Review: Apple iPad Mini

Up until June 2012, if you wanted a decent small tablet on a budget in the UK you didn’t have much choice. They were a few kicking around, including offerings from Samsung, but nothing that was really a solid enough tablet based experience. That all changed with the Nexus 7; check out Purav’s coverage here – http://teckcomesfirst.com/2012-07-google-nexus-7-my-thoughts. Not only were the specs of a high standard (with a few compromises) but the price was incredibly low (and made even better value with the 32GB launch in October). Plus it was a Nexus device, so you knew from the start you would be well looked after by Google and the Android Devs. Next came the Kindle Fire HD in October, again a decent all round tablet running the Amazon version of Android. Then came the iPad Mini in November, a slightly larger device with comparatively lower specs, a higher price tag, but the backup of the mammoth App Store.

Now I had a difficult choice, which one would I put my own hard earned money on? The first removal from the list of contenders was simple, the Fire HD. It was the same money as a Nexus 7, but in my opinion hampered by the Amazon version of Android. It basically added nothing, for me, that the Nexus 7 didn’t offer, and the Nexus 7 was stock android!
The next decision was much harder – Nexus 7 or iPad. I had looked and played with a Nexus 7 briefly, and loved all the extra Jellybean goodness, Google Now in particular. However I was already an iOS user (an iPhone 4S), and after holding and playing with an iPad Mini the lower specs and higher price tag didn’t matter – I had to have it.
Now that that rather long winded introduction is out of the way, let’s get into the real point of this article, the review!

Design

It is the first thing you notice about any device, the thing that attracts you and draws you in, and as said above the iPad Mini had that for me! . It is, as with all Apple products and the majority of other manufacturers these days, a very minimal design; with only Home, Volumes Up and Down, Mute/Rotation Lock switch, and Sleep/Wake Buttons and the speaker grill and charge port. And although not completely revolutionary, it’s basically a black rectangle, the smaller bezels on the side combined with the screen size make it feel like you are using a bigger device than what it is. Put it this way, it feels a lot bigger than a Nexus 7 but is similar dimensions. The back is a single piece of aluminium which almost has a dark blue colouring to it, and unfortunately attracts finger prints incredibly easily!
Overall, even if you don’t like Apple, you would be hard to fault the overall design of the iPad Mini, and with rumours that the 5th Generation iPad will continue with the style displayed here, it is going to be around for a while. Which is a very good thing.

iPad Mini Front

iPad Mini Front

Screen

This has to be the most discussed point about the iPad Mini, the screen and its resolution. The question was simply – ‘Why not Retina Display?’ I don’t know the actual answer to this, but I assume it is down to cost. With the iPad only getting a Retina display in February 2012, to get a 7.9” display with the same pixel count as the 9.7” used in the Retina iPad must have been too costly to keep the iPad Mini in touching distance of the other tablets available. Also it would have dramatically hit battery life (more on that later).
What I can tell you though, is it doesn’t matter. Yes the resolution is lower, but generally on a day to day use of the Mini, you will not notice it. If you have got a Retina iPad, you will almost definitely notice it, but you will stop if you don’t switch back! It is slightly noticeable when reading text, such as eBooks or websites but it shouldn’t be something that stops you from buying one!
That being said when the inevitable Retina iPad Mini is released we will all wonder how we lived without it!

Internals

Again, this is another highly discussed area about the iPad Mini – ‘Isn’t is basically an iPad 2 internally?’ And the answer is yes and no. It has the same processor – the dual core A5 also found in the iPhone 4S, and the same Wi-Fi specs but it has Bluetooth 4 and if you bought the Cellular version you get the addition of 4G (OK so you probably aren’t gonna get much use out of the last two yet but with the 4G auctions going ahead you may later this year!).
But again this doesn’t matter, the processor is more than capable of running whatever apps you need including some of the high demanding games such as Modern Combat and Need for Speed. It just may take a few seconds longer to load the app compared to the Retina iPad, but if you haven’t got one for comparison you will never know!

The iPad Mini comes with the new fancy Lightning Connector. Its smaller, reversible, and means I now have no spare charge cables. Thanks Apple!

