Editors' note (March 2013): This product will be replaced by thein April 2013, which adds a Lighting dock (rather than the 30-pin utilized here) and AirPlay compatibility.
Back in 2007, Bowers & Wilkins brought out the uniquely styled Zeppelin iPod speaker, which we described in our review as being every bit as sophisticated as Apple's iconic player, with detailed sound that largely lived up to B&W's high-end reputation. That Zeppelin remains on the market, but now it has a smaller, less expensive--and more subdued-looking--sibling called the Zeppelin Mini.
While the $400 Mini is less determined to stick out, it's still a sleekly styled speaker with a swiveling, pedestal-like stand and a mirrored chrome top that's pitched at an angle and slightly concave (yes, you'll end up having to wipe dust and fingerprints off it to keep it looking it shiny best). True to its Mini name, this is a compact iPod audio system, measuring 6.8 inches high by 12.5 inches wide by 4 inches deep. And while it's small, it does feel substantial when you pick it up, weighing in at 4.75 pounds.
The Zeppelin Mini is GSM-shielded, so you can use an iPhone without having to put it into airplane mode. That said, please make sure your iPod is compatible with this system before buying it. In addition to the iPhone, B&W says the following units are compatible: iPod Classic (80GB and above), iPod Nano (2G, 3G, and 4G), and the iPod Touch.
The pedestal design of the stand allows you to wrap your hand around your iPod or iPhone and give it some support while you're pressing its buttons. It's not something you really think about when you're buying an iPod docking system, but it appeals to people's natural tendency to want to cradle their device in their hand when navigating it. Also, because the stand swivels, you just have to turn your iPod or iPhone to the left or right and the dock smoothly transitions into a horizontal (landscape) position that allows you to watch videos.
While you're limited by the size of the player's screen, we could see someone putting this on a nightstand next to a bed and watching a movie or TV show from iTunes (or wherever you might get your videos). However, you'd have to be positioned above the dock because your iPod or iPhone sits and an angle rather than completely vertical.
The Mini ships with the same curvy black plastic remote that's included with its bigger sibling. As we said before, while we like its minimalist button count, it's hard to tell top from bottom, so you really need to look at the thing before you use it. The remote can raise or lower volume, mute, and change tracks, but cannot access the iPod's menu--that's still a hands-on operation.
For those who are nitpicky about their remotes, we should point out that the IR is sufficiently powerful, which means you don't have to point the clicker directly at the unit to get the desired response. We also appreciated that unlike the button-free Bose units where everything is controlled via the remote, this B&W has some small buttons on the side of the unit itself that allow you to power it on and off and raise and lower the volume. That means that if you misplace the remote, which is a distinct possibility, you can still operate the speaker.