• Our Apple iPad Mini review: Punching above its weight



    While Tablets are now the norm, itís hard to believe that the original iPad only came out about 2 and a half years ago. Tablets have been around for years but it wasnít till the iPad came out, that they really took off.

    Now 2 and half years later, iPads have sort of matured to the point that you donít have to buy the fanciest one, to buy one thatís usable.

    Itís the perfect time for Apple to release an entry level iPad because it doesnít have to suck. Hereís the iPad Mini. Itís an iPad with a 7.9Ē display.
    Really, thereís nothing too cutting edge about the Mini. Itís basically an iPad 2 with a camera thatís similar to the iPhone 4/iPad 3ís stuffed into a smaller body. It uses the lightning connector that debuted on the iPhone 5.

    A smaller body makes it more mobile. When it comes to tablets, I like to think about them being portable or mobile. A portable tablet is something you can carry around the house. While you can use it when youíre walking around, itís easier if you sit down. If you do use it when youíre out, itís because youíve stopped and can take it out of your bag.

    A mobile tablet is easier to use while youíre moving. Itís easier to carry, which makes it easier to whip out while youíre out. Itís also more inconspicuous, you can use it in public without drawing as much attention. Whether the last point is a good or bad thing is up to you.

    Thereís an old saying ďThe best camera is the one you have with youĒ. This also applies to tablets. I love my iPad 2 but I never use it because itís too big. I dislike taking it with me when Iím out.

    Like the iPad 2, the iPad Mini has a 1024x768 display. While itís not cutting-edge, it has decent viewing angles, itís bright and it works fine in bright sunlight. Itís worth pointing that the Nexus 7ís display is smaller with a higher resolution. That means compared to the 7, the Miniís display looks pretty coarse. Looking at the numbers, the 7 has a pixel density of 216ppi vs the Miniís 163ppi. Since we have our ruler out, the iPad 2 weighs in a mere 132ppi. Itís not quite a case of trying to read something a caveman scratched on a wall but the difference between each display is noticeable.

    Is this a big deal? Sort of. Personally, while I can tell the iPad Miniís display is more blocky, itís something I get used to quickly. Donít forget, I have access to many, many devices. Many of these devices have sharper displays. I guess the difference is most noticeable if youíre doing a lot of reading.

    Actually, if youíve used the iPad 2 and donít mind the display then you wonít mind the Miniís because itís actually sharper.



    Speaker, lightning connector



    headphone jack


    silent mode switch, volume buttons


    While the Mini is Appleís Ďbudget tabletí, they didnít skimp on the body. Itís metal which looks and feels fantastic. The edges have a beautiful beveled finish plus the buttons look and feel great. That said, while the metal is pretty, itís a tricky finish. Toss is in your bag without a case and the Mini might dent if it hits something else in there.



    When I think of my iPad 2, another reason why I donít find it mobile is because itís not very easy to type on unless Iím sitting down. I pretty much type exclusively in portrait mode (on phones too) because I like how the keyboard takes up less of the screen. On the iPad 2, I can type in portrait mode with my thumbs but Iím not very efficient at it. I have to sit down if I want to pound out some text.

    On the Mini, typing is really easy because Iím able to reach all the keys with my thumb easily.

    Like the iPhone 5 and newest iPad, the Mini ships ditches the old 30 pin connector for Appleís new lightning connector. The lightning connector is great because itís smaller and most importantly; it fits in either way. If youíve ever tried to attach the 30 pin connector in the dark, youíll know what I mean.

    That said, the new connector requires an adapter if youíre going to use it with your old 30 pin accessories. Apparently, the cable is harder to copy too so youíll have to pay more.

    Iím annoyed that Apple includes a 5 watt (1 amp) charger with the Mini. The same you get with the iPhone 5. They should have included a 10 watt charger like they do with their other iPads.

    Camera:

    The camera can take picture really, really quickly. It would have been nice if Apple could have put a burst mode into the camera.

