Four weeks ago I traded in my 3rd-generation iPad for (brace yourself) the iPad Mini, and while some may see this as a downgrade I find it to be quite the opposite. Let me explain:
I, like many of you, was skeptical about the Mini when it was first introduced. The idea of a new 7.9" iPad lacking a Retina display and an A6 chip seemed like a step backwards in Apple's attempt to appeal to the 7"-tablet market. But the more I interacted with the Mini the less skeptical I became, and I soon learned to appreciate it for its portability and lightweight. After a week of use every other tablet, including my girlfriend's Nexus 7, felt heavy in comparison, which led me to recognize the Mini as a solid addition to the iPad line and—most importantly—the compact-tablet category.
One month in and I'm still nothing short of satisfied with my iPad Mini. I catch myself using it every day for almost everything, even when I'm sitting directly in front of my iMac. I admit it has some shortcomings, mainly in the hardware area, but it also has some impressive advantages such as its thin build and full access to the App Store.
I can continue praising the the Mini with adjectives à la Apple product descriptions, but I'd rather provide a full and honest review based on my personal experience as a new owner. I will describe what I found to be good and not-so-good about Apple's smaller and lighter tablet while making comparisons to my previous 3rd-gen iPad and other competing tablets.
I'll begin with the good.
Size, Weight & Thickness
The iPad Mini is substantially smaller, lighter, and thinner than its bigger brother. Vertically standing at 7.87 inches (200 mm), the Mini is 1.63 inches (41.40 mm) shorter than the iPad 2, 3, and 4. It's practically as light as the box it's packaged in weighing at 0.68 lbs (308 g), which makes it 0.65 lbs (294.84 g) lighter than its predecessors. And it's depth is at an astounding 0.28 inches, which Apple famously pointed out as thin as a frikin' pencil.
But these measurements truly spoke for themselves when I first picked up the device; noticing the weight difference between it and my 3rd-generation iPad was incredible, as if I was holding a piece of paper in one hand and a brick in the other. The ability to throw my Mini in a small messenger bag or slide it in a wide jacket pocket is something I was unable to do with my iPad 3, which dignifies the portable advantage the Mini has over its larger iteration.
What is even more surprising is how much lighter the Mini feels in comparison to the Google Nexus 7, despite the latter being smaller. It's actually thinner than the Nexus, too, making it a more portable tablet than Google's 7" champ.
Thanks to its smaller size and lighter weight the iPad Mini can be easily held with one hand (a convenience feature that has been greatly desired since the original iPad.) To compliment this feature Apple has integrated thumb-rejection technology to prevent unwanted touches from the hand that is holding the device. For example: if the right hand is holding the right side of the Mini and the left hand is operating the screen, any accidental touches made from the thumb of the right hand will not be recognized by the device. It may seem like common sense for every available tablet to have thumb-rejection, but surprisingly the Mini is currently the only device to utilize this feature.
Like every current iOS device the iPad Mini comes pre-installed with the latest version of iOS 6. We've already covered the specifications about the new operating software in a previous article, so I will simply touch on its presence on the Mini.
In short, iOS 6 is no different on the iPad Mini than it is on the iPad; it entails every pre-installed app, setting, and function of its larger equivalent. Despite its 7.9" screen the Mini can display apps in the same exact dimension, providing a consistent experience among all iPads. This is an imperative advantage for the Apple ecosystem since Android devices are notorious for having incompatible apps among its array of tablets.
As mentioned before, applications on the iPad Mini appear in the same dimension as they do on the iPad, with some performing better on the smaller screen. Word documentation apps such as Pages and iA Writer feel more comfortable to type with on the Mini's smaller full keyboard, and games like Temple Run and Infinity Blade II are easier to play thanks to the lighter weight.
One app that I found particularly more enjoyable to use on the Mini is iBooks. Reading on my iPad 3 has always been a strain since I normally read while laying down, which required me to hold the device up with both hands. With the Mini I feel like I'm actually reading a paperback book instead of reading on a tablet, making my experience that much more authentic.
While some consumers may disagree with iPad Mini's $329+ price tag I think it's worth the price, and here's why.
Despite some hardware and screen resolution issues—which I'll address later—the iPad Mini is overall a high-quality compact tablet. It outperformed my girlfriend's $200 Nexus 7 in a side-by-side test in speed and performance, and it boasts a user-friendly physical design that is impeccable in today's dominantly-plastic 7" market.
