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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New, smaller iPod Shuffle gets the power of speech

Half the size of the last generation but with twice the capacity, the latest Shuffle boasts a novel way of letting you know what track you're listening to: It talks.

Available now for $79, the new Shuffle (announced this morning on Apple's Web site—did someone heed Chris' call for fewer Apple events?) is billed as the "world's smallest music player," and indeed, it looks tiny—just 1.8 by 0.7 by 0.3 inches, or (as Apple helpfully notes) a little smaller than a AA battery.

Gone is the circular navigation pad from the last-generation Shuffle; instead, you get a new in-line remote on the earphone cord, which includes volume up/down buttons, plus a center control that lets you pause and skip tracks. Not bad, but here's the only problem: Third-party earphones won't work all that well with the new Shuffle, or at least not until someone makes a pair with a compatible in-line remote.

Also new: VoiceOver, an intriguing attempt to replace the Shuffle's missing LCD display with a computerized voice that tells you the track name and artist of the song you're listening to. Just press and hold the center key of the Shuffle's in-line remote to hear VoiceOver speak.

The new Shuffle also gets playlist support—at last—thanks to VoiceOver. Here's how it works: Keep holding the center key and VoiceOver will tell you what playlist you're listening to, followed by a list of all available playlists; click again when you hear the playlist you'd want to select.

Interesting … although based on the demo on Apple's Web site, VoiceOver isn't without its quirks. The voice itself sounds a bit robotic, and for some strange reason, Apple decided to give VoiceOver a male voice when synced with a Mac and a female voice for PC music lovers. Strange—why not give everyone the chance to choose for themselves? (Perhaps they will; guess we'll find out soon.)

That said, I like the fact that the new Shuffle (available in silver and black flavors) comes with 4GB of storage for $79, just $10 more than the old 2GB version.

So, what do you think? Like the new Shuffle? Thoughts on VoiceOver? Fire away.

Source: Yahoo!