Second Generation iPod Shuffle Performance

I’ve been playing around with the new iPod Shuffle for the past six weeks or so, and here’s what I’ve learned:

It works really well under iTunes and is much better for playing books from Audible than the first generation Shuffle is. It keeps my place in Audible books just fine regardless of their format, even when I connect the Shuffle to the PC to load or remove content. The only thing that can be troublesome is that you have to pause an Audible book before switching to a different track. If you simply press Back to go to the previous track without having pressed Pause first, you are taken to the beginning of the file, and your place is lost. You don’t lose your place if you go to the next track without pressing Pause first, but I find it a good habit to always press Pause when I’m done listening to an Audible book, just to make sure.

I’m pretty sure file transfers are faster with the new Shuffle. This speed is appreciated.

In order to use the new Shuffle, you have to use iTunes 7. There are some advantages to iTunes7. Most notably, updating your iPod is easier than with earlier versions. You simply connect it, and if an update is required, a dialog telling you so pops up. You can choose to download the update or to download and install it. If you choose to install it, the update is downloaded and installed automatically. This dialog is very accessible; it talks just fine even if you aren’t using scripts or set files.

iTunes 7 has disadvantages, however. While Brian Hartgen’s JAWS scripts work with iTunes 7, the interface isn’t as stable as with iTunes 6 because it is more difficult to make iTunes 7 accessible. You also have to use JAWS 7, which could be a problem if you don’t have that version. And if you want to change Shuffle options, such as enabling disk use or converting higher-bitrate tracks to 128 KBPS AAC when transferred to the Shuffle, you need sighted assistance. You must first click on Settings, which is doable with your screen reader’s mouse cursor. Then a page comes up that tells you your iPod’s serial number, whether it’s up to date, how full it is, and how much free space is available. There is a Restore button, which is accessible with your screen reader’s mouse cursor. There are also check boxes for setting options such as enabling disk use. However, these check boxes don’t appear on screen when Settings is clicked; you have to scroll down to them. And I haven’t found any way to do this with a screen reader. Once you reach the check boxes, screen readers can’t tell you whether they’re checked or unchecked. Clicking on the first letter of the option does change the state of the check box, however, so if you know how it was set before, you can click once and change it. When you’ve made all your changes, you have to click an Apply button.

At the moment, neither >Anapod Explorer nor RealPlayer are alternatives for using the new Shuffle. Just connecting to Anapod Explorer, without transferring any tracks, makes your Shuffle incapable of playing AAC files or saving your place in an Audible book. These abilities are restored if you reconnect to iTunes. However, after that, any tracks you transfer to the Shuffle are sorted alphabetically by artist, rather than played in the order they were transferred. Only restoring the iPod stops this behavior. I reported this problem to Red Chair Software, but have received no response. The one improvement in Anapod support is that Format 2 and 3 Audible books now play if transferred to the Shuffle with Anapod Explorer. However, as with Format 4 books, your place will not be saved.

RealPlayer does not currently work with iTunes 7, so you can’t use the new Shuffle with it. The tech support person I spoke with told me Real Networks is working on iTunes 7 compatibility, but he has no idea when it will be achieved.

So if you are comfortable using iTunes, the new Shuffle is an improvement over the old one. It works wel with Audible books, it holds quite a bit of music, it’s cute, and it’s pretty cheap. But if you’d rather use Anapod Explorer or RealPlayer, you’ll be disappointed in the new Shuffle, at least for now.


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