- Chuck Gray
The iPad mini is awesome. You can read on if you like, but just know that this is a tech purchase you probably will not regret. With its slim size, diminutive weight, and full-sized iPad technology, the iPad mini is a winner with few drawbacks.
Philosophically I approve more of Google’s open source Android than I do Apple’s closed-off iOS. I also am not a fan of iOS devices’ lack of centralized file storage and exploration. But really, there’s no denying that Apple knows how to build a tablet that overcomes these issues. The mini is 0.28 inches thick, 7.87 inches tall, 5.5 inches wide, and weighs only 0.68 pounds. The front of the mini is entirely glass with a diamond-cut edge that fits snuggly into an anodized aluminum unibody that comes in both slate and silver. The left and right bezel of the device have been narrowed significantly; at times this can make holding the device in portrait mode slightly awkward, but not as much as you might think thanks to its surprising lightness. Apple is king when it comes to rolling out devices that are a pleasure to hold and the mini is no exception; you will not believe how light and thin it really is until you hold one.
Its screen uses a 4:3 aspect ratio, just like its big brothers, rather than the 16:9 of most Android tablets. This extra screen space is great for reading web pages and periodicals, but when you factor in the screen’s disappointing 1024x768 resolution, the 4:3 aspect ratio means that 16:9 video plays back at an even lower resolution thanks to letterboxing. A lot of people are upset that Apple chose not to make this a Retina device and try as I might not to, I count myself as one of them. However, I do not count myself among the surprised; this is a classic Apple incremental release strategy and I have no doubt we’ll see a 2048x1536 display in an iPad mini next year. Still, thanks to a screen that is 2 inches smaller, 1024x768 looks a lot better on the iPad mini than it does on the iPad 2 with 163 pixels per inch rather than 132. Text on zoomed-out web pages is fuzzy, but still readable.
The processing guts of the mini are pretty much identical to the iPad 2 as well, with a dual-core A5 processor and 512MB of RAM (not to be confused with the 16, 32, or 64GB of storage). Even though the A5 processor is relatively long in the tooth, it’s still plenty fast for a smooth, zippy experience. Truly, the only people who will have any kind of gripe with the A5 are hardcore gamers, such as myself, who have an almost pathological need to be running the latest hardware; everyone else won’t be able to tell any difference.
Using games as an awkward segue, apps are what make the iPad mini shine. No one, not Google, Amazon, definitely not Barnes & Noble, and certainly not Microsoft, has the app offerings that Apple does. The App Store boasts 275,000 apps made specifically for the iPad. Considering the mini uses the same screen resolution as the iPad 2, all iPad apps are iPad mini apps. In some cases, certain screen elements are slightly undersized, making them harder to tap accurately; I cannot make the little circle-x icons next to the address and search bars in Safari work properly to save my life. However, this is a relatively rare occurrence and it beats the numerous Android apps that were designed for a phone scaled up to a 7 or 10 inch screen.
Unlike most other 7 inch tablets, the iPad mini has both a rear and front-facing camera. The rear-facing 5MP camera bests the iPad 2’s measly 960x720 quite handily and the front-facing camera can take 720p HD video, great for doing video chat. Unfortunately, the rear camera is not capable of taking HDR photos, but considering very few people use their iPads as their primary camera, that’s really a non-issue.
A 16GB wifi iPad mini will run you $329, with $100 bumps for the 32 and 64GB versions. This makes it $130 more expensive than a similarly equipped Google Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD. So why would you shell out that much more? First and foremost, it’s about the apps - no one can compete with Apple’s selection. Next, the overall experience on an iPad is still much smoother and zippier than it is on an Android device; iOS 6 and the A5 processor still outmatch the newer Android internals. The screen, though it runs at a lower resolution, is larger and looks much nicer, especially without Android’s annoying black navigation bar that subtracts a good bit of space from an already small screen. And finally, for you readers out there, the iPad is as close to a universal eBook reader as you’ll find with access to every single eBook store out there, including Apple’s own iBooks. Combine that with its light weight (it’s only two tenths of a pound heavier than the Kindle Paperwhite) and superior battery, that extra money quickly becomes worth it.
Who is the mini for? Those who already have an iPad 2 or newer can be secure with their current hardware; iPad 1 owners might want to upgrade. The iPad mini is great for tablet newcomers, or even just iPad newcomers. It’s a fair sight pricier than its competition, but for my money it was worth it, and I declare it the best sub-10-inch tablet of 2012.
Where’s my check, Apple?