    Iíll be honest, I donít expect too much out of tablet camera but I do expect more than what you get with the iPad 2 so kudos for Apple here for putting a decent camera in the Mini.

    Software:

    The Mini runs iOS 6. If youíve used iOS 6 before, there arenít any surprises. The real story here is that all the apps designed for the iPad 2 will run on the iPad Mini as well. If you have an iPad already and provided you have enough space, you can backup your old iPad to your computer or iCloud and restore it to the Mini.

    Compared with the iPhone, iPads have a few minor changes.

    I like how Apple has made it so the side-mounted switch can now be used to lock the orientation instead. If you prefer it as a mute switch you can do that too.

    On the iPhone, double tapping the home button and swiping left allows you toggle the orientation. On iPads, doing this also allows you to adjust the brightness and volume (this is nothing new).

    If you own an iPhone and are new to iPads, thereís something you should know about the apps. There are basically 3 types of apps; ones made for the iPhone, made for the iPad and made for both.

    Ones made for the iPad will only run on iPads. Theyíre optimized for the iPadís 4:3 aspect ratio displays. Ones made for the iPhone will run on the iPad but the iPad runs them inside a window. What really irritates me is that the window is tiny. If you want to make it bigger you have to run it in 2x mode which doubles the size including all the pixels. So now you have a silly looking application with big blocky text and pixels.

    Apps that are made for both will run on either iPhones or iPads. These apps will have a plus sign in the top left corner in the box you click to buy or download them. All else being equal, if youíre deciding between 2 apps and one will work on both iPhone and iPad, pick that one.

    Apps that are made for iPads wonít run at all on iPhones. If you can, avoid these ones unless you have no choice.

    Performance:

    Really, there isnít much to say about the performance. Itís the same chip you get with the iPad 2 (actually, the second generation iPad 2). Note that I donít have iPad 3 or 4 results here because I donít own one. Since the iPad 4 (iPad with Retina Display) has a slightly higher clocked version of the iPhone 5ís chip Iíd expect its scores to be slightly higher than the 5ís.

    SunSpider (higher is better):

    SunSpider tests a browserís javascript performance. Since it runs in any browser it allows us to compare Apples and Androids.

    Apple iPhone 5: 911.7
    Apple iPad 2: 1436.2
    Apple iPad Mini: 1482.4
    Google Nexus 7: 1675.4

    While not cutting edge, the Mini and Nexus 7 do just fine in this benchmark. In case youíre wondering why the 7 and itís 4 cores doesnít do better, SunSpider rarely uses more than 2 cores so the extra 2 cores donít really come into play here.

    Peacemaker:

    Apple iPhone 5: 807
    Apple iPad 2: 532
    Apple iPad Mini: 525
    Google Nexus 7: 452

    Peacemaker is another cross platform benchmark. The Mini with itís lower resolution display manages to outscore the 7.

    GL Benchmark 2.5 Egypt on-screen:

    GL Benchmark is a 3D gaming benchmark that is available for both Android and iOS.

    Apple iPhone 5: 4426
    Apple iPad Mini: 2808
    Apple iPad 2: 2725
    Google Nexus 7: 1611

    Note that I didnít include the off-screen tests here. Since games run at a deviceís native resolution I didnít post the offscreen scores because theyíre simply not important.

    Battery life:

    GL Benchmark 2.5 battery test:

    GL Benchmark 2.5 Battery test (mins, higher is better):
    Apple iPad 2: 280
    Apple iPad Mini:
    275
    Google Nexus 7: 213

    While the 7 is handily beaten by the Mini here, both will probably make it through the day, though having used both, the Nexus 7 can sometimes cut it close.

    Conclusion:

    I often talk about playing the hardware game in my reviews. Since all mobile devices have similar parts (ARM processors, RAM, storage, a touch screen, battery, etc), they all have to play the hardware game. However, hardware is only part of the game. Thereís also the user experience and of course a companyís brand.

