The first reviews of the iPad Mini are out and they're just like we expected. Smaller is nice! It's so light! But having such a hefty price tag without a Retina Display is sorta disappointing. Is the iPad Mini worth the cost?
The iPad Mini is a shockingly easy-to-hold tablet that, despite its wider form, feels as light as a Kindle. Not a Kindle Fire, but a Kindle. At 0.28 inch thin and 0.68 pound, it's the slimmest and lightest 7-inch-range tablet around, although it has a larger footprint. It's thinner than an iPhone 5, and seems proportionally as razor-thin as the new iPod Touch.
In fact, the iPad mini feels very much like the new Touch, even down to the curved wrap-around aluminum shell and flat back. It lies down far flatter than the fourth-gen iPad, more like a wafer. The headphone jack at the top and Lightning connector and speakers at the bottom are carved into less-tapered, more-curved side edges. Around the front glass is an angled aluminum bezel like on the iPhone 5.
It's really light and easy to hold one-handed. The hardware design - chamfered edges, less tapered back, metal rather than plastic buttons - strikes me as better, more elegant, than that of the full-size iPad 3/4. But it's disappointing to go non-retina after using the retina iPad for the last seven months. All of the accolades and advantages of retina displays work in reverse. I adore the size and form factor of the iPad Mini, but I also adore the retina display on my full-size iPad. My ideal iPad would be a Mini with a retina display.
Even though this screen isn't state of the art, it's O.K. If you've ever laid your eyeballs on the ultra-smooth text rendered by the Retina iPad, its text will look fuzzy by comparison, especially at teensier type sizes. But the tradeoff it presents compared to the 7-inchers - fewer pixels, but more space - is reasonable enough.
"O.K." is also how I'd describe the speaker system. The Kindle Fire HD, which sports Dolby stereo, pumped out noticeably more pleasing audio than the Mini's sole monophonic speaker. Then again, even the best-sounding tablet speakers are shrill, with minimal stereo separation; anyone who intends to do some serious listening is going to plug in headphones or use something like a Jambox.
In our standard battery run-down test, which entails looping a video with WiFi enabled and a fixed display brightness, the iPad mini managed an astounding 12 hours and 43 minutes. This gives it the longest battery life of any tablet we've ever tested, besting even the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 by 42 minutes. Indeed during the course of our testing the battery on the iPad mini exceeded our expectations, expectations that were already high thanks to the consistently great battery life offered by the iPad family.
While we're on the subject of the screen, let's not beat around the bush - if there is a weakness of this device, it's the screen. But that statement comes with a very big asterisk. As someone who is used to a "retina" display on my phone, tablet, and even now computer, the downgrade to a non-retina display is quite noticeable. This goes away over time as you use the iPad mini non-stop, but if you switch back a retina screen, it's jarring.
That's not to say the iPad mini screen is bad - it's not by any stretch of the word. It's just not retina-level. At 163 pixels per inch, it's actually quite a bit better than the iPad 2 screen (the last non-retina iPad), but you really can't compare it to a retina display.
The biggest change in the software on the iPad mini that you need to be aware of is… everything is smaller. 99 out of 100 times while using it, this wasn't an issue, but it did take some getting used to in places. For instance, because the screen real estate is so much larger than an iPhone but icons are now roughly iPhone size, apps with lots of navigational elements can be a little less intuitive to navigate. Furthermore, the keyboard size feels altered - most notably in portrait - and the keys don't see tall enough for my fingers.
The iPad mini has technologies that help you use the device too. For instance, when you hold the mini with one hand your thumb naturally touches the screen on the side of the device. There is no way to stop that from happening - it's going to happen.
Now, when you're reading a book and you touch the side of the screen, the book will think you want to change pages. And it would do that, if the iPad weren't smart. But it is smart, so it recognizes that you are resting your thumb on the device and don't actually want that touch to do anything. So it doesn't. Smart.
Image Credit: Wired/John Bradley