Darling Mini


Kids, don't steal music.

(Oddly, most of the people who have expressed an interest in seeing the mini have been women. Is that just because there are many women who work at Macworld , or because the mini appeals to women? I can't answer that question, friend.)

But after having used the mini for, oh, a solid five hours, I do have some observations:

The Size. Seriously, you need to pick one up to really understand how tiny the iPod mini is. It's hard to believe there's a hard drive in there. It's like a small remote control, or an ultra-tiny cell phone. It's not just small, but thin and light. I can slip it into a pocket and hardly notice that it's there -- which isn't really true of the regular iPod. The Finish. I'm really liking the mini's anodized aluminum finish, which is pleasantly textured like the latest round of PowerBook G4s. The silver model is a perfect match for the PowerBooks, but the colors are also pretty cute. Around the office, I've already heard requests for purple and orange minis. Give Apple enough time, and I'm sure they'll oblige.

The Display. The iPod mini's display is quite readable, although it's definitely smaller type than on the iPod. (It's also in a different typeface -- goodbye, Chicago!) The most noticeable change, in fact, is that in Now Playing mode you can't see the name of the album that the current song belongs to. It's okay, but I can't help wonder if there might not be some better ways to use the Now Playing space. Maybe the name of the artist could alternate with the album title? I'm not sure, but while it's a little disconcerting, it's certainly not a deal-breaker.

The Controls. I have previously complained about the third-generation iPod's touch-sensitive buttons, which make it almost impossible to operate that iPod on feel. The mini's buttons are in a retro style, namely the same compass-orientation button structure of the first two generations of iPod models. The only difference is, with the mini you click on the scroll wheel itself, not on a set of buttons ringing the outside of the wheel.

There are issues with the compass-oriented button design. The most glaring is that while the iPod's interface involves burrowing from left to right, getting deeper within your library, the button that moves you "left" (i.e., higher up in the interface) is not the left button, but the top ("Menu") button. That doesn't make any sense, and it makes learning how to use the iPod harder than it should be. But I'll take bad button placement over unusable buttons any day.

The Accessories that Work. The iPod mini doesn't come with a wired remote control (for shame!), but it works just fine with the same remotes that work with the third-generation iPod. The included belt clip seems okay, but I'm sort of excited about the optional arm band, which you can use as a tourniquet in case you're bitten by a snake while you're out running with your mini.

The Accessories that Don't Work. If you're a fan of the Belkin iPod Voice Recorder or Media Reader, the mini is not for you. It won't work with these accessories, nor with any product that relies on the particular dimensions of the iPod. (For example, some external battery packs.)

The Storage Capacity. I've got a 20GB library of music at home. So for me, the iPod mini isn't probably my best choice -- unless I really, really need the tiny size. But for a lot of people -- including several of the mini admirers who came into my office today -- a thousand songs is more than enough. I can see their point, although I prefer to have my entire music library at my fingertips at all times.

The Price. Price is a personal decision. If the iPod mini were the size of the iPod, it would be overpriced, without a doubt. But it's not just a small-capacity iPod; it's also a small iPod. Is $249 too much to pay for a 4GB music player? Maybe. But for some people, it's going to be a decent price because, one, it's the cheapest iPod, and two, it's the smallest iPod.

Do I wish the mini were cheaper? You betcha. But I'm not going to say it's overpriced. Every person is going to have to make up his or her own mind about that one.

  
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