Apple iPad mini review: Yeah, you're going to want it
We review the Apple iPad mini and see how it stacks up against the competition
We review the Apple iPad mini and see if this smaller iPad is worth its somewhat large price. The iPad kicked off the tablet revolution but there's now a host of competitors of all sizes and prices, so does the iPad mini stand out from the crowd?
I'm not going to dance around it: I love the iPad mini and think it's almost on the cusp of being a perfect tablet. No, really. When it's all said and done, the iPad mini may prove to be the tablet that Apple really wanted to create.
I'll be the first to admit that I didn't get the appeal of the iPad when it was first released. This thing seemed like an expensive plaything for people with more money than sense and I was one of those fools who thought the lack of Flash would greatly diminish it.
Smash cut to the current day and I've purchased three iPads and am fully in the tank for the post-PC revolution. Computers have always been more difficult than they should be and devices like the iPad can truly democratize computing for the masses. Tablets have changed the way I travel and we're seeing multiple innovative uses of these including tablets replacing point-of-sale system, tablets as the best friend of salespeople and even tablets being attached to robots.
We've even seen a smart evolution where things like the Microsoft Surface is becoming a compelling traditional laptop alternative and things like the Kindle Fire HD make for a very nice media consumption device for a good price.
The iPad is still the king when it comes to tablets because it offers the best of both worlds: Apple's devices can be fantastic media consumption devices but we're also seeing an amazing crop of apps which make it powerful enough to handle most people's needs.
With that said, the size of the iPad can be an issue. While it's not heavy per se, holding it with one hand to read can be an issue. Additionally, you have to carry it in a separate bag when you're out and about.
As we expect from Apple nowadays, the iPad mini is a marvel of engineering and design. The 7.9-inch screen means the iPad mini has a similar footprint as a Nexus 7 but it gives you much more screen real estate. Somehow, Apple doesn't sacrifice bulk for that extra screen space because the iPad mini is basically as heavy as a few feathers and it's as thin as a pencil.
Like the iPhone 5, it's almost too light. When I first picked it up, I kind of wanted a bit more heft to it but after using it as an eReader for a few hours, I was very happy about the weight.
I don't use a purse but I could easily see this fitting into one much easier than the traditional iPad. Most guys will still need to carry the iPad mini in a bag but if you travel at all, you know how valuable every inch of available space can be. I could even see the iPad mini being a good gym companion because of its portability. Yeah, I'm going to be that guy.
When I go on trips, I'm going to pack my laptop to get my work done and the iPad mini will be there to watch movies on a plane and for fun. If I ever go on a pure vacation (let's all pray for that), I'd be perfectly happy just taking the iPad mini.
I was a bit concerned about the specs inside the iPad mini because it's basically an iPad 2 shrunken down. Thankfully, those fears weren't realized because the iPad mini runs like a champ. Apps open quickly, it's quick and easy to swipe through home screens and even Siri works well. Maps is still a mess but that should be getting better over the next few years.
You have your brushed aluminum back with a prominent Apple logo and there's an impressive lack of seams on this thing. It's well built, to say the least. The big bezels on top and below the screens feel appropriateand you can hold the iPad mini comfortably in a variety of ways. The software's also smart enough to recognize accidental touches on the side of the display.
While you're going to miss some of the screen size if you're coming from a larger iPad or a 10-inch Android tablet, the iPad mini makes up for it with it portability. It's not a Retina Display (more on that below) but it's not that bad.
When I reviewed the Nexus 7, I was really positive about it and called it, "the best Android tablet around." That hasn't changed but there's a major difference between the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini: it's the apps, stupid.
My Nexus 7 hasn't even been charged for a few months now because I don't really know what to do with it. Sure, it's a great device for browsing the web and using Google's services but the app store selection is pretty weak. Many apps are blown-up version of phone software and while they work, it's not a better experience, so I'd rather just use those on my phone.
The iPad mini has a wealth of apps which were specifically built for the larger screen and thus provide a different and better experience than what you can get on a phone.
The iPad mini can run over 250,000 iPad-specific apps and the vast majority of these run amazingly on Apple's latest tablet. Some programs have a little weirdness when it comes to the size of your touch spots but most scale nicely to the 7.9-inch display. Blown-up iPhone apps don't look or work that well but that's not much of a surprise. While it does work with the existing iPad apps, I'd expect a slew of new apps which will be built specifically for the iPad mini over the next few months.
Whether it's games, media consumption, enterprise software, art programs or nearly anything else under the sun, the iPad mini will have something for you in the App Store. That's something that the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, Microsoft Surface or any other tablet can't boast.
I can't stress enough how important the ecosystem is for the iPad mini and it's not just about apps, although that's a strong component of it. With the iPad mini, you're also getting access to a powerful media store and a robust accessory market. We already have lightbulbs that you can turn on with your iOS devices, so just think about how many fun cases, docks and stands we'll see in the near future.