    Brand is a funny thing. If you have 2 identical products, most consumers will pay more for the one with a stronger brand. No doubt about who is the top dog in the tablet space. So youíll have to pay the ďApple taxĒ if you want an iPad.

    Then thereís the hardware. Itís devices like the iPad Mini which make people think that Apple is getting complacent. But then again, what manufacturer saves their best for their most affordable device? The Galaxy Note II is dripping with cutting edge hardware yet the Galaxy Ace IIx is basically warmed over pieces from previous generation Galaxies.

    While the iPad Miniís specs arenít going to make you drool, theyíre sufficient for whatever youíre going to throw at it for the next while. Whatís interesting is that since the Mini is smaller you can use it in a lot of situations where you couldnít before because the other iPads are too big. You still get the same user experience you would with other iPads.

    Apple really needs to release a high-end SKU of the iPad Mini with a Retina display, 1GB RAM and an A6 processor. The Mini is a great device. I think once people use it, theyíll be willing to pay a premium for it.

    What capacity?:

    If youíre buying an iPhone, I donít recommend anyone buy a 16GB model because between the camera, apps, videos, etc 16GB (actually around 13GB) fills up way too fast. Personally I have a 32GB.

    Since most people will be snapping less pictures on the iPad and since they tend to be more companion devices, you can get by with 16GB of storage, though 32 would be nice. Of course, it totally depends on you.

    LTE or WiFi?:

    Apple charges $139 if you want LTE. Itís not a small amount of money to be sure but the $139 allows you a lot of flexibility. It has to do with the portability vs mobility which I mentioned earlier. Having LTE allows you to get the Mini connected almost anywhere. You could argue that all you have to do is tether the Mini to your phone but, most phones already struggle with battery life, tethering is both inconvenient and from my experience, a last resort.

    Another thing to consider is that the Mini makes a great wireless hotspot. You can tether for hours with it since itís battery capacity is substantially higher than any phones.

    I say get the LTE if you can afford it but if you canít, the WiFi version wonít kill you.



    vs iPad with Retina display (iPad 4):



    The difference in size really makes a real difference. I already spent many words explaining mobility vs portability above, so Iíll just leave it at that. For an extra $190 bucks, you get a faster processor, quadruple the resolution, a bigger battery and more RAM. All these will probably make the 4 more future-proof. I donít have Appleís future plans in front of me but Iím betting that the 4 will probably receive updates for longer than the Mini will, mostly because it has 1GB of RAM vs 512MB.

    So buy the iPad 4 if you want something thatís more future-proof (though no guarantees), if you need the extra performance (most probably donít) or if you need the super high resolution display.

    vs iPad 2:

    The Mini is basically an iPad 2 with a smaller display, a new connector, and a better camera. Buy the 2 if you need the bigger screen. Otherwise save your cash and get the Mini. I think most of you will be better off with the Mini.



    vs Nexus 7:

    Ah, hereís the loaded question. Theyíre competitors because both are the poster child for a good deal on their respective platforms.

    Actually, price-wise, theyíre not really competitors. For less than the price of a 16GB WiFi iPad, you can a 32GB Nexus 7 with HSPA+. Or you could think of it this way, A 16GB iPad Mini is $329 vs $199 for a 16GB Nexus 7. Indeed the Nexus 7 is a smashing deal and very hard to ignore.

    With a higher resolution screen, more RAM (1GB vs 512MB), and 2 extra processing cores, the 7 has the edge on paper too. Indeed, if you buy solely based on paper specs, you should run out now and get a Nexus 7.

    The real question is whether you want an iOS tablet and are willing to pay the Apple Tax. On phones, if you want the best phone possible you have 2 choices; the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy Note II. A close second would be the LG Optimus G and a few other Android devices. My point is that on the phone side Android and iOS are very close.

    Android has come a long way from the disaster that was Honeycomb last year but theyíve still got a ways to.



    Android vs iOS aside, the more important point is the question of portability vs mobility. My Nexus 7 is much more portable than the Mini because it has a 7Ē 16:9 screen with a that is substantially narrower.



