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First look at Apple's IPod Mini

April launch for fashionable gizmo

The IPod Mini - small, sleek, and expensive - is expected to set sales records when it becomes available in April because, well, it's an IPod.

Introduced at the Macworld Conference and Expo in January, the IPod Mini is the stylish, smaller sibling of the wildly popular IPod that Apple brought out in late 2001.

With 4GB, the $249 (approx £130) Mini will have less than a third of the amount of storage enjoyed by users of the 15GB model of the IPod. It's also about a half inch shorter and thinner.

Unfortunately, while it will cost $50 (approx £26.60) less than the 15GB model of the larger IPod line, it will look a bit pricey considering that with the larger IPod you get a much bigger hard drive for the money.

In contrast to the original IPod's sterile white body, the Mini is available in a variety of cheerful spring colours: blue, green, pink, silver, or gold. Its steel case resists scratches or fingerprints, and the small, bright screen is viewable from all sorts of angles.

Apple seems to change the interface with every generation of IPod, and the Mini accordingly sports a totally different set of controls.

It retains the popular white circular scroll wheel, but buttons for menu, forward, reverse, pause, and play are now fixed on the wheel itself rather than set above (the select button is still at the wheel's centre). The buttons don't light up a glowing red like the previous generation.

Installation is effortless. Just plug in the cradle using either USB 2.0 or FireWire ports, install the software, and dock the Mini to finish the job.

You need to be running Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, Windows XP, or Mac OS X v10.1.5 or later. The only hitch was in entering the player's serial number: the numbers and letters etched into its back are tiny.

Another nifty IPod feature, not specific to the Mini, is auto-generated playlists based on the most recently played songs or your highest-rated music.

Like other current IPod models, you can create an on-the-go playlist by picking a track and pushing the select button to add it to an ongoing queue of tunes.

IPods don't support music encoded in the popular Windows Media format, but do support AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 (32 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible, AIFF (Mac only), and WAV formats.

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