I purchased the Apple Smart Cover for the iPad mini and fits nicely and does a good job of protecting the screen. It doesn't do anything for the rear of the device, so those who worry about nicks and scuffs may want to look into something else. As you would expect, it folds into a triangle which props up the iPad mini in landscape mode. This is perfect for those small airplane trays.
Battery life is superb. With some heavy usage, I comfortably got through 10 hours on a single charge. I'd have no issues taking this on an international trip and it would probably last the whole way through.
The iSight 5-megapixel camera on the iPad is ok. It's basically the iPhone 4 camera and the portability of the iPad mini means that you can take pictures with your tablet and not look too ridiculous. It's still silly because the phone in your pocket is probably much better but the best camera is the one you have, I suppose. The front-facing camera can now do 720p FaceTime calls and it's solid. Here are a few examples of the rear-facing camera: close up picture, outdoors and testing the color capturing ability.
The iPad mini is a fantastic device, iOS 6 for tablets is an elegant experience and it has the best app, content and accessory ecosystem in the business. It's not without some quirks but I think you're going to be very, very happy with the iPad mini.
"Isn't it amazing how something new makes the previous thing instantly look old," Apple's Phil Schiller said during the iPad mini's introduction. He was speaking about the new iMacs but this sort of cuts both ways when it comes to the non-Retina Display on the iPad mini.
The iPad mini has a screen that's not as good as what we expect from Apple and it's not as nice as what you can get from some of the cheaper competition. That's not to say the iPad mini has a bad screen but you can definitely notice the blocky pixels, especially if you're coming from a Retina Display or another device with a higher-quality display.
The iPad mini has a 7.9-inch screen with a 1024 x 768 resolution and 163 pixels per inch. Compared to the amazing high-definition screens on the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7, it's a step backwards. If you've never had a Retina device and haven't used these other ones, the screen on Apple's latest tablet won't bother you but it still remains a bit of a nagging issue for me.
I would expect an iPad mini with a Retina Display on the next version and that could come as early as six months but will likely debut around next year's holiday season. Throw in the annoying black bars on top and bottom when playing some video content and the screen is a clear step backwards. This bugs me more when you also throw in the somewhat pricey entry-level pricing of $329.
In a vacuum, the iPad mini is definitely worth that price but when you consider that there's better hardware out there for much, much cheaper, it starts to become a tougher decision. Something like the Kindle Fire HD isn't really comparable as a tablet but as a media consumption device, it's just as good (if not better) than the iPad mini and it costs $129 less.
Even though Apple is said to be making less profit on the iPad mini than it normally makes on its devices, you can't help but feel a little gouged by the price. Apple isn't helping its cases by charging an exorbitant amount for cables and accessories. You could easily spend over $100 buying a backup charging cable, an adapter and some other cables for your iPad mini. Yuck.
Other than the screen and price, I also had a little bit of an issue typing on the iPad mini when it's in landscape mode. It also takes a while to figure out how to comfortably hold the iPad mini in one hand but Apple has done a good job of tweaking the software to not register accidental touches when you're holding it by the sides of the screen.
The back coating on the black iPad mini become a magnet for finger oil and smudges. I don't like the Lightning cable and how it doesn't work with old accessories without an adapter but that's a minor quibble.
There are also some things that Apple doesn't do as well as its competitors and I'd put cloud software at the top of the list. Using iCloud and the App Store is a much better experience than it used to be but it's still not quite as nice as what Google or even Amazon can offer. Apple's versions may be prettier and have more polish but the competition provides more usability.
The iPad mini isn't perfect but it's still pretty darn good. If you're very sensitive to price or just don't like the Apple experience, something like the Kindle Fire HD or the Nexus 7 may be more up your alley.
The Final Take
The iPad Mini really is a symphony of hardware and software in a form factor that makes so much sense. The selection of apps and content will make you want to keep going back to it and it's portable enough to take with you anywhere. On the down side, the screen isn't as good as the competition and it's a bit overpriced compared to good gadgets like the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7.
Who should buy the iPad mini? Die-hard Apple fans have already bought it and they definitely won't be disappointed. It fits in perfectly with your Apple lifestyle, as it hits the sweet spot between the iPhone and the iMac. Heck, if you have the disposable income, it could even be your "travel iPad" while your large-screen one stays at home.
If you've always wanted an iPad but were not willing to commit the $400-$500 it would cost to start, this is a good jumping-off point. The apps really do make the iPad mini stand out from the crowd and it's easy to pick up and tough to put down.
It may not provide the best bang for your buck though, particularly if you just want a tablet that can read eBooks, browse the web and visit social networks. The vastly-cheaper Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 may be more your speed but be aware that it's not going to be as good of an overall tablet experience as the iPad mini.