The iPod brand has become synonymous with excellent portable audio players, and the second-generation Apple iPod Mini carries on the tradition with its fashionable, intelligent design. Apple has made precious few (but all necessary) updates to its stylish microdrive player, which is a good thing since it was already a winner. The device's strongest design point, the ClickWheel, has been spiffed up with colour-coded labels to match each colour option, and Apple has done away with the unpopular gold model. But the most exciting enhancements are the improved battery life -- now rated at 18 hours -- and the addition of a 6GB option (£169). Even better, the 4GB iPod Mini is now priced more aggressively at £139.
Though our dreams of a colour-screened iPod Mini are yet unrealised, even these seemingly evolutionary changes show that Apple is prepared to fight the ever-increasing onslaught of self-proclaimed 'Mini killers'.Although it scarcely seems possible, we think the Apple iPod Mini's design surpasses even that of its photogenic older sibling. Its stylish, anodised-aluminum shell is so tough that we felt as if we could stand on the device without consequence. Apple constructs the body by hollowing out Mini-shaped aluminum blocks so there are no seams in the construction, then applies the colour during the anodisation process so it can't scratch off. The second-generation player is available in silver, as well as in deeper and more-vibrant shades of green, blue, and pink.
At 91 by 50 by 12mm, the oblong iPod Mini is longer than the comparatively squat Creative Zen Micro, but it's still one of the thinnest players in the category (only the Rio Carbon is thinner, but just at its tapered bottom edge). With a weight of 102g, the iPod Mini sits just about dead centre of its competitors (the Zen Micro weighs 107g, and the Carbon weighs 90g), and, it's still quite light in any pocket. The player's 43mm (1.7-inch-diagonal) screen is smaller than the white iPod's, but the crispness afforded by the Mini's tighter dot pitch compensates for the reduced viewing area (although in Browse mode, files display the song title and the artist but not album information).
But to our palate, the tastiest design treat is the spruced-up ClickWheel. Play, menu/back, fast-forward, and rewind functions take their positions at the four compass points of the circular control, and each option offers physical feedback when you press down -- you get that satisfying "click" feeling and sound. As we mentioned earlier, the labels for each function on the iPod Mini also now correspond with the body colour. The touch-sensitive ClickWheel still works perfectly for scrolling through lengthy song lists with speed and precision. As with the white iPod, the unlabelled button in the middle of the wheel is used to select the desired option. The only other control on the player is the sliding hold key on top, which locks all functions. To adjust the volume, you must use the ClickWheel while in Now Playing mode. If you prefer the convenience of dedicated volume buttons, you might want to buy a wired remote control.