iPad Mini – First Impressions

I’ve had my iPad Mini for nearly two weeks now and as I had anticipated, it has become an indispensable link in my media consumption chain. First a disclaimer – I’m NOT reviewing the iPad portion of this product. I mean why would I? I’ve already written extensively about the iPad 2 after I accidentally bought one last year. You can read all about it in Accidental iPad Part 1 and Part 2. And for all intents and purposes Apple’s latest innovation is just a shrunken iPad 2… right? WRONG!

Why iPad Mini is a Big Deal

You wouldn’t think simply reducing the size of a successful product would make much of a difference, but for me its like night and day. Initially I enjoyed the iPad experience, voraciously browsing the web and consuming all forms of media – books; magazines; movies; streaming video and music. At the same time I found the iPad 2 unwieldy from both physical and technical perspectives. Physically, while the big screen was great for viewing the iPad 2 proved too awkward for single-handed use and too heavy for a mobile device. About the same time I started using a Macbook Air as my principle computer. Within weeks my media habits evolved as I increasingly went to the Air over the iPad for large screen use (browsing, videos, movies, music, Kobo reader), while my iPhone 4S proved more than adequate for mobile and small screen consumption. Shortly thereafter I sold the iPad 2, determined to find a better option.

When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the iPad Mini on October 23rd, 2012 pundits and commentators alike decried the diminutive iTablet as both underpowered and lacking in display resolution. I think they’re missing the point – the iPad Mini has a different mandate. While the Mini still relatively adept as a gaming machine or a wanna-be computer with limited file handling capability, this iPad really shines as a reader, online content browser and visual media consumer. This is OK by me… I already have devices that excel in the other areas. What I really wanted was a convenient, light-weight and portable way to read and consume content, and with the iPad Mini – I finally got it!

Solid Build, Decent Components

When first handling the iPad Mini I was immediately impressed by the build quality and solid feel in the hand. The smooth brushed aluminum back is a little slick so those with dry skin will have to take care not to let it slip out of their hands! The front side features the now standard 720p HD Facetime camera, recessed home button and luxuriant edge-to-edge bevelled glass. Instead of a ‘rocker’ style volume switch featured on earlier iPads, the Mini sports two individual volume buttons. And of course, the iPad Mini features Apple’s new Lightning connector in place of the faithful old 30 pin dock connector. While not technically a Retina display, the iPad Mini features the same screen resolution as the iPad 2 – 1024×768 pixels. However, as these pixels are condensed into a 7.9″ display, the result is a much sharper picture with a 162 pixels per inch density. Apple is likely waiting until a standard Retina pixel count can be crammed into this smaller display size instead of creating yet another set of pixel dimensions that App developers would have to support.

iPad Mini and Retina Display compared side-by-side courtesy of TechCrunch. (Click on the image for a close-up)

Just the same, users with average eyesight would have a tough time seeing an individual pixel on the Mini. And, as I was quite happy with the iPad 2 display, I can find no fault with the mini.

The next most common complaint directed at the Mini is the ‘ancient’ processor technology nestled within. True, this is not the latest, greatest and speediest processor going but the A5 chip inside is plenty fast for reading, browsing and consuming as well as most games. Serious gamers will want the bigger screen anyways. As for battery life so far I’ve found the Mini comparable to the iPad 2 despite having a physically smaller battery – about 10 hours of varied use at various screen brightnesses.

About the only complaint I’ve got is not with the iPad Mini itself, but Apple’s outrageously overpriced smart cover. On the full-size iPad the Apple Smart Cover provides both intelligent screen protection (which both wakes and sleeps the unit) in addition to a relatively rigid stand when folded back. The iPad Mini Smart Cover lacks the sturdy metal magnet connector of its bigger sibling, instead featuring a 1/4″ wide rubbery strip connecting the iPad with the cover. As a result the Smart Cover equipped iPad Mini is incredibly unstable when in vertical orientation and very loose when angled horizontally. I wasn’t able to tap the screen lightly without tipping the iPad over or snapping it free of the cover. While some like it, many seem to agree with me. But when it comes to the all-important wallet-vote, my Smart Cover is going back to the Apple Store in favour of some 3rd party solution.

The iPad Mini Value Proposition

You don’t have to look very far to find shoot-out style comparisons between the various contenders in the mini tablet arena. In a straight price vs. specifications scenario a strong case could be made for going with a Google Nexus tablet or the new Kindle Fire HD (which is still not available in Canada). I’ve played with a Nexus and its a great product. However at the end of the day it all comes down to operating system… do you want to go Android or iOS? And, as I’ve got more than 300 iPad Apps from my iPad 2 days it didn’t take me long to decide. With a starting price of $329, the iPad Mini fit comfortably into my impulse-buy budget!

Having said that… I still want a Retina Display, more memory and a faster processor, but then again I ALWAYS WANT THESE THINGS! In the meantime I’m going to enjoy my new iPad Mini instead of waiting around for the perfect tablet.



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