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Please note that all iPod models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued.
What is the difference between the full-size iPod and the iPod mini?
In general, as the name implies, both the original iPod mini, introduced January 6, 2004 and discontinued February 23, 2005, and the second generation iPod mini, introduced February 23, 2005 and discontinued September 7, 2005, are smaller than the iPod, both in physical size and in the number of songs and files that the iPod mini can hold on the enclosed hard drive.
Although capacity varies depending on the file type, format and encoding used, Apple advertised that iPod mini models with a 4 GB hard drive can hold approximately 1,000 songs and models with a 6 GB hard drive can hold approximately 1,500 songs (encoded at 128-bit). By comparison, a "full-size" iPod model that uses a 40.0 GB hard drive can hold approximately 10,000 songs encoded at 128-bit in AAC format.
Perhaps most notably, for navigation, the iPod mini introduced the revolutionary "ClickWheel" which places pressure sensitive navigation buttons underneath the scroll wheel. The full-size iPod 3rd Gen -- available at the time the iPod mini was introduced -- used a "Thumbwheel" with separate navigation buttons. The "ClickWheel" has been used in all subsequent models with the exception of the iPod shuffle line.
The original iPod mini uses an "ultra-portable (3.6 by 2.0 by 0.5 inches) lightweight anodized aluminum" case available in five stylish colors -- silver, gold, pink, blue and green, and the second generation iPod mini uses richer, deeper shades of silver, blue, green, and pink (with gold no longer available), each with a 1.67-inch white backlit LCD display. By comparison, the full-size iPod models available at the time the iPod mini shipped used larger cases with an "ice white" front and a chrome back, larger capacity hard drives, and slightly larger displays.
The difference between the original iPod mini, introduced January 6, 2004 and discontinued February 23, 2005, and the second generation iPod mini, introduced February 23, 2005 and discontinued September 7, 2005, are fairly minor.
The second generation models use richer, deeper shades of four of the original colors -- silver, blue, green, and pink (with gold no longer available), the pressure sensitive "ClickWheel" navigation buttons are color-matched to the housing (these were gray on the original iPod mini regardless of housing color), boost battery life to 18 hours (up from an impressive, at the time of introduction, 8 hours for the original), provided the option of a larger capacity hard drive (6 GB), no longer shipped with a Firewire cable or an AC adapter, and started at a lower price (US$199).
The iPod mini (2nd Generation) shipped in four stylish colors instead of five -- silver, blue, green, and pink (with gold no longer offered), the pressure sensitive navigation buttons on the "ClickWheel" are color-matched to the housing (these were gray on the original iPod mini regardless of the housing color), an improvement in battery life up to an impressive 18 hours (from 8 hours on the original), the option of a larger capacity hard drive (6 GB models), no longer shipped with a FireWire cable or AC adapter standard, and started at a lower price (US$199).
For more information, please refer to "The Differences Between iPod mini and iPod mini (2nd Generation)" from the Apple Support Site.