The mini stays in the picture

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It’s always gratifying to have one of your colleagues agree with you, especially without the sort of brow-beating, cajoling, and thinly veiled threats that consensus usually requires. So you can imagine how thrilled I was Monday to see Dan Miller extolling the virtues of Apple’s smaller capacity iPods. Dan’s point, if I may summarize, is that the 4GB capacity of his iPod nano forces him to be more choosy when it comes to what playlists he’s placing on his device, which, in turn, makes the listening experience ever more enjoyable. And that is why, Dan concludes, the nano is the king of iPodLand.

I couldn’t agree with Dan more, except for one small, though nevertheless significant quibble—the iPod nano is not the greatest iPod floating around out there today. Oh, it’s a fine music player, certainly among the elite in its category. But if you want the very best iPod, and one that comes in a small package to boot, then there’s only one model that you need to get your hands on—the second-generation iPod mini. Preferably, the green one, though I’ll allow that the proper color is a matter of personal taste; the overall superiority of the mini to any and all comers, however, is not.

What’s that you say? The mini has been discontinued ? Mere semantics, I assure you. Sure, Apple is no longer manufacturing this marvel, and you likely won’t find one on the shelves of your local Apple Store. But plenty of reputable retailers still have iPod minis in stock. You certainly won’t be reduced to having to buy a mini out of a cardboard box in some dimly-lit back-alley, that’s for certain. As for mini-compatible accessories, you have bunches to choose from—a book from a very trustworthy author told me so.

Consider the merits of the mini:

It’s compact. Not as compact as the nano, sure. But at 3.6-by-2.0-by-0.5-inches, the mini does not require much in the way of voodoo, sorcery, and bacon grease to fit comfortably in a pocket.

It’s durable. You have to go out of your way to scuff up a mini, and believe me, I’ve been trying. (Daddy needs him some of that cushy class-action settlement payoff action!)

It’s pretty. Black-and-white is fine, I suppose, especially if you’ve been cast in an Ingmar Bergman film. But I need a little color in my life, and with the mini, I can choose one that suits my particular aesthetic. (Which is green, as we’ve already established.)

I don’t begrudge Apple its decision to replace the mini with the nano. Clearly, the company subscribes to the Branch Rickey theory that it’s better to trade a player a year too soon than a year too late, and I’m not about to argue the point. Even if I did, Apple has a couple million dollars’ worth of “I told you sos” on its sales sheet to cut off that argument very quickly.

But I just can’t cotton to the notion that the emergence of the very fine nano should consign the mini to the “It Was Fun While It Lasted” bin at the local Shop of Antiquities. The mini is still a very worthwhile, very capable music player.

That’s an obvious point, right? I thought so, too, only I keep coming across articles like this one from the San Francisco Chronicle that seem to suggest carrying around a mini is just one-step ahead of relying on a hand-cranked victrola for your music pleasure. Writes author Pati Poblete of her visit to an Apple Store:

"Where has it gone?" I wondered, circling the table where [the mini] once was on display, only to find rows of the sleek, black Nano, shining in the strategically placed light as if to mock me and the iPod Mini that I was holding.

I imagined Vincent Price's trademark maniacal laugh coming from its earplugs, the music stopping, then everyone turning to stare at me as they realized that I wasn't one of them.

I was from another time, another era, when iPod Minis were strapped on armbands and were actually a sign of being "in." Now my apple-green source of pride had become an embarrassment.

I was so in a few months ago. I might as well have been holding an eight-track tape.

And more tellingly:

But just when I had formed a true bond with my iPod, it had become obsolete.

Obsolete? The iPod mini still plays music, recognizes iTunes Music Store purchases, and otherwise works as advertised. This isn’t some futuristic dystopia where your iPod mini stops working after a pre-determined incept date and Harrison Ford has to come along and “retire” it.

As for whether having an iPod mini makes one tragically unhip, I haven’t noticed people pointing and laughing at me when I take it out in public—at least, not any more than they point and laugh when I don’t happen to have my iPod mini on me. Hipness, I’ve found, is a fleeting proposition—best to stick with quality in these matters. So make your own style. Like what you like. Take pleasure in the things that are pleasing to you.

Provided that it’s the green one.

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