iPad mini Review: My New Favorite iPad

When I first posted my review after a weekend with the iPad mini, I thought it would change my tablet use a little. You know, just reading things, a little email, surf now and then. Oh how wrong I was. The iPad mini has become my primary tablet I use all day, every day. My iPad 4? It sits patiently on its stand, sometimes playing music (but not as often as I have better AirPlay options going and the ChillTab 4 fits so perfectly on my keyboard tray), but mostly just sits there. I use my iPad 4 to write posts, surf when I need more space, and play some games where the bigger screen is a huge plus. Heck I even use my iPad mini as a third screen with Air Display and it does a great job as a little heads up display for email and tweets. So this review after a month of using it, is really talking about how I’ve been using it every day.

Before I start into this review a month into using the iPad mini, here’s how I wrapped up my first review of the iPad mini:

I certainly know how the iPad mini is going to fit into my digital world. It’s going to be the device that I read news on, catch up on emails, check Twitter, check Facebook, and read books on. MG Siegler, I think, and I will have very similar usage patterns (though I’m leaving the MacBook at home, thank you). My iPad mini is going to come out with me almost as often as I carry my iPad (I always have my iPhone)—maybe even more if I have a good way to carry my mini around (coat pockets are okay, but not too safe I think). I also agree with Darrell Etherington, that the iPad mini will make a great second-screen device for watching TV. I always am looking up movies and shows on IMDb on my iPad, now with the mini…well the iPad isn’t going to have that job much longer.

What’s changed? Nothing…except I’m using my iPad mini more than I had imagined!

The Specs

It’s important to remind you of what’s under the hood of the iPad mini because that is one factor that has received a lot of critique and criticism.

  • Dual-core A5 chip
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi‑Fi (802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
  • Cell models:
    • Model A1454 (AT&T, all Canadian carriers)
      • GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
      • UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
      • LTE (Bands 4 and 17)
    • Model A1455 (Sprint, Verizon, all other countries)
      • CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900, 2100 MHz)
      • GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
      • UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
      • LTE (Bands 1, 3, 5, 13, 25)
    • Data only
  • 7.9‑inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi‑Touch display with IPS technology, 1024-by–768 resolution at 163 pixels per inch (ppi), – Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
  • FaceTime HD Camera, 1.2MP photos, 720p HD video, FaceTime video calling over Wi‑Fi or cellular, Face detection, Backside illumination, Tap to control exposure for video or still images, Photo and video geotagging
  • iSight Camera 5MP photos, Autofocus, Face detection, Backside illumination, Five-element lens, Hybrid IR filter, ƒ/2.4 aperture, Tap to focus video or still images, Tap to control exposure for video or still images, Photo and video geotagging
  • Video Recording 1080p HD video recording, Video stabilization, Face detection, Tap to focus while recording, Backside illumination
  • 10 hour battery life
  • Lightning connector

From the specs side of things, people often compare the iPad mini to the iPad 2, because they use the same dual-core A5 chip. This is certainly true, however it’s important to point out that the iPad mini also has the same upgraded camera as the new iPad 4. Does that make a difference? Oh you bet it does. The iPad 2 camera is now a couple generations behind and isn’t even as good as an iPhone 4 camera.

Next is the screen. No, it’s not Retina. Do I notice? Sure, but only when I’m going right from my iPad 4 to my the iPad mini. Not when I go from the iPhone 5 to the iPad mini though (interestingly). We’ve covered this in-depth on why there are good reasons not to have launched with a Retina device and why a second version might not either. I’ll cover more about the under the hood stuff and the screen later.

Device Design

There is no doubt that the fit, form, and finish of the iPad mini is top notch. The smooth anodized aluminum back is sleek and cool. The iPad mini is small enough that many adults could grip the iPad mini in one hand (fingers across the back, like the Apple image), but I find holding it like a notebook to feel more natural. The thinner bezel around the outside hit the right balance of edge space and room for the screen. Don’t worry about your hand being on the screen either, in iOS 6.0.1 they thought of that and it will sense your hand there and not register it as a “touch”.

As far as weight goes, it’s a touch over half a pound (compared to the iPad 4 which is nearly 1.5 pounds) and feels feather light when compared to full-sized iPads. The (lack of) weight, makes the iPad mini super easy to hold for long periods of time (like reading, playing games, or watching videos). In fact the stereo speakers make listening to music or watching a video (or games) really nice. Sure, everything sounds better with headphones, but the speakers are much richer than any iPhone or iPad before.

