While at Macworld, I had the chance to check out Apple’s brand new iPod mini. Straight from the show floor, here’s iLounge’s first official take on the little player.
Just Big Enough for a Scroll Wheel
The pictures show just how much smaller the iPod mini is by comparison to its older, bigger brother. As Apple notes, iPod mini is about the width and height of a business card, but thicker (3.6” high by 2.0” wide by 0.5” deep). As noted by weblogger John Gruber, “The iPod mini weighs 33 percent less (104 vs. 158 grams) and takes up 41 percent less space (3.6 vs. 6.1 cubic inches).” Despite my large hands, the mini fit comfortably in my palm: its rounded sides and footprint evoke a small “candybar” style cellular phone, and I found the newly integrated wheel with buttons to be easy to use.
As the iPod mini represents an entirely new case and body design for Apple, most of the older iPod’s features have been moved or made smaller to accommodate the smaller body. The touchwheel is roughly the same size as the iPod’s, but now has four integrated function buttons (Menu, Play/Pause, Back and Forward) to replace the four face buttons from both prior iPod designs. But how does it feel? In our limited preview, we thought that the new wheel design was great – scrolling and pushing the button with one motion is a joy. You still slide your finger around the wheel to scroll, but each icon on the wheel represents a button; simply depress it and the corresponding action occurs (Play/Pause, Back, etc.). Those that found the touch buttons on the iPod to be a bit over-sensitive will agree that this is just a better way of navigating menus.
Tradeoffs: Saying Goodbye to Old Conventions and Peripherals (Again)
The pictures show it all: for the first time in iPod design, the LCD display on the iPod mini has been shrunk noticeably in order to accommodate the smaller form factor. At a 1.67” size (16.5% smaller than the iPod’s 2” LCD), the new screen somewhat hinders the readability of long song names in your playlists, truncating song titles by 2 or 3 characters under the iPod’s larger display. The LCD has the same backlight and greyscale output as the iPod. Is it going to glow white? Blue? Well, we won’t open that can of worms right now.
Peeking at the top of the mini, Apple has moved the earphone port to the right and flipped the ‘Hold’ switch to the left. The positioning (and changes to the technology inside the mini) may well complicate or preclude the use of older iPod peripherals such as Belkin’s Voice Recorder, though Apple’s going out of its way to say that the mini is merely a music player, nothing more. The top and bottom of the iPod mini are covered in a white plastic, as opposed to the iPod’s metal finish. The bottom of the mini features the same dock connector as the iPod, albeit with less iPod on either side, making the device unsuitable for use with older iPod docks.
New Metal, New Holes, Less Smears
If you look closely at the bottom of the mini (above), you’ll notice two small holes. One’s on each end in the metal, both just outside of the white plastic area. Their purpose: to attach 3rd-party add-on devices. A small FM transmitter? …An extra battery pack? The mind races.
You’ll also notice all the fingerprints on the iPod 20GB (above) compared to the mini. An Apple representative said that the mini depicted above was handled by people all day long, but it shows no sign of smudges or finger prints – a nice feature of the mini, and a potential boon for all of us who have been obsessively cleaning and shining the rear mirror surface of our original iPods. The metal casing of the mini is anodized aluminum with a matte finish.
Even an iPod Owner is Anxiously Awaiting iPod mini
All in all, I was pleased with the new iPod mini. Teens and the fashion conscious will be buying minis to “accessorize,” and surely this will be the workout-ready iPod athletes have been waiting for. But how about the rest of us? Only time will tell if the mini can equal the iPod in sales and ‘cool’ factor. I’ll have a full review posted as soon as my mini (silver) arrives. Apple says it will begin to ship minis in February, with worldwide distribution to follow in April.