Smaller, sleeker and even more portable than its big brother from Apple Computer Inc., the new iPod mini is a wonderful choice if you can live without as many songs.

While the regular iPod has models capable of storing up to 10,000 songs, the 4-gigabyte iPod mini holds a mere 1,000 tracks and is only $50 cheaper than the $299 iPod model, which stores 3,700.

Still, the iPod mini – available in silver, gold, blue, pink and green – offers a sensible alternative to some of the market’s most popular flash card MP3 players, giving you a lot more space than any of them can offer.

After I carried the iPod mini around for a few days, it became clear this device is made for portability and convenience.

About 85 percent the size of the regular iPod, the mini is only a little larger than a business card (3.6 inches by 2 inches) and one-half of an inch thick.

It weighs less than any cell phone available in the United States (3.6 ounces, or about two-thirds of a regular iPod).

The mini’s trendy, too: My green mini is a far cry from the boring, old, white iPod.

The only thing you sacrifice is the amount of storage – the sound is as pristine, and the software is as easy to use.

Mini includes a few aesthetic alterations, like its solid piece of anodized aluminum that’s not only durable, but also scratch and stain resistant.

IPods combine separate metal and plastic components.

The mini also showcases a change in the iPod family’s interface. A set of four buttons used to navigate the menu and playlist on the larger iPod disappears from the mini. Instead, the controls are built into the touch-sensitive dial, which also manages volume. The change is nice, and managing the controls quickly became second-nature.

In conjunction with Apple’s iTunes software, PC and Mac users alike can take advantage of the mini. Seconds after docking the iPod mini, iTunes recognized the device and helped with initial setup.

Firewire-less PC users running Windows 2000 or XP can take advantage of mini’s USB 2.0 connection. It even comes with a cable, something that costs extra for the iPod.

Like the original iPod, mini allows you to store contacts, play games and keep to-do lists. It doubles up as a hard drive for data storage. Mini does not, however, allow for voice recording or digital photo storage using software that comes with iPod.

Mini also offers 25 minutes – yes, read that again, 25 minutes – of skip protection (more than any other product on the market) and up to 8 hours on a single battery charge, comparable to the regular iPod.

How, you may ask? Mini uses the same technology in other MP3 flash players to cache 25 minutes worth of music from the mini’s hard drive into flash memory. Since flash memory is solid state, it can’t skip.

Every iPod mini comes equipped with headphones, charger and belt clip. But you can splurge on a $29 armband (made exclusively for the iPod mini), $39 in-ear headphones or a number of different car adapters.

If you’re looking for a small, lightweight MP3 player to carry around with you to the gym, work, or anywhere you please, take a serious look at the mini. It offers a great amount of storage space in an adequate size – I certainly don’t have 1,000 songs that I listen to on a regular basis.

On the Net:

AP-ES-02-18-04 1638EST

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