Archive for March, 2009

First Impressions of Talking Third generation iPod Shuffle

March 30, 2009

Apple released the third generation of its iPod Shuffle a couple of weeks ago. It’s smaller than the previous versions, and it talks. I’ve had a chance to experiment a bit with it; here’s what I’ve learned so far:

This Shuffle is tiny. It’s about the size of half a stick of gum, but a little thicker. Like the second generation Shuffle, it has a clip on the back, so you can attach it easily to anything you like. Unfortunately, this tiny size was achieved by moving most of the controls to three buttons on the headphones — the top and bottom buttons, which are Volume Up and Volume Down, and the center button, which is used for almost everything else. This is nice in some ways; the controls are within easy reach regardless of where you have clipped the Shuffle. As a result, however, you need an adapter to use it with other headphones or external speakers. As far as I can tell, no such adapter has been produced yet, though at least one is in the works. Another drawback to the controls is that the middle button has about seven different functions, depending on how many times you click it, and whether you hold it down afterward:

  • Click once to start or pause playback.
  • Hold for one second to speak the title and artist of the current track.
  • Hold until you hear a tone to go to a list of all the playlists on the Shuffle; you can then either wait to hear the name of the playlist you want or move through the list of playlists with Volume Up and Volume Down, and then click the center button to choose the playlist you want.
  • Click twice to go to the next track.
  • Click twice and hold to fast forward within the current track.
  • Click three times to go to the beginning of the current track or the previous track, depending how far into the track you are.
  • Click three times and hold to rewind within the current track.

I think having a couple of additional controls or finding a way to use Volume Up and Volume Down for the rewind and fast forward and previous and next track functions would have been preferable. Perhaps when adapters start coming out, they will include better controls.

I like a lot of this Shuffle’s features, however.

  • It holds 4 GB, so you can put an impressive amount of music or audiobooks onto it.
  • Not only can you select a playlist, but you can choose to repeat or shuffle everything in your iPod or just a particular playlist. You can’t turn Repeat off, but you can control what is repeated.
  • As with the larger iPods, you can manage your music manually, or you can sync your whole library if it’s small enough, or selected playlists if it isn’t. You can sync podcasts too, and your podcast settings are independent of your music settings.
  • Autofill is available if you manage your iPod manually, and this feature is also now available on the larger iPods.
  • The Shuffle plays Audible Enhanced, Audible’s new stereo format. This despite the fact that neither the Shuffle documentation nor Audible’s information about the new format mentions that capability.
  • The Shuffle lets you move between sections in Audible books, and unlike the Nano, it locates the sections perfectly regardless of the Audible format, rather than being off by a few seconds.
  • You can find out the battery status at any time by turning the Shuffle off and then quickly back on.
  • As mentioned earlier, you can hear the title and artist of the currently playing track at any time and can select any playlist you choose. The voice is fine;  I think it’s the same Samantha voice used on the Victor Reader Stream. If you use a Mac, you’ll hear a different voice; I believe its name is Alex.
  • Installing the voice kit is a matter of following completely accessible onscreen instructions and takes very little time. You don’t have to search for a voice or configure anything in Control Panel. You don’t have to worry about setting the language on the iPod either; all language settings are controlled from within iTunes. So it’s easier to get started with the Shuffle than with the Nano.

The Shuffle has some disadvantages besides the control issues mentioned earlier. Podcasts are considered a single playlist, so finding the one you want can be tricky. The only way to get an album treated as an album is to create a playlist containing all the tracks on the album, so if you want to access separate albums, you’ll have to create more playlists than you would with the larger iPods. Still, overall it’s a great product, especially given its $80 price.

BrailleNote and VoiceNote Work with New Bookshare Site

March 28, 2009

HumanWare recently released an update that allows the BrailleNote and VoiceNote to access Bookshare.org’s new site. This update is free to all KeySoft 7.5 users. You can read about the update and obtain installation instructions here.

Blind iPod Mailing List Name Changed to Portable Player

March 28, 2009

Since any portable media player may be discussed, not just iPods, the name of the Blind iPod e-mail list has been changed to Portable Player. In the past few months, this list has been particularly helpful to new users of talking iPods, but the Victor Reader Stream, sites for downloading music, and many other topics are discussed. You can read about the list and subscribe here.

Audible adds new Stereo Format

March 5, 2009

audible has just released a new format called Audible Enhanced Audio. It is stereo, it’s AAC-based, and it sounds great. (It takes up 28.8 MB per hour, so you do need to have quite a bit of room available if you plan to upgrade a lot of books to the new format.) It plays on third and fourth generation iPod Nanos and 6th generation iPod Classics, as well as the iPhone, iPod Touch, Microsoft Zune, and a few other players.

To play Audible Enhanced Audio, you need to download a new version of Audible Download Manager. If you use an iPod, follow the first link titled Selected on the software page I just referenced. Audible download Manager lets you choose whether to send your downloads to Audible Manager, iTunes, Windows Media Player, or any combination thereof. Download and install the software.

When you choose a book to download, it may not be available in Audible Enhanced format yet. About 11,000 books are currently available, and Audible hopes to add most of the rest of its titles by the end of the year.

The first time you try to download an Audible Enhanced title, you are prompted to upgrade Audible Manager. Follow the prompts to do this. Then download your book and load it into your iPod.

While this format probably won’t make that much difference for books read by a single narrator, it makes listening to dramas much more fun. I just tried it with the BBC dramatization of The Two Towers, and it sounds fantastic. Well done, Audible!