nondescript black or silver $80 Shuffle is easy to dismiss.

Jasmine would actually wear it. If you've ever seen a First Look video from my MP3 cohort Jasmine France, you can get a sense of how much this girl likes fashion. I wouldn't have thought in a million years that she'd go for the new Shuffle's muted, stoic design, but it turned out to be her favorite feature. I guess there's something to be said for wearable tech that just blends in, and doesn't draw attention to itself. What's not surprising: I still don't understand women.

Now playing: Watch this: Apple iPod Shuffle (third-generation)

Podcasts and audiobooks. Not everyone works out to throbbing techno at the gym. Some people take their mind off the treadmill by listening to a good book or their favorite podcast. The Shuffle now supports automatic podcast and audiobook management, and is smart enough to keep the material from popping into the default music shuffle. It's also smart enough to play these files sequentially, regardless of whether the shuffle switch is on or off. The Shuffle treats podcasts and audiobooks as playlists, so if you want to hear them you have to press and hold the button until VoiceOver starts reeling off your playlists. As a side note, the remote's volume buttons let you quickly scroll through playlists, so you're not waiting forever for VoiceOver to talk its way down to your playlist of Xylophone Songs.

You can use the Shuffle with other headphones, sorta. There's a lot of groaning going on about Apple's decision to shift the controls to the headphone cable, and the effect that has on using third-party headphones or stereos. I'm totally with you. For what it's worth, though, the Shuffle will technically play music to anything that uses a standard 3.5mm connection (headphones, aux cable). I connected my Ultrasone HFI-2200 headphones to the Shuffle, switched it on, and music started playing immediately. Now, without Apple's remote clicker on the bundled earbuds, you can't control volume, pause, skip, or manage playlists--but you do get to hear music. The Shuffle always remembers the last volume setting used, and you can also throttle down the player's maximum volume using the device overview pane in iTunes.