Rumors of Apple developing a smaller tablet have been going around since the release of the very first iPad. Four generations later, the iPad mini has arrived in what is now a highly competitive market in the tablet world. Apple currently reigns supreme with each reincarnation of its iconic 9.7-inch tablet, but it faces tough competition from devices such as the Kindle Fire, Nook, and the Google Nexus 7 at very attractive price points and more portable designs. Apple has now fired back with the release of the iPad mini.
At 7.9-inches, with a lower resolution and slower processor than the retina iPads, and at a non-competitive starting price point of $330, does this current iPad have any relevance in this market? Lets find out.
Build and Design
I'm just going to go ahead and say it...the iPad mini is a very beautiful and well-designed device. Making a judgment call based on pictures and videos without even holding it in your hands first was one of the mistakes I made. When I first held this in my hands, right away I fell in love with how well its constructed; it made other tablets feel cheap. The color scheme and design is very similar to the iPhone 5 -- both are built with a smooth metal housing with rounded edges and well done paint job. I have the version with a black casing with the dark bezel and black back to match.
Phil Schiller at the iPad mini press conference said "You can hold it in one hand." Well I can hold the larger iPad, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro in one hand, but that says nothing about its usability. The iPad mini is pretty much a two-handed device, but even then, it's still a joy to use. Just don't expect it to be as one-hand friendly as the iPhone.
Weighing at only .68 lbs at 0.28-inches thick, it actually made my iPad 4 feel like a brick (which is in no way a heavy tablet). I find myself picking this one up more over the larger iPad just because of the size and weight. It's just more comfortable to hold than its big brother and a much better "grab and go" device.
Let's not beat around the bush. The screen is nowhere near the quality of the gorgeous Retina display that we've been used to since the iPhone 4. Text is not as sharp and photos don't pop out like they do on the Retina iPads. Going from the Retina display's 2048x1536 resolution with 264ppi to the Mini's 1024x768 with 163ppi was a fairly big shocker for me.
If you read a lot of magazines from the Newsstand, my suggestion is to wait for the next generation iPad mini or at least wait for Apple to optimize it for this device because it's fairly bad. Bad to the point where some articles are unreadable or VERY difficult to read. The text is blurry and you have to make some effort to make out the words.
Websites, PDFs, emails and text messages aren't as horrible. They're actually quite acceptable, and I had no problems doing some actual work such as writing part of this review on the iPad mini using the WriteRoom app. The same is true of Facebook, Twitter, and reading news from Flipboard.
The iPad mini's screen is mediocre at best when compared to other tablets such as the Nook, Kindle Fire, and Galaxy Nexus -- all with higher pixels per inch on their display. That said, not having a Retina display is a disappointment, but it's definitely not a deal breaker if you're looking for a smaller tablet.
Typing on the iPad mini was a surprisingly good experience. I thought it would be awkward because it was a device halfway between an iPhone and iPad, but thanks to the excellent construction of the iPad Mini, using the touchscreen keyboard was very comfortable in both landscape and in portrait modes.
It helps a lot when you're able to split the keyboard into two sections or even move it higher and lower, which makes typing much easier. I have medium sized hands so your experience may be different from mine.
Other Buttons and Ports
Like the newer iOS devices, the overall layout of the iPad mini is very simple. You have the Home button, Volume Up and Down, Lock/Mute Switch (you can change it to either one in the Settings), Power/Sleep button on the top left hand corner, and the headphone port on the top left hand corner.
Let's not forget that moving forward starting with the iPhone 5, iOS devices will include the new Lightning connector port. If you were as frustrated as I was to carry two chargers for your phone and tablet, this will ease the pain a little bit!
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