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.
In terms of extra features, you won't find much. There's no clock, alarm, or radio, for instance--though with those features built into most new iPod and iPhone models, that's becoming less of an issue. On the rear of the unit, you'll find the requisite line-in audio input (for plugging in other audio devices) as well as a USB port. That port allows you to connect the speaker to your computer, where it can double as a USB PC speaker or just be used to sync your iPod or iPhone with iTunes (it works with Mac or Windows computers). It also allows you to upgrade the firmware on the unit, which we did once when B&W's PR team informed us that an upgrade was available that would improve the sound quality. You'll need to supply the USB cable yourself, as it's not supplied. (Note: the Mini uses a "Type B" USB cable with a square-ish connector--the type used for most printers.)
As for sound, the Mini Zeppelin shares many of the same traits as its bigger brother. We were immediately struck by the amount of detail the Mini was able to convey. On acoustic tracks, you can hear each instrument distinctly, and while vocals are a tad thin, they came through clearly. This Mini's strength is in the midrange, which gives it a forward, aggressive sound (read: it's not laid back).
As with virtually all these compact iPod speakers, there's little to no stereo separation, and the Mini sounded best when we were sitting within 3 or 4 feet of it. The Mini also falls down a bit in the bass department. While the firmware upgrade helped smooth out the sound and seemed to eliminate some distortion we were hearing in certain tracks, the music still comes across a little thin. We should also note that while the speaker can fill small to midsize rooms with sound (it plays pretty loud), its aggressive nature turns brasher at higher volumes.
If you're looking for something with fuller, richer sound (from a high-end manufacturer), you'll have to step up to the bigger Zeppelin or the Bose SoundDock 10, which both retail for $600. The Sonos ZonePlayer S5 ($400) is also worth checking out, especially if you already own an iPod or iPhone that you can use as a controller for the system (to use the S5, you need to connect it to the Internet through a wired connection or connect it wireless to another Sonos ZonePlayer or ZoneBridge).
In all, we liked the Mini, and it's appealing if you're looking for a compact, stylish, iPod audio system that can also double as a computer speaker and a syncing dock for your computer. We'd be more enthused if it cost less or we were we blown away by its sound. But at least you can now own a B&W iPod speaker for something approaching affordability.
Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.