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Review: iPad mini

By

November 2, 2012

The iPad mini is another design milestone from Jony Ive's team

The iPad mini is another design milestone from Jony Ive's team

Image Gallery (17 images)

When iPad mini rumors started, the focus was more on Apple's market opportunity and less on any dire need for a smaller iPad. After all, we have small iPhones, and we have big iPads. Is something in between going to change anything?

After testing and playing with the iPad mini, though, I found myself enjoying this new product more than I expected. Apart from one big exception, it may epitomize the purpose of the tablet more than its larger sibling.

It's nice to hold the title of (Almost) Ultimate iPad, but the big question is whether it's worth an extra US$130 over its rivals, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. Let's see if we can help you to answer that.

Design

The iPad mini is considerably smaller than the full-sized iPad
The iPad mini is considerably smaller than the full-sized iPad

Design is the iPad mini's forte. It's incredibly easy to hold with one hand. It's light. It makes a full-sized iPad feel like a heavy brick.

At just 308 g (0.68 lb.), it's much lighter than any rival seven-inch tablet: 32 g lighter than the Nexus 7, and a whopping 86 g lighter than the Kindle Fire HD. Considering that the iPad mini sports nearly an extra (diagonal) inch of screen real estate over its rivals, it represents a big step forward in budget tablet design.

The iPad mini is also incredibly thin, measuring at 7.2mm (0.28"). Its competitors don't come close: the Kindle Fire HD is 3 mm thicker, and the Nexus 7 is 3.25 mm thicker.

The iPad mini's side bezels are narrower than those on other tablets (including the full-sized iPad). Though your thumb will rest near the display's edge, Apple added touch correction technology to iOS 6. I didn't experience any accidental touches, and every touch I did intend registered immediately.

There are reasons to hesitate about buying the iPad mini, but design is not one of them. From this perspective, Apple hit a home run.

Display

The iPad mini's display resolution is far from cutting-edge
The iPad mini's display resolution is far from cutting-edge

If design is the iPad mini's monumental achievement, display resolution is its Achilles heel. It has the same 1024 x 768 resolution as the first two iPads. To keep things simple for developers, Apple likes to increase resolution in even multiples. 2048 x 1536 resolution on a 7.9-inch screen isn't yet cost-effective, so half of that is what we get.

The result? That 1024 x 768 resolution looks a bit sharper on this shrunken-down display than it does on the iPad 2, but it's a far cry from its big brother's Retina Display. It looks a lot like the screen of an iPhone 3GS ... you know, Apple's flagship phone from 2009.

The iPad mini's display is also a far cry from its rivals' displays. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD each have 1280 x 800 resolution. Their 216 pixels per inch (PPI) are much sharper than the iPad mini's 163 PPI. The Nook HD's 1440 x 900, 243 PPI display obliterates it.

Resolution is hard to capture in a picture, but you'll definitely notice some pixels on th...
Resolution is hard to capture in a picture, but you'll definitely notice some pixels on the iPad mini

If you've never used a Retina Display, you won't complain. But, for those who have spent the last seven months enjoying 264 PPI, 163 PPI is a huge step back.

The display's bright spot, though, is its size. At 7.9 inches, it's significantly more spacious than its 7-inch rivals' screens, and it lends itself well to the App Store's library of tablet apps. Typing is great in portrait mode, and tolerable in landscape. Icons and buttons are all a bit smaller, but nothing felt too small.

The question, then, is whether the nice size outweighs the dearth of pixels. For those accustomed to near print-quality text and images, it's a tough tradeoff.

Performance

The iPad mini handled GTA 3 just fine
The iPad mini handled GTA 3 just fine

I was prepared for mediocre performance, as the iPad mini's A5 chip is growing a bit long in the tooth. It surprised me, though, with sufficient processing.

It isn't blazing fast like the iPhone 5 or 4th-generation iPad, but the iPad mini performs on par with the iPad 3. Geekbench tests yielded a 757 score for the iPad mini, identical to the early 2012 iPad. The iPad 4, meanwhile, scored 1766.

It's far from mind-blowing, but I didn't experience any performance problems. Most app developers tailor their software to run on several generations of iOS devices, so there aren't many applications that will push the A5 chip to its limits. Basic iOS tasks like opening apps, panning, and scrolling all have ample zip.

