Someone must have misread the crumpled specification sheet in the dumpster outside Steve Jobs’ office. How else can you explain the impotent rumors promising a new iPod mini with a color screen?
“No, look, right here, this smudgy bit says ‘color’,” one rumorer whispered to another from the depths of the dumpster.
“That’s a stain,” was the reply, “and, if I’m not mistaken, it smells like curry tofu.”
“It isn’t and it doesn’t. It’s color! We’re going to run with it.”
Whether color or curry, the rumor sites got it wrong—or very nearly. For although the $199 4GB- and $249 6GB iPod minis (Second Generation) lack a color screen, their appearance is certainly more colorful. Apple describes the brighter hues of the new Silver, Green, Blue, and Pink minis as “vivid,” and it’s a fair description. Where the original iPods minis bore muted pastel hues, the latest models positively shine in comparison thanks to their bright, metal-flake coating. And speaking of color, the symbols on the mini’s click wheel are color-matched with the iPod’s case and Apple packages the new minis in boxes colored to reflect the tint of the iPod within.
I understand that when you begin a first look at a new iPod by contrasting case colors, readers are likely to wonder if there isn’t something a little more important the author might address. In the case of the new minis, I might direct your attention to Apple KnowledgeBase article 300850, titled “
The Differences Between iPod mini and iPod mini (Second Generation) ”, which, after noting the new iPod’s release date, capacity, and playback time, mentions that the drive size is etched on the back of the 2G iPod mini but not on the original model.
So, back to those case colors….
Seriously, there are some important differences between the old and new minis. Most impressive is playback time. Apple suggests that the original iPod mini can play for up to eight hours. We’ve tested that play time in the past and found that when you press Play on a fully charged mini that’s stuffed with average-length MP3 and AAC files and walk away—don’t touch any buttons and keep backlighting, Sound Check, and EQ off—the mini plays for an hour or so longer than the promised eight.
Apple touts play time of up to 18 hours on the 2G mini and, has been typical of Apple’s play time estimates for recent iPod models, this figure is conservative. In a non-stop play test where I selected Shuffle Songs and pressed Play, the mini played for 26 hours and 16 minutes on my 6GB mini. Given this kind of performance in ideal conditions, it’s clear that when Apple suggests that the new mini will play for 18 hours, it means 18 hours of play time under real-world conditions—where you’ll fiddle with the buttons, adjust volume up and down, jump from playlist to playlist and song to song, and even switch backlighting on for short periods of time.
The other obvious internal change is the hard drive inside the 6GB version of these new iPods. While the rest of the music player market has settled on 5GB microdrives, Apple has managed to rustle up enough of the brand new 6GB Hitachi drives to leapfrog the competition by 1GB, all the while delivering the higher-capacity mini at the original’s price point of $249.
There are also some new software concerns with the latest minis. For the 2G mini to be recognized by the Finder or iTunes when connected via USB, Mac users still running the Jaguar OS must update to 10.2.8. Those running Panther must have Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later. Windows 2000 users must have installed Service Pack 4 or later. Regardless of which version of Mac OS X or Windows you’re running, the new mini also demands iTunes 4.7 or later. These requirements are USB-related. If you have a FireWire cable, you can use the new mini without updating Mac OS X.
And while we’re on the subject of FireWire cables, there isn’t one in the box—the FireWire to Dock Connector cable is now a $19 accessory.
I’ve written about this at length elsewhere. Along with this regrettable omission, the iPod mini package also lacks a power adapter. This means that, without pungling up for Apple’s $29 iPod USB Power Adapter, you can charge the mini only with a computer. (And yes, the most economical way to purchase a power adapter is to get the USB variety. A FireWire to Dock Connector cable isn’t bundled with the Apple Extra iPod Power Adapter. If you don’t have such a cable you’ll have to purchase it as well as the adapter.)
The rest of the mini’s bundled accessories are standard-issue—Apple’s white earbuds with two sets of foam covers, a USB to Dock Connector cable, the white plastic belt-clip that accompanies the first-generation minis, and the small box that contains the Getting Started booklet, warranty information, software license agreement, advertisement for the iTunes Music Store, a pair of white Apple stickers; and a CD that contains the users guides for all current iPod models, iTunes 4.7.1 for Mac and Windows, the iPod software for Mac and Windows, and—new with these minis, I believe—links to web-based iPod and iTunes tutorials.
There are no surprises in terms of accessory compatibility. The new mini is exactly the same size as the old, so cases, docks, speakers, and adapters designed for the original will work with the 2G mini. And the new mini remains incompatible with voice recorders and media readers.
All in all, I’m very impressed with the look and the performance of the new mini but sorry that Apple cut corners on the FireWire cable and power adapter. There’s more to come when we give it the full Playlist review. Stay tuned.