A nice touch Apple included is that the volume buttons on the right side are discrete buttons (similar to an iPhone) and not the rocker style with previous iPad. Those buttons and the lock switch are also metal and not plastic (as they are with other iPads), which I think is more than a nice touch, I think it will add durability as well.

Bottom line: I know it sounds really geeky, but every time I pick up my iPad mini I feel like I’m on Star Trek and holding a PAAD device. It just feels sleek, cool, futuristic, and awesome.

Screen

If there is one thing that has garnered the most discussion about the iPad mini, it’s the screen. At 1024×768 it is the same resolution as the iPad 2, but because that resolution is squeezed into 7.9 inches vs 9.7 inches (iPad 2) the pixels per inch are 163 on the iPad mini versus 132 on the iPad 2. No, the iPad mini isn’t a Retina screen. Yes, if you get close enough you can see the pixels. However at reading distance, I can’t see the pixels. In fact, holding the iPad 4 and iPad mini side by side at the same distance from my eyes, I have to to look very closely to notice a difference. Yes, the Retina screen is sharper, richer, and brighter, but he iPad mini screen is still sharp, rich, bright too.

Bottom line: A lot of pundits, geeks, and others have made a lot of hay over the lack of Retina in the iPad mini. By the same token, many people have pointed out the making a Retina screen that small isn’t practical now, and might not be for a long time. Lastly, when it comes down to it, when you’re using the iPad mini you don’t notice. It’s a gorgeous screen on its own merits. Since I use it nearly all the time I can safely say that I don’t have any “eww that looks awful on the screen” moments. I read RSS feeds, sift through tweets, wander through Facebook, and play games just fine. Honestly if you use an iPad mini in store and don’t rush to compare it to a Retina iPad, I think you’ll agree with me.

Performance

If there was something I wish the iPad mini had it would be the A6 chip that’s in the iPhone 5 (or maybe the A6X in the iPad 4—if it didn’t kill the battery life) and not the A5 chip that it sports now. While certainly not grossly slow, the iPad mini does lag a little bit launching apps. Once apps are running, however, I haven’t noticed slow downs.

As far as connectivity goes, I have the WiFi model to give you results for, but like the iPhone 5 and iPad 4, it sports the latest in wireless chipsets, so the potential for speed is all built in.

Using Apps

Let’s start (like I did for the iPhone 5 review) with GeekBench scores.

The iPad mini clocks in at 754 on GeekBench 2:

Which is lower than all the iPad 2 models (from GeekBench):

I think, however, because the screen is smaller the iPad mini might be able to perform on par with the iPad 2 head to head. Sure, it’s slower than the iPhone 5, iPad 3, and iPad 4, but all of those either have the A6 chip (iPhone 5 and iPad 4) or have the extra graphics boost with the x-series (the iPad 3 has an A5X and the iPad 4 boosts higher with the A6X). Real world performance, I find the iPad mini to be a tad sluggish at times, but over all, acceptable.

Connectivity

Like the iPhone 5 and iPad 4, the iPad mini has everything under the hood to connect to the fastest wireless networks around. My tests with Speedtest show results on par with same generation devices:

However, because it doesn’t have the oomph under the hood that the other new devices have, I don’t think the iPad mini can really take advantage of the potential for speed by rendering pages as fast as it can get the data. Real world, solid network performance, if maybe sluggish because it is slightly underpowered.

Bottom line: If Apple had found a way to put in the A6 or A5X instead of the A5, I think the iPad mini would not feel hamstrung by its hardware. Day to day, you will probably notice apps opening more slowly than on other iOS devices, but once they are running no issues. That’s the key here, yes, it certainly could be (and I wish it were) faster, but I don’t believe you will feel limited by the device at all.

iOS 6

When you get an iPad mini it comes with iOS 6.0.1…which not only brings you better Notifications and Maps (okay, Maps is a mixed bag), but the tweak that it can sense when you’re holding the iPad mini and touching the edge of the screen with the palm of your hand. I haven’t thought about this feature much until writing this review and, you know, it works really well. The fact that I didn’t notice is a testament to how well it does work.

If you’re hoping for Passbook or Panorama photos on the iPad mini, you’re out of luck there. Those are only on the iPhone. The rest of the improvements in iOS 6, got you covered there.