    I can comfortably cradle it with one hand and use it with the other.



    The Mini is too wide to cradle with my hand so I have to hold on its side. Since the Mini is a lot thinner, itís actually not comfortable to hold like that. The best way to use it is with both hands hold it and using your thumbs to interact with the display.

    One of the coolest things about the Nexus 7 is that it fits in some of my pockets. While I canít fit it in my jeans, it fits just fine in my blazerís pocket. The Mini is a bit of a stretch so the Nexus has the advantage here.

    So buy a Nexus 7 right? Not so fast, I think that the Mini is a more well sorted device. When I first got the 7, the first thing that I did was load some videos on it so I could watch it with my wife (we ditched our bedroom TV). It did a terrible job because the built-in speaker wasnít loud enough - even indoors in a quiet room! While I admit loading videos onto any iOS device is a pain, the speaker is loud enough for any reasonable environment.

    Thereís also the screen. While the Miniísí display looks much more primitive than the 7ís, the 7ís isnít bright enough. Sure, itís adequate for indoors but outdoors, the Mini is a better choice.

    Finally, thereís the camera. I donít demand much from a tabletís rear-facing camera but that doesnít mean I donít need one. Sometimes, itís just really convenient to have one.

    If I had to choose Nexus 7 or iPad Mini, I say go for the Mini if you can afford it but you probably wonít be disappointed with the 7 because itís just such a great deal.

    Pros:

    • cheap for an iOS tablet
    • loud speaker
    • bright display
    • camera is fine for a tablet
    • smaller than other iPads


    Cons:

    • expensive for what you get
    • low resolution display
    • too thin (a pro for some people)
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Our Apple iPad Mini review: Punching above its weight started by howard View original post
    Comments 24 Comments
    1. Tendenzi's Avatar
      Tendenzi -
      Well there it was!!

      Great review Howard, one more "pro" should have been great apps. I find it hard to like my android tablets when getting down to it, using iOS on a tablet with the app's I use, is just more engaging. I'm sure developers will get around to this though.
    1. Keyon Rich's Avatar
      Keyon Rich -
      I still think the iPad Mini is unnecessary...it doesn't even come equipped with a Retina display, and they're already talking about a Retina+ display & camera on the "iPhone 5S".
    1. Doolie's Avatar
      Doolie -
      Quote Originally Posted by Keyon Rich View Post
      I still think the iPad Mini is unnecessary...it doesn't even come equipped with a Retina display, and they're already talking about a Retina+ display & camera on the "iPhone 5S".
      Who's they?
    1. In4mation's Avatar
      In4mation -
      Great review. My family is all Mac (Since 1989 when my gma bought my first apple) We were really debating on buying a ipad mini for my daughter. She is 4 months old but really we would use it as a car video player for travel etc. My wife really wants one for holiday as well.
    1. ensarj's Avatar
      ensarj -
      The iPad mini is a good tablet, but the price is a "success barrier". When looking at the $199 for the Nexus 7, the $329 for the iPad mini is just too much.
    1. XFF's Avatar
      XFF -
      The price is fine. After all, this is an Apple product and not competing for the scraps at the bottom of the barrel.

      However, after playing with it for a few weeks, I can unequivocally say that it needs a retina display ASAP. Other than that it's a great device, I actually prefer the form factor over the full-sized iPad. But the display, yeah, not so hot when you're used to the retina display on iPhone 4/5.
    1. ceredon's Avatar
      ceredon -
      Quote Originally Posted by XFF View Post
      The price is fine. After all, this is an Apple product and not competing for the scraps at the bottom of the barrel.