Cameras

If you zoomed in close, you'd see that the iPhone 5's shot looks much sharper
If you zoomed in close, you'd see that the iPhone 5's shot looks much sharper

The iPad mini has cameras that are identical to those in the new 4th-generation iPad. Though the 5 megapixel rear camera isn't on par with the latest high-end smartphone shooters, it works well enough for basic photography.

The front-facing (FaceTime HD) camera makes for sharper video chat, as its 1.2 megapixels are an improvement over the iPad 3's VGA front camera.

Who is it for?

Despite its mediocre display, the iPad mini is great for reading
Despite its mediocre display, the iPad mini is great for reading

The iPad mini is for almost anyone who wants an iPad. It's a near-perfect blend of comfort, portability, and great software. It delivers nearly everything that a full-sized iPad does, while approaching the portability of an iPhone. But rather than diluting those two extremes to some mediocre compromise, the iPad mini hits a refreshing balance point.

The big exception is that display. Customers looking for ultra-crisp text and images need to look elsewhere, or wait for the inevitable sequel that adds a Retina Display.

Is it worth it?

Should you buy the iPad mini, when rival tablets are much cheaper?
Should you buy the iPad mini, when rival tablets are much cheaper?

Apart from that one huge reservation, my response to the iPad mini is glowing. But is "glowing" enough to justify paying US$330, when the excellent Nexus 7 and improved Kindle Fire HD only cost $200?

For some customers, that answer will be "yes." These would be customers who prioritize premium build quality (anodized aluminum vs. plastic), industry-leading design, and – most importantly – a far superior app library.

For, as much as the iPad mini is defined by its design, the biggest reason to buy one is for its software. The App Store has over 275,000 tablet-specific apps. Google Play and the Amazon Appstore house plenty of upscaled phone apps, but their tablet app selections still pale next to the iPad's.

The iPad mini has a premium design
The iPad mini has a premium design

Apple's tablet dominance is now largely perpetuated by, well, its tablet dominance. The first iPad's head start kickstarted a chain reaction that has frustrated rivals. Developers flock to the iPad because of its market share, and customers keep buying the iPad (partly) because it has the best software. It may be a catch-22, but competitors have had almost three years to catch up, and their tablet libraries are nowhere close.

Right now your choice is simple: jump into that superior library, or suffer through Early Adopter Syndrome on another platform. Putting your tablet faith in either Android or Windows RT may help it to grow, but, in the meantime, be ready for sparse selections or stretched-out smartphone apps.

Summing up

iPad mini (left), and 4th generation iPad (right)
iPad mini (left), and 4th generation iPad (right)

The iPad mini feels more like a new device than a shrunken-down iPad 2. Even if its display is a generation behind, Apple probably has another hit on its hands. I often find myself reaching for it in place of the iPad 4 – just because it's a pleasure to hold.

Miniature tablet shoppers have a decision to make. Pay more for the best software selection and design, or pay less for a sharper display and a faster processor. This holiday shopping season, it will be fascinating to see where those cards fall.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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13 Comments

I personally would put heavy weightage on the Apps. Without good complementary Apps and just cutting edge hardware just wouldn't cut it for me.

IPad Case
4th November, 2012 @ 01:41 am PST

If only Apple was to listen to it's customers, but instead it relied on their own personal opinions?, which is OK for those with the same opinions, but what kept me from buying an iPad in the first place was it's size?, that's why I purchased a Mac Air 11"!!, if I was to carry something of that size it had to at least be worthy of the hassle, but I did get an Android 7" tablet to fit my cargo pants, and the Mac air mostly stays at home unless I really need it, but my 7" tablet is always with me!, now Apple had to make it smaller but not small enough to fit my cargo pants!! Arrrrg!... I think Apple made it that size so they did not look as hypocrites for insulting those who made 7" tablets, seems inept to me for them to do such silly things?, But that's Apple for ya!...

Sam Joy
4th November, 2012 @ 01:59 am PST

"Developers flock to the iPad because of its market share,"

Developers are interested in profit, and the problem with Android is that since their users want to cheap out in the first place, making a decent profit by selling apps to them is extremely difficult. Many people just refuse to pay for apps, while others participate in widespread app piracy.

