Review: Apple’s iPod mini

Review: Apple's iPod mini

The iPod mini, along with a slew of iPod third party add-ons, has taken the world by storm. If you haven’t seen the trademark white earbud headphones around, you obviously have not left your home in quite some time. Even the President has gotten into the act with his own iPod (not a mini though).

Starting with the packaging of the product, Apple knows style. Fanatics of Apple products even have unpacking parties to unpack new Apple products with other Apple fanatics. I must say, unpacking the iPod mini was an experience as the box first folds into two. On one side you have the iPod mini and the power adapter while the other side contains the boring stuff like the manual, install CD, belt clip and other cables. It’s a very fun process opening the iPod mini packaging.

Packaging aside, the iPod mini itself is definitely the most stylish digital audio player I’ve played with as well. Weighing in at 3.6 ounces and only 1/2 inch thick, 2 inches wide and 3.6 inches tall with a 1.67-inch (diagonal) grayscale LCD with LED backlight, the iPod mini has sleek curved lines and a simple Click Wheel. Again, the people at Apple know style. My iPod mini is silver. However Apple also have green, pink and blue models and I’ve seen other vendors create skins for different colors not to mention the entire iPod mini case market to transform the look while protecting your mini.

As far as digital audio players go, Apple’s disk space capacity is not the best value on the market. There are two models: 4GB (1000 songs) and 6GB (1500 songs) starting at $199 (but check our affiliates and coupons and you too can find a 4GB model for $170 or so). For example you can pick up a Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen for about the same price as the 4GB model, but the Creative has 30GB or 40GB depending on the model, the Rio Karma is less than the iPod mini ($180) but comes with 20GBs and Neuros has a 20GB priced between the 4GB and 6GB mini iPod models. The Click Wheel interface allowing for easy navigation of menus is worth the money though.

Most importantly the mini allows you to play your digital music. In addition to the main capability of playing you digital music, the mini iPod features the Apple Click Wheel which allows you to never lift your thumb or use extra fingers to navigate through the menus and music. Having used several MP3 players, I cannot stress the ease of navigation made possible by the Apple Click Wheel.

The mini takes 4 hours to charge fully or 2 hours for a quick charge resulting in as much as 18 hours of music between charges. I’ve gone 9 hours on a charge at least once while listening to a recording of an audio conference I had missed, and the battery was only down about half way. Battery life also depends, of course, on things such as whether the backlite is turned on, etc.

In addition to playing digital audio, the iPod mini comes with a few other applications including a clock, calendar, contacts, notes and games. The clock includes a sleep timer that allows you to fall asleep to music. Also the clock application has an alarm clock to wake you up to music. The calendar supports many desktop applications such as iCal, Microsoft Entourage and Palm Desktop which allow you to export calendar files in vCalendar or iCalendar formats. Contacts application supports vCard files. The notes application allows you to store text notes. Finally, you can play games with your mini. The device has a Solitaire, Brick and Parachute game… but the game I liked playing was the Music Quiz. Music Quiz actually takes your digital audio files on the mini and plays a few seconds of a random file and you have to choose the correct name of the file.

To get your digital audio synced to your mini iPod from your computer, you need to install iTunes. iTunes allows your iPod mini to auto-sync. Whenever I create or modify a playlist, my mini updates automatically! I can drag and drop using the iTunes interface as well.

I had previously used iTunes to purchase music but years ago I transferred my entire CD collection to the MP3 format and used MusicMatch as my primary digital music player. Luckily iTunes has an import for all the MP3’s on disk as well as MusicMatch’s play lists (thank goodness as I had roughly 25 different playlists). By the way, all 25 playlists and several talks from conferences easily fit on my mini with only a little over half of the capacity used up. I was nervous the iPod mini simply would not have enough space to hold all of my playlists, but out of my music collection over 35GBs, I roughly had 2GB worth of playlists. If you want access to your entire music collection, the mini is not for you… check out iPod’s 30GB or 60GB versions.

The mini iPods (all iPods in fact) come with a RAM cache which provides 25 minute skip protection. The RAM cache represents roughly 25 minutes of playing time but depending on the compression the skip protection could be more or less.

The iPods share a few features with iTunes including ratings and party shuffle. The iPods support MP3s, AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF and Audible formats and iTunes will convert unprotected WMA files to AAC so you can listen to those on your iPod as well.

As far as sound quality, my new mini iPod is much better than my much older Archos. We unfortunately do not have high tech sound measuring devices so I can only measure by ear. The ear buds of course are not the best of headphones as the sound just does not sound full through the buds. However, when I plug the mini iPod into a set of speakers with full bass the audio sounds exactly like a computer with very nice computer speakers (which is how I usually play my digital audio at home). For a more detailed comparison of the actual sound quality check out Marc Heijligers site.

I keep saying digital audio instead of digital music because you can sync audiobooks, lectures and speeches as well as podcasts in addition to the traditional digital music.

The iPods don’t discriminate; they connect to Windows-based PCs as well via USB 2.0 and FireWire connections.

Third Party Add-Ons

There are literally trillions of accessories for the various Apple iPods. Ok, maybe not a trillion but a new marketplace has been born thanks to the iPods. Of course some accessories are the usual docking stations, power adapters, and cables BUT then there are a host of other cool accessories such as wireless FM transceivers that allow you to play your iPod through your car stereo without the bulky and wired car cassette adapters, car holders and various speaker sets that the iPods simply “dock” into not to mention a laser pointer attachment. In addition many car manufacturers have integrated the iPod into their autos including: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Mini Cooper, Nissan, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. There are quite a few wearable accessories as well as protective or simply stylish cases for the iPods as well.

You can even get a personalized iPod mini directly from Apple! My brother’s wife loves the personalization on her pink mini.

What’s Groovy and What’s Sucky

What’s Groovy:

Apple products are stylish and the iPod mini is no exception with sleek lines and weighing in at only 3.6 ounces.
The Apple Click Wheel provides a one thumb approach to navigating menus and music and in my opinion Apple
does this better than any other digital audio player on the market.

What’s Sucky:

It’s not free… the cost per unit of disk capacity is higher than similar devices in the market.

Features Performance Quality Value
5 Stars 5 Stars 4 Stars 4 Stars

Quite simply, Apple has created the holy grail of user interfaces with the Apple Click Wheel. The ACW is
simply the best navigational tool for any hand held device. Apple can really sell ease of use as their
number one feature for the iPod minis. In addition there are a few nice applications (which I rarely use)
and you can use the iPod mini as an external drive for storage if so inclined.

The device performs as expected but the ease of use and navigation allows me to select songs with a thumb
whereas most personal digital audio devices require more effort.

I’ve used my iPod mini now for some time and I still have no scratches or broken pieces on the mini or
the various accessories that come with the device (belt clip for example). The only problem I have is
getting the foam to stay on the ear pieces… in fact, I no longer use the foam.

As mentioned above in the review, Apple’s iPod products cost more for the amount of capacity they have
compared to the rest of the market. With that said, Apple’s features such as the Apple Click Wheel and
close support with iTunes and the iTunes store more than makes up for the cost/capacity issue. Trust me,
the Apple Click Wheel is the best thing since the
PDP-11.

Overall
5 Stars

The iPod mini is a very exciting product from the second you start to open the box through using it.
I can’t stress enough how great the Apple Click Wheel performs its navigation duties with a lone thumb.
This has taken over as my favorite gizmo of the year.