But what most consumers forget to consider in the Mini's price is its access to the ever-expanding App Store. Whether you're a fan of Apple, Android, or Microsoft, we can all agree that the App Store contains the best selection of applications. The Mini may be $129 more than the Nexus 7, but the Nexus 7 doesn't carry nearly the amount of quality apps that the Mini has, which alone is worth spending the extra money on.
In addition to the App Store, the iPad Mini is supported by many of Apple's great features such as the optional Apple Care and the iOS & OS X ecosystem, which are of great value in their own respect.
The overall design of an Apple product is as important as every other feature, and Apple did not disappoint with the aesthetics of the iPad Mini. Like the iPhone 5, the Mini features the new aluminum body and glossy bezel, as well as divided speakers on the bottom left and right side.
The cameras, sensor, Home button, headphone jack, mic, and side buttons are in the same location as the iPad 2, 3, and 4, with the volume controls consisting of a new separated design on the Mini. The frame is also nice and thin to accommodate the 7.9" screen.
I find the iPad Mini to be a fantastic product, but it's still nowhere near from flawless. I'll now discuss some of its shortcomings.
I was delighted to see the Smart Cover make an appearance on the iPad Mini. Smaller and available in the same colors as the original polyurethane covers, the Smart Cover for the Mini works just like its original iPad iteration. Unfortunately, it also carries the same high price tag ($39.99, which is only $10 less than the iPad version) and to my dismay it does not come in the classy black leather option. Since I'm a fan of black accessories for my mobile devices I had to settle with the dark grey cover (pictured above). This was a small sacrifice, but it was a small sacrifice I did not want to make.
The iPad Mini may be new, but its internal processing chip is quite old (2 years-old to be exact.) The Mini is sporting the Apple A5, a chip which was originally introduced with the iPad 2; so in a way it's practically a smaller iPad 2 on the inside.
From a marketing perspective I understand why Apple chose to equip the iPad Mini with the A5; the Mini is smaller and cheaper than the iPad 2, therefore, it cannot have a faster processing chip until the iPad 2 becomes obsolete to justify its price. It makes total sense.
But I still was not exactly pleased to hear about the iPad Mini shipping with an older processor. Fortunately, the A5 chip still performs well despite its age. I did notice a difference in speed between the iPad Mini and the iPad 3, but it is not extreme. Current iPad 3 and 4 owners will notice it but new owners will most-likely not, which leaves the iPad Mini in somewhat of a safe zone of judgement. Still, it must be noted that certain graphic-heavy games such as Infinity Blade II performs a bit slower on the Mini than it does on the 3rd-generation iPad, which is why I'm declaring the hardware as an area that can be improved upon.
In addition to the older processing chip the iPad Mini is outfitted with an older screen. Unlike the 3rd- and 4th-generation iPad the Mini is not supporting a Retina display, but instead last year's 1024x768 resolution at 163 pixels-per-inch (ppi). Although a step-up from the iPad 2's 132 ppi the Mini's resolution is still a downgrade in comparison to the latest iPads and the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD.
I've noticed some subtle and major differences when I compared the Mini's display to a higher-resolution display. For starters, app icons and user-interface elements appear pixelated around corners and edges. Photos are slightly grainy, but thanks to the iPad's ppi and color balance they still look vibrant enough for presenting.
Unfortunately, text seems to suffer the most from the iPad Mini's screen resolution. Letters don't look as clear as they do on the iPad 3 and 4, with zooming causing words to exhibit pixelation. Although I've adjusted to the lower screen resolution I still do not support the Mini's lack of a Retina display, especially since many consumers have already embraced 2048x1536 screen resolutions. It's a shortcoming that Apple will hopefully improve in the second-generation iPad Mini.
The iPad Mini has its obvious shortcomings, but it is still a fantastic compact tablet that I absolutely enjoy using. What it lacks internally it makes up for in its portability and price, and although power users may find the absence of a Retina display and a faster processor to be a deal-breaker, casual users will embrace its app selection and deem it perfect for light productivity and entertainment. With some improvements with its hardware and screen resolution, Apple's new smaller and lighter iPad will have no problem in acquiring the upper-hand on the compact-tablet category.
Photos taken by Robert Bryce Milburn.