Is Apple’s ‘war on buttons’ finally over? After confounding millions with its buttonlesss mouse and trackpad, it seems Apple’s purge finally went too far last year.

The buttonless iPod Shuffle of 2009 was small enough to inhale and could only be controlled by a series of cryptic squeezes on its specially designed earphone cable – hardly a recipe for mass-market adoption. Unsurprisingly, it flopped.

The return of the button

The new fourth-generation Shuffle returns to its roots, with a reassuring circular button layout on its front. This means you can not only skip between songs without an instruction manual, but also use your own headphones rather than being stuck with the bundled earbuds.

Of course, new controls mean the 2010 Shuffle is bigger that its predecessor, but it’s still remarkably tiny, featherlight and beautifully crafted from seamless aluminium. And the built-in clip will keep it firmly in place no matter how vigorous your activity.

It’s less easy to keep a track of the inch-long USB cable that plugs into the Shuffle’s earphone socket to load it with music. Lose it at your peril – a replacement will cost you £15.


A premium worth paying?

The new Shuffle addresses the most obvious problems of its predecessor, but retains its best feature – a voice instead of a screen. It’ll speak the name of the current song and artist with the press of (yet another) button on the top of the player. You can even navigate through playlists using this VoiceOver feature.

Even with Voiceover, some will baulk at the Shuffle’s price. After all, there are plenty of cheaper MP3 players available, and the Shuffle’s 2GB capacity seems particularly stingy (it has space for around 200 songs at today’s typical 320kpbs bit-rate).

But with brain-free iTunes synching, solid build and excellent sound quality, we reckon Apple’s premium is worth paying. 


Stuff says... 

Apple iPod Shuffle 4G review

Stylish, simple and perfectly suited to the gym