      However, after playing with it for a few weeks, I can unequivocally say that it needs a retina display ASAP. Other than that it's a great device, I actually prefer the form factor over the full-sized iPad. But the display, yeah, not so hot when you're used to the retina display on iPhone 4/5.
      If you'd never used a retina calibre device, would it be a stand out? I am thinking of it for my wife next year, but I just bought her the 3 this past March and she loves the Retina as she is now wearing reading glasses. I wonder if she had never used the 3 whether she would have liked the mini's display. Too late now I guess.
    1. ceredon's Avatar
      ceredon -
      Quote Originally Posted by ensarj View Post
      The iPad mini is a good tablet, but the price is a "success barrier". When looking at the $199 for the Nexus 7, the $329 for the iPad mini is just too much.
      Hard to use price as a comparative 'success barrier' when the Nexus 7 is sold at or close to a loss and the mini is likely outselling it anyway (just my guess).
    1. XFF's Avatar
      XFF -
      Quote Originally Posted by ceredon View Post
      If you'd never used a retina calibre device, would it be a stand out? I am thinking of it for my wife next year, but I just bought her the 3 this past March and she loves the Retina as she is now wearing reading glasses. I wonder if she had never used the 3 whether she would have liked the mini's display. Too late now I guess.
      For my taste, I think it would be difficult to go back to an iPad mini display after using iPhone 4/5 or iPad 3/4 for a while. It's a very noticeable reduction of pixel density (sharpness). In fact, the pixel density on the iPad mini is exactly the same as on the original iPhone (163 ppi). With a retina display, it would be perfect.
    1. ensarj's Avatar
      ensarj -
      Quote Originally Posted by ceredon View Post
      Hard to use price as a comparative 'success barrier' when the Nexus 7 is sold at or close to a loss and the mini is likely outselling it anyway (just my guess).
      I am not sure whether the Nexus 7 is sold close to a loss, but I agree with you about the iPad mini. I was ironical when I wrote "success barrier". The iPad mini is an Apple product and no matter what the price, there is a huge number of Apple fans who don't care about it too much. Being an Apple product is the main reason the iPad mini has become so popular (my opinion).
    1. AndroidFoneFan's Avatar
      AndroidFoneFan -
      I must just have really bad eye sight. I have seen the Nexis 7 tablet, I own 4 other tablets of different qualities as well as a iPad 2 and a friend has a first Gen iPad 1. To my eyes most of the screens are about the same. I don't game and I don't do video or photo editing on any of my tablets. The only devices I can tell any real difference on are the very low end devices like my icoo tablet. And even it is not that bad.
      I would have to say that Howard has the same tastes as my brother. My brother says he can see a sure difference between Blue ray and DVD.
      I see almost no difference most of the time. Once in a blue moon I catch something but coming from years of watching VHS movies, DVD is crystal clear to my eyes. So same for most tablets.

      Sent from my AT100 using Tapatalk 2
    1. XFF's Avatar
      XFF -
      Quote Originally Posted by AndroidFoneFan View Post
      I must just have really bad eye sight. I have seen the Nexis 7 tablet, I own 4 other tablets of different qualities as well as a iPad 2 and a friend has a first Gen iPad 1. To my eyes most of the screens are about the same. I don't game and I don't do video or photo editing on any of my tablets. The only devices I can tell any real difference on are the very low end devices like my icoo tablet. And even it is not that bad.
      I would have to say that Howard has the same tastes as my brother. My brother says he can see a sure difference between Blue ray and DVD.
      I see almost no difference most of the time. Once in a blue moon I catch something but coming from years of watching VHS movies, DVD is crystal clear to my eyes. So same for most tablets.
      If you don't see a difference in resolution between iPad mini and a retina iPad or retina iPhone then your eye sight is definitely less than perfect. That doesn't mean it's really bad, and it may even be good enough for what you need it for, but it's far from perfect, that's for sure.
    1. AndroidFoneFan's Avatar
      AndroidFoneFan -
      Lol no arguments

      Sent from my AT100 using Tapatalk 2
    1. howard's Avatar
      howard -
      I can see the difference immediately but regardless of the resolution, you get used to it. When I use my iPad 2 I notice how coarse the display looks immediately. But after using it for a while I don't notice it anymore. It's a case of how you use it. I'm reading the screen, not looking at the individual letters.

