The new Mac Mini finally went on sale this week, after years of rumours about a revamp with that all important HDMI slot. Apple’s hoping the new look and extra slots will put the company’s “affordable” Snow Leopard machine at the top of the shopping list for anyone in search of a simple desktop or a home theatre PC (HTPC), but with the £499 option now off the table, is that the case? Read on and find out in our full Mac Mini review.
At first glance, it’s hard to fault the design of the new Mac Mini. It’s astonishingly beautiful, and puts every other computer in its price bracket to shame. It’s slim, at 3.6cm deep, and the unibody aluminium shell of the MacBook Pro line works just as well here – in use, the only thing marring the smooth front face is the DVD tray (Plus an IR receiver for the sold separately Apple remote and a power indicator, but you have to look hard for them). That the power brick has now been moved inside the shell just keeps things even smoother and simpler.
Truth be told, most of the spec bumps inside the new Mac Mini don’t translate to noticeable performance increases in the day to to day tasks you’ll be using the Mac Mini for: a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo chip, Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics and 2GB of faster DDR3 RAM are all welcome, but for surfing the web and watching (rather than editing) video, the previous generation Mac Mini provided a perfectly smooth experience anyway. If you want to edit HD video regularly, you shouldn’t be buying a Mac Mini (and if you’re looking to play games, unless you like the small number of titles on the new OS X Steam, you shouldn’t be buying a Mac at all).
What is welcome however, is the addition of an HDMI port. This should have been in the Mac Mini years ago, but Apple’s insistence on using a Mini DisplayPort connection kept it out – thankfully, both are now provided. That means the new Mac Mini is well equipped to slot straight into an HDTV, meaning all those lovely 1080p YouTube videos and HD BBC iPlayer shows can be watched from the comfort of your sofa, on the big screen – and yes, it does 1080p and multi channel audio over the same cable, so no worries there. We slapped media centre software Boxee on it, hooked it up to the Boxee app on an iPod touch and were browsing our media collection from a distance in just minutes. It was fast, smooth and simple – the new Mac Mini is very nearly the ultimate HTPC.
While OS X itself works brilliantly straight out of the box, as ever, the function of the new Mac Mini still has its flaws, and it’s clear that this has played second fiddle to the looks in the labs, or even third. While the addition of an SD card slot is very useful for anyone who wants to dump their camera pics online, or see them on a big screen telly, putting it at the back of the new Mac Mini means it’s pretty inaccessible if the machine is placed in a TV cabinet. But worse, the fact that the power button stays on the back as well is a real pain, and means you’ll regularly be performing a reach around to turn it on, so to speak.
And disappointingly, all these extras come at a price. The base model of Apple’s previous generation Mac Mini came in just under that magic £500 mark at £499, but that option’s now gone, with the cheapest option now starting at £649 (A server version is available for £929, but Snow Leopard Server and the lack of a disc drive make it a very, very different offering). That’s a real pity, as this means the supposedly cheap Mac is now nipping at the heels of the MacBook’s price (£849) – and that has a screen, a keyboard, and serious portability.
While we’d still recommend the new Mac Mini as a simple solution for basic web browsing, office and media consumption (Especially if you want to get a technophobe relative online), that price makes it a very difficult sell for anyone looking for a trimmed down desktop computer to hook up to your TV, especially when the optical disc drive isn’t Blu-ray. You’d be better off buying an Acer Aspire Revo or Asus Eee Box, as though both only use a pathetic Intel Atom processor, their Nvidia Ion graphics leave them more than capable of HD video still, and well, you’ll have at least £400 left over.
With that change, you could buy a Blu-ray player, and still have enough left over for a holiday, but for what the Mac Mini has to offer, we don’t doubt this is still a surplus Mac fans will happily stump up.