Good-Looking Gear: The Mac Mini

Aesthetics? In technology? (Hey, blame the co-host with the philosophy degree.) Technology doesn't always try hard to make products look good, and when it does try hard, it often falls on its butt. Still, the gear available to you today looks mighty different than products did, say, five years ago--and companies have recognized that a generation of consumers has come to expect at least some visual style in the ubiquitous gadgetry. The Duo begin their look at, well, looks with a product from a company well-known for its design savvy: Microsoft.

Kidding!

Apple Computer's Mac Mini is the company's latest offering to those PC users ready to at least consider making a platform switch. Many of those potential newbies have been lured by the undeniable appeal of the much-copied IPod, but Steve and Angela found the Mini to have plenty of appeal of its own.

The box weighs just 3 pounds. It's sleek, it's little (6.5 inches square and 2 inches tall), and at first blush it looks cheap, with a list price of just $499. But Apple left out some essentials from its "modular" design--like a keyboard and a mouse. In theory, you can steal those from the Windows computer that you're supposedly switching from, but to use those, you're probably going to need adapters. Even recent Windows computers often have old-style PS/2 connectors. The Mac requires USB connectors.

But you're not out of the woods yet. The keys on a Windows keyboard don't quite match the ones in the Mac world, notes Steve; figure on a minimum of $58 for an Apple-branded keyboard and mouse. Or, remarks Angela, a more aesthetic Apple wireless keyboard and mouse set for around $118--if you remember to get the $99 Bluetooth/Wi-Fi option when you buy the unit (a pretty good deal, notes Steve.) While you're signing up for Mini options, don't forget an additional 256MB of memory (bringing the total to 512) for $75, and another 40GB of drive space (bringing the total to 80) for $100.

Of course, you'll need a monitor. The Duo found the Mini to include a very clever connector, one that'll adapt to just about any monitor you happen to have around the house to work with the Mini's DVI port. Steve notes that the connector is extremely effective, doing a better job setting up an aged tube monitor that came with his old Windows machine than the PC itself did.

Despite those "extra" costs, says Angela, the Mini is a good deal, with competitively priced hardware--which for Apple is a very big deal. But as the tab mounts toward $1,000, another Apple machine comes into focus: the IBook. And that portable comes with a built-in monitor. (And, mumbles Angela, coffee-shop portability.)

You also get a nice variety of free software, since the Mini includes Apple's standard ILife applications suite. Some packages are similar to wares available free for the PC platform (such as IPhoto, matched on the PC side by Google's Picasa; there's also ITunes, which is, of course, free for both the PC and the Mac). But you also get AppleWorks, which is a sort of basic version of Microsoft Office--again, free--as well as IMovie and IDVD, which Steve and Angela both find a whole lot easier to use than the editing and DVD-burning competition on PCs.

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