I just tried an iPad mini at the Apple Store after owning an iPad 2 a while back. Very nice. Feels almost weightless. Books were quite readable despite the smaller screen. But alas, I need something more pocketable that I can have with me all the time, like an iPhone or iPod touch, and don't have a pressing need for a tablet again at this point. Oh, well.

Gadgeteer
4th November, 2012 @ 08:22 pm PST

I don't get this thing with "superior library". 90% of the apps on any platform are clones of each other Shouldn't we measure app library based on unique apps, and how polished the best of the category is, instead of sheer number (which generally just reflect the fact that there are a lot of crapware in the world).

For example, my search for Instant Messaging on Google Play Store yielded.."at least 1000 results" is the precise term that Google spat back at me. Why do I care about the 990+ of them that nobody uses?

Savin Nay Wangtal
5th November, 2012 @ 01:18 am PST

This obsession with small weight differences baffles me. Some of us wear wrist watches. My watch weighs 76 grams. Do you think it makes any difference to my ability to hold my hand up in front of my face? Nope. Muscles adapt. After a few seconds of wearing it, you don't notice the weight difference. Don't be wimp. The weight differences between iPad Mini, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, and other 7" pads are irrelevant. Neither is the small difference in screen resolution relevant. They're good enough for their purpose in that size of screen. The big differences are the feature sets: 0, 1, or 2 cameras; battery life; connectivity; software library; openness versus controlled closed ecosystem; etc. Personally, I have several phones and pads, and I like them all for their purposes. My Nook Color tablet with a $20 add-on 3rd party Android operating system on its micro SD card is actually my favorite for reading on the couch and web browsing. With its leather easel case, it weighs 651 grams and that doesn't matter. But when I'm outdoors, I much prefer my Nook Simple Touch (dumb name, nice eBook reader) with e-ink screen -- much easier to read in full sun by reflected light than any backlit tablet with glossy screen.

overbyte
5th November, 2012 @ 08:28 am PST

Will...

What is the size ration between the mini and the 4?

And what are the overall sizes?

In other words what are the h and the w of the display and the case so that I can compare.

Sounds to me like the sacrifice in size isn't all that much.

And it sounds to me like there now is an opening for some new cargo pants designs maybe with an apple on the bottom.

bill

Island Architect
5th November, 2012 @ 09:40 am PST

The feeling of being "locked into the Apple world", knowing the company pays no Tax in USA and less than 2% overseas and reading how they exploit their overseas staff assures me that I will never ever buy an Apple than one that grew on a tree.

My doctor, brain and IQ tells me the important thing of any tablet or computers in general is it's "visuality"! If the screen sucks what is the point of a fab software or x apps?

The screen and not what's around it will ruin my eyes or tire them more than a few mm more or less in the material side.

So why would I opt for the latest invented Apple that feeds on a social craze? Once you see the latest Samsung really Apple doesn't cut it!

Vic Vicarious
5th November, 2012 @ 12:04 pm PST

Your closeup of the iPad Mini screen is out of focus. I have used the Mini. Its screen is very sharp, particularly when rendering icons like those shown in the photo. Yes, some jaggies are just visible at the edges of text, but it's hardly noticeable. The screen definitely does not "suck," as Android fans so eloquently put it.

Otherwise, thank you for the informative review.