Also the Mini has Stereo speakers, which is a great addition. What’s not so great is that both are on the bottom, meaning the sound comes out of one side when you are playing any horizontal media/games. It’s not really a big deal, but is one thing that the Nexus 10/Samsung Note 10.1 got spot on, speakers should be designed for holding the tablet horizontally.

iPad Mini Speaker and Lightning Connector

iPad Mini Speaker and Lightning Connector

Not forgetting the cameras. Yes the iPad Mini has cameras. Two; one on the front, which is used for FaceTime, Skype etc… and is the one you will mainly use if you have any sense, and one on the back which you will basically never use as you look like an idiot using it. I haven’t really used the cameras much, but they are there and of normal quality (i.e. not amazing, not rubbish)

iPad Mini Rear Camera

iPad Mini Rear Camera

Battery Life

Coming from the iPhone 4S, where I am lucky to go a day without charging it, was such a pleasant surprise. Generally I am using the iPad for gaming, browsing, YouTubeing, or reading a book (the most common uses for tablets as it turns out) and almost always have the Wi-Fi on. With this usage I am getting around at least 8-10 hours use out of the iPad before I need to charge it. For example since the last full charge I have used it for 9 hours 53 minutes and still have 20% remaining.

As said previously, if they had opted to put a Retina Display in the iPad Mini, with this battery, the battery life would almost certainly not be as good – and as we all know battery life is becoming increasingly more important in the choice of our technology

Using it and Performance

I am not going to go into great depths about iOS 6, its present on the iPad Mini and it works in a very similar way to iOS on any other iDevice. Saying that, one thing that Apple has added to the iOS for the iPad range is Gestures. Gestures are 4/5 finger movements you do on the screen to perform certain actions; swipe up shows the multitasking bar, swipe right/left in an app and it switches to the previously used one, and pinch when in an app closes it down to the homescreen. I would love to see something similar added to the iPhone.
Whilst iOS 6 works very well, it’s fluid and haven’t experienced any lag, something seems to be missing from the iPad – you still can do more than one thing at a time. Whilst this doesn’t annoy me on my iPhone, as the screen isn’t really big enough for it, I would love to be able to do true multitasking on the iPad. I am thinking something like Pop up Player that is seen on the Samsung S3 and Note 2. How much better would it be if I could have my iPlayer, 4OD or YouTube video playing in a small window whilst checking email, browsing or playing a quick game of scrabble? In my opinion a lot better! Also iOS 6 is suffering from staleness, it needs something done to refresh it and make it new and exciting to use again, but that’s for another article.

The Mini comes with some of the usual standard Apple Apps, no stocks or weather on here but Photo Booth has been included, which is a nice addition to take some silly photos every once in a while. The photos, settings, video and mail apps have all had a positive UI change from their iPhone counterparts, as you can see in the gallery. However when it comes to Calendar, Notes, Reminders and Contacts Apple has gone seriously over board on the Skeuomorphism – trying to make the apps look like they have been made from real material – leather/wood etc… It just looks very unprofessional, and outdated. Hopefully with Johnny Ive being in charge of iOS Design now this will be rectified.

iPad Setting Menu

iPad Setting Menu – GOOD

iPad Calendar.app

iPad Calendar.app – BAD

As was widely publicised by Apple at the launch, the iPad Mini runs all the iPad Apps, basically meaning there are a tonne of apps designed for the larger screen size – a huge plus over the Android Play Store. Plus it will also run the iPhone designed apps as well, although they won’t look as good!
This basically means that there is just about an app for everything you want to do. From drawing sketches, taking notes, editing videos, playing games, catching up on Eastenders, finding out how to cook ‘Toad in the Hole’, well you get the point. And as said before the Mini doesn’t falter at running any of these apps.

Round Up

9/10

Pros

  • Design and build quality are excellent
  • Battery Life
  • Sheer number of apps available + sharing Universal apps between iDevices
  • Gestures

Cons

  • Price
  • Lightning Connector
  • iOS is stale

Overall I love my iPad Mini, and it fits my needs perfectly. Yes there are a few things I would change but as an overall package it’s fantastic. The processor, whilst an older generation model, is more than capable of running whatever you can throw at it, and the battery will keep you playing for hours! It’s more expensive that its competitors, but you get a higher quality device, which has a vast amount of apps to fill it.

Let me know what you think of the iPad Mini below, and feel free to tell me I am completely wrong either here or on my twitter – @asinrope

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Matt Stringer

I am a 30 year old self confessed Geek, or am I a Nerd? I have a love of all technology, and get stupidly excited at the launch of any new gadget.
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  • Ben

    Really liked the post bro! The iPad Mini seems like a really nice tablet. I still like the Nexus 7 better though just because of the price. lol Great job!

  • OrestGPap

    Very nice review Matt. The iPad mini seems like a great device though the price is a little bit chilly. I am a lover of of many pixels, so I am just going to wait for the Retina iPad mini, or, since I am looking for a 7-inch form factor tablet, the Archos 79 with 7.9-inch Full HD display and Android 4.2 Jellybean for $119. It’s a great deal.

    Looking forward to your next article!

    -Orestes

  • Great Review Matt. I have the nexus 7 and im pretty happy with it , its a better bang for buck. With the ipad mini you are paying to get access to the tons of apps that it has at the cost of hackability.

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