iPad mini review
Apple takes on a new market with a smaller tablet
Summary: The iPad mini’s design stands above the competition
The iPad mini has arrived — and so has our review. Just last week, Apple introduced the world to the newest member of its wildly successful tablet line, an adorable, diminutive slate with a 7.9-inch display. It even had an adorable ad to show along with it: an iPad mini joining in with a full-sized iPad to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano.
But to think of the iPad mini as a companion to the 3rd or 4th generation iPad — some kind of secondary player to the bigger version — would probably be a mistake. With a price tag starting at $329 and heading all the way up to $659 (with LTE and 64GB of storage), this isn’t really a step down from the existing iPad (well, the iPad 2 at least) as much as it is a step to the side. At least, that’s the impression I get. Want a big iPad that isn’t too expensive? Get the 2nd gen one. Want one that you can throw in a bag or keep on the nightstand? Get the iPad mini. You fly business class and work in photography? Let me point you in the direction of the new 4th generation model.
But regardless of market positioning, the iPad mini has to be viewed in a world with a $199 Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD — two strong performers that are a far cry, at least in price, from the iPad mini. Even though Apple might want consumers to see these as separate product categories, consumers may only see that $129 gulf.
On the other hand, Apple has a lot to fill that gulf, including the absolute best software ecosystem for tablets on the planet right now. But is the iPad mini worth the stretch, or would you be smarter to save the cash and saddle up to another device?
Hardware and design
Moments after I held the iPad mini at Apple’s event in San Jose, I hurriedly wrote that it made other tablets in this class feel like toys. Perhaps I was a bit hard on the competition in the heat of the moment, but I will say that there isn’t a single product in the 7-inch tablet market that comes close to the look, feel, or build quality of the new iPad. It is absolutely gorgeous to see, and in your hand has the reassuring solidness of a product that’s built to last.
If the iPhone 5 is reminiscent of jewelry, the iPad mini is like a solidly made watch.
In fact, the iPhone 5 and the mini have a lot in common. They both share a metal housing (in silver or black) that’s lean and smooth, with that reflective, chamfered edge that runs around the border of the display. The iPad mini’s paint job is similar to the iPhone’s, but smoother, and on the black version I tested has a glint of blue and purple to it in certain light. It looks dangerous, and it feels great.
All of the standard iPad button and switch placement is intact here, save for the move of the speaker grille to the bottom of the device (it’s been around back for iPads previous to this version), along with the new Lightning port. And that’s a good-sounding set of stereo speakers, by the way. You’ll find separate volume buttons on the right side beneath the mute / rotation lock toggle, and the power / sleep button on the top, just as expected. The front of the device is all glass, save for an HD camera in the center of the top bezel (as you hold it in portrait) and the home button on the bottom. There’s also a 5-megapixel camera on the back.
Though the iPad mini sports a slightly larger display than other devices in this class, its profile feels extremely lean. Sometimes too lean. The device weighs just 0.68 pounds, and it’s only 0.28 inches thick (noticeably thinner than the Nexus 7′s 0.41 inches or Fire HD’s 0.4 inches). I actually had a little trouble holding onto the device when I wasn’t using the Smart Cover due to the back being as smooth as it is, and the frame being so thin. Maybe it’s just my big hands, but I wanted a little more to grab onto. In that regard, I prefer the feel of the Nexus 7.
That problem was exacerbated by how wide the device feels in your hand, as well as the lack of a significant bezel around the left and right of the screen in portrait. Maybe it’s just old habit, but I didn’t feel completely comfortable putting my thumb over the screen itself. Apple has apparently included some new palm rejection logic in the iPad mini’s version of iOS which wards off unwanted touches, and it did seem to work. It may have caused other issues, however, which I’ll touch on in the software section.
Minor quibbles aside, the iPad mini stands head and shoulders above the competition in terms of design, the caliber of its components, and the solidness of how it’s been built. But it also has another quality, one that’s nearly as important: the device has personality. I’ve started to think of it as a constant companion — small enough to throw in a bag or carry around the house. There’s something endearing about the mini that makes you want to keep it on-hand and use it often. It’s a feeling the larger iPad never elicited in me.