Ralph Jones
5th November, 2012 @ 11:06 pm PST

The iPad Mini is not handicapped in lacking a retina display. That is my opinion and I own all of the other Retina display products available. So am I a freak? Arguably yes, but that apart, the display on the Nexus 7 is only the tiniest bit better, because somehow all those extra pixels available, do not make a whole lot of difference when the screen looks washed out and the brightness is not as intense. And I am only going to compare the Mini to the Nexus since none of the other smaller tablets out there have the speed and fluid user interface for around $300-$350 which take the Mini and Nexus to another level entirely. Initially, after having read on the Mini for an hour or so, I did not find the resolution an issue. I love the retina display, but would rather have amazing battery life with a display that looks significantly better then the iPad 2. That brings me to another point: battery life is NOT the same for Nexus 7 & and the Mini. I own both and used them with exactly the same apps and for the same time to compare: I got 20 hours out of the Mini and 8 from the Nexus 7. Why? And why does the expert testing not bear this out? Very simple: In MY test I left both devices on standby for 5 to 6 hours at a time in between bouts of intensive use. I played itunes videos versus google play videos and noticed twice the battery consumption on the Nexus compared to the Mini. I recorded virtually zero standby discharge on the Mini compared to 1 to 2 % on the Nexus. I played the same games, downloaded the same apps and browsed the same sites. And yes I know some apps drain the standby battery faster. But that's the point isn't it? The iOS is an incredibly power efficient operating system versus Android which means it does not need a quad core processor to be as powerful and efficient. I do not like a lot of the ethics of Apple-namely the libel cases. However, it is the legal system that allows them to get away with it. In my opinion the iPad mini is the best tablet ever made even without a retina display.

Ashley Bhagwanani
6th November, 2012 @ 09:45 am PST

Like the man with a wooden leg said. It's a matter of opinion.

Ash Ward
6th November, 2012 @ 04:19 pm PST

Ok, now about the GPS tell us how good/bad it is and how much more money we will have to spend to get it. GPS greatly increases the utility of your phone or your small or large tablet.

Apps: note the post where he ran THE SAME 20 APPS on each machine. Nobody needs 275,000 apps. Twenty, 30, 50 would be the max you need. Just get the best in each category and they are available on both systems.

If the Mini has an extra 0.9 inch screen that also dilutes the resolution but both are fine. If pocket size is a question buy a Samsung Note phablet.

barrettjet
10th November, 2012 @ 07:31 pm PST

Apple devices (OS X and iOS) require very little hardware power, so specs don't matter, the OSs are extremely more efficient.

Besides iOS doesn't require a ton of workarounds to sync with content between devices, from Safari tabs, bookmarks and reading lists to Find my iPhone/iPad/Mac. You can still to this using Firefox, Chrome, or a million more third parties but that's exactly my point. It just works. I like Safari on my Mac and -even discontinued- on Windows, I like the consistency of it all. I don't like relying on third parties specially since iOS defaults to Safari. I don't need or want to download a third party to find my Apple device as I need with most Android devices out there.

There is also the thing that many people overlook; syncing. Syncing with iTunes is easy, I just click the playlists I need to keep updated and it does the rest automatically, no third parties. On Android there is dragging and dropping to a complete mess of file structure that you need a manual to figure out what and to where to out stuff. Specially if you come from an automated solution as iTunes it is just a nightmare. If I'm in a hurry I don't have the time to sit down to drag and drop stuff, I want just want to plug it in to wake the computer up, wait for the spinner to disappear and go. You can use doubleTwist but that would be relying on third parties and iTunes is already in most people computers so the can manage music libraries. Comes with OS X.

Even though technically you see more pixels you don't really see more. Take the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4, it's four times the resolution yet you actually aren't seeing a 20x25 grid, you see the same 4x5 grid but sharper. Then add half and inche on the actual measurement of the display as with the iPhone 5, then you see a 4x6 grid. Now you see more.

You added dramatically more pixels the first time around but didn't gain any screen real estate, you added a little more size on the screen and that's when you gain something. I know my example isn't exactly clear but you get the idea.

Finally, there's Spotlight. Even when all my options are lost, I still need spotlight to function properly. When I first tried searching on my Nexus 7 it was a nightmare, I put it into a drawer and never picked the tablet up again. I wanted to give Android a second change and I feel like I got punished.

I tried to find something on my tablet and it kept showing me web result the minute I started typing, you can change this I believe by taping in the little arrow I believe, but if it is doable, there shouldn't be more than one step as it is with spotlight that let's you search the web as a last resort and there's no need to tap a tiny arrow to fine-tune your search.

Facebook User
22nd November, 2012 @ 08:47 pm PST

I would like to say that ultimately Apple built that product when many were waiting for. Many of us love to carry iPad with them. The features and functionality of this mini iPad are really amazing and everyone is really eager with this mini iPad. I am getting impatient to buy it and want to feel and use it.

Edwin Miller
6th December, 2012 @ 10:10 pm PST
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