      Quote Originally Posted by AndroidFoneFan View Post
      I must just have really bad eye sight. I have seen the Nexis 7 tablet, I own 4 other tablets of different qualities as well as a iPad 2 and a friend has a first Gen iPad 1. To my eyes most of the screens are about the same. I don't game and I don't do video or photo editing on any of my tablets. The only devices I can tell any real difference on are the very low end devices like my icoo tablet. And even it is not that bad.
      I would have to say that Howard has the same tastes as my brother. My brother says he can see a sure difference between Blue ray and DVD.
      I see almost no difference most of the time. Once in a blue moon I catch something but coming from years of watching VHS movies, DVD is crystal clear to my eyes. So same for most tablets.

      Sent from my AT100 using Tapatalk 2
    1. gloriakfd's Avatar
      gloriakfd -
      This is all good but I am a total non tecki kind of person and I am lost without a manual for the ipad. What were they thinking?
    1. turbogeek's Avatar
      turbogeek -
      Quote Originally Posted by gloriakfd View Post
      This is all good but I am a total non tecki kind of person and I am lost without a manual for the ipad. What were they thinking?
      That's becoming the norm these days, many electronics come with a pamphlet at best. Usually there are more legal documents (software license agreement, health & safely advisory, warranty details...) than actual instructions. Is there no interactive tutorial when you start it the first time?
    1. ceredon's Avatar
      ceredon -
      Quote Originally Posted by gloriakfd View Post
      This is all good but I am a total non tecki kind of person and I am lost without a manual for the ipad. What were they thinking?
      They were probably thinking "we haven't shipped manuals for most products for years, why do so for our simplest to use product".

      User manuals tend to confuse people even more. Apple has always tried to design their UX and products so that they are intuitive enough not to need a manual.
    1. XFF's Avatar
      XFF -
      Quote Originally Posted by gloriakfd View Post
      This is all good but I am a total non tecki kind of person and I am lost without a manual for the ipad. What were they thinking?
      They were thinking let's create a manual for those who need it: http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/ipad_user_guide.pdf
    1. amylyn1970's Avatar
      amylyn1970 -
      I just sold my Nexus 7 and bought a white iPad Mini 16 GB. I love it. Don't get me wrong, the Nexus 7 is nice, but I always end up going back to IOS. Certain apps run glitchy on the Nexus 7 whereas on the iPad Mini they are smooth. I use Dish Remote Access to watch tv & stuff I've recorded on my DVR when the hubby is playing video games or I'm away from home. Videos were so glitchy on the 7 but are just about perfect on the Mini. I have an iPhone 4S but have a non glare screen protector on it so the Mini not having a retina display isn't a problem for me. I previously had the iPad 2 but because it was so big I sold it & got the 7. Was really missing IOS so I was happy the get the Mini & am very glad I got it. Netflix is also glitchy more than not on the 7 & works pretty flawlessly on the Mini. I'm a happy camper & although the Mini costs more, I don't mind since I am much happier & not wanting to throw it across the room when I watch tv on it. Too many times I almost threw the 7 but didn't because I just knew I would end up selling it.
    1. AndroidFoneFan's Avatar
      AndroidFoneFan -
      My nephew has the 7 and loves it. I have used many android tablets and I really like the Android platform. It will always be my phone platform of choice, but of all the tablets I have used I have decided that even though I despise apples lack of a sd card slot and lack of a back button, I prefer the iPad -2 over all my android pads.
      It has far fewer glitches than any of my android tablets, and the battery lasts longer. I can charge all my android tablets and use them one after the other until all the batteries are dead, then get the IP2 out and use it for a longer time on one charge than all the android tablets combined.
      Apple has the hardware to software setup so fine tuned that it just works better.
      I truly wish there was one tablet that came close. My friends IPad 1 to this day runs circles around my Toshiba AT100 and the Toshiba is about 4 times the machine where hardware is concerned.
      The 1st gen IPad is faster and smoother in everything over the Toshiba.