Apple's iPod MP3 player - or, more correctly, digital audio player, as it plays more than just MP3 files - has become the digital device to be seen with, thanks to Apple's typically careful eye for blending style and tech-nology. Now Apple has gone and shrunk the thing, made it available in silver, gold, pink, blue and green, and called it the iPod Mini.
Although it's not the smallest audio player on the market, it certainly is small, especially considering the fact there's a 4GB hard drive tucked away in the 51x90x13mm (WxHxD) well-constructed anodised aluminium shell. It bears a strong resemblance to the larger iPods in that a circular, touch-sensitive selector wheel is used to operate the device, and the little 1.67in, greyscale, backlit LCD screen features pretty much the same easy-to-use menu system as its cousins.
The Mini supports a number of file formats including MP3 (32-320Kpbs and variable bit rate), AAC (16-320Kbps), AIFF, Audible, Apple lossless and WAV. In case you're new to some of these terms, AAC stands for Advanced Audio Coding and is a more secure format than MP3 (that is, it can be copy protected). If you're a bit of an audiophile you may prefer to use either Apple lossless or WAV uncompressed files; these provide CD-quality audio but take up substantially more space.
Getting these files onto your shiny new iPod Mini requires either a FireWire or USB 2.0 connection on your PC, and Apple generously supplies cables for both in the box (along with a belt clip, although it's yet to be seen if even Apple can make a belt-worn device look cool).
If you happen to live in the US or Europe you can buy songs online using the supplied iTunes software. Sadly, for reasons that no doubt involve dozens of lawyers, Australia misses out on this so far. It's a shame, as the iTunes store looks so tantalisingly easy to use it makes me want to buy music and store it directly on my iPod... but I can't. That leaves the iTunes software as merely an audio player and organiser that can rip and burn CDs, listen to Internet radio and edit playlists. To be fair, it seems to work sweetly enough and I'm just as happy to use it as I am Windows Media Player.
Once the songs are on your iPod you can file them as neatly as you want (or not), making accessing your favourite tracks a simple affair. Audio quality is great using the supplied earbud headphones and superb if you plug in a quality pair of cans, plus there's plenty of distortion-free volume available.
In a world where convergence is king, Apple would be remiss if it didn't include a calendar, games, alarm clock and contacts database in its MP3 player - so it did. Like most things 'converged', you'll probably never use these features but it's nice to know you can.
In brief: Apple iPod MiniWell built, easy to use and quite stylish, the iPod Mini features a 4GB hard drive and should provide up to eight hours listening on a single charge.
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