Camera

In all honesty, I don’t think people talked enough about the iPad mini camera. Read the specs:

iSight Camera 5MP photos, Autofocus, Face detection, Backside illumination, Five-element lens, Hybrid IR filter, ƒ/2.4 aperture, Tap to focus video or still images, Tap to control exposure for video or still images, Photo and video geotagging

And that’s a respectable camera. No, it’s not the 8MP camera on the iPhone 5, but it has everything else. Yeah taking pictures with an iPad mini looks a little silly, but not as silly as a full-sized iPad! Here is a picture I shot with my iPad mini and iPhone 5 with the default camera app, no retouching, etc:

iPhone 5 image

iPad mini image

Yes, the iPhone 5 is better, but the iPad mini isn’t terrible. If you shrink it down and tweak it, bet the differences will even out (not completely of course). So if you see Bigfoot crossing the street or have that amazing picture you have to take, the iPad mini will do fine. Plus it is easier to frame shots with the lighter device as well.

FaceTime

Like the iPhone 5, Apple figured that if you’re going to try to convince people to use FaceTime, people need to look good. I think the new FaceTime camera that is in the iPhone 5, iPad mini, and iPad 4 does the job very well:

FaceTime HD Camera, 1.2MP photos, 720p HD video, FaceTime video calling over Wi‑Fi or cellular, Face detection, Backside illumination, Tap to control exposure for video or still images, Photo and video geotagging

Is on par with the iPhone 5, and I haven’t seen much difference between the two there. I’ve used the FaceTime camera for, well, FaceTime a lot and it looks great.

Video recording

Since the iPad mini isn’t as good a camera as the iPhone 5, the videos will show this. They are good, but not the rich depth of the iPhone 5. In a pinch, it’s still 1080p HD and will look great on YouTube. Here are some video comparisons for you (the iPad mini, iPhone 5, and iPad 4):

Lightning Connector

Like the iPhone 5, the Lighting connector is solid and syncs my iPad mini faster than my iPad 3 or iPhone 4 ever did via the 30 pin connector. If you have devices that have the old 30 pin dock connector, you’ll need adapters to use them.

As with the iPhone 5, I really like that I don’t have to fumble to figure out the right orientation for the connector.

Battery

The battery life on the iPad mini blows me away. Even as my regular device using the iPad mini for reading, music, some games, I really only need to charge it every other day. If I spend the day watching movies, playing lots of games, taking pictures, shooting video, and editing things I go through the battery pretty fast, but still it gets me through the day. One of the “yeah but…” arguments against a Retina iPad mini was the hit the battery life might take. Given the choice between a device that easily lasts all day with regular use and most of the day with heavy use and a pretty screen, I’ll take the battery life thank you very much.

Apple gives the iPad mini battery a 10 hour life for the day, my experience is that is accurate and longer if you’re just reading and surfing a bit. So if you want to read on the plane and have a long flight…no problem, you’re all good (especially since you’ll be in Airplane mode and if you turn the screen down).

New Smart Cover

With the iPad mini Apple introduced a new Smart Cover that doesn’t have the metal hinges introduced with the iPad 2. Now I like the Smart Cover for the larger iPads, but I’m not sold on the iPad mini. I don’t think it supports the iPad mini well when it’s folded and I just don’t feel it’s as protective as the large model. If there were better options available when I picked up the iPad mini, in hindsight I would have opted for them. If simple and basic is all you need, it’s fine, not great, fine. If you’d like more protection and more stability as a stand, look for other options.

Drawbacks

There aren’t many drawbacks to the iPad mini. Its size is practically perfect for everyday use. The screen is still great, even if it isn’t Retina. If there is one thing I wish the iPad mini had, it would be more oomph under the hood. I think, however, that is really quibbling with a great device. Since the iPad mini has replaced my iPad for most common tasks (the exceptions being writing, editing photos, marking up large documents, long emails and more than basic web surfing), I can’t say that the iPad mini is a slouch. If the lack of processor power was a real showstopper, I would only have it as a casual tablet. In reality when I get up from my desk I leave the iPad 4 at my desk and take my iPhone 5 and iPad mini with me to the couch or on a break. If I’m not planning on writing something while out, I take the iPad mini with me. Even do I do take my iPad 4 with me for writing jaunts, the iPad mini comes too.

For apps, Safari is probably the biggest problem. I think many sites just aren’t ready for a tablet this size. I often have to double-tap to zoom in on a page to read things. Oddly enough, Safari is the only reading activity where the iPad mini falls short. RSS, books, magazines, Zite, Facebook, email, all fine. Safari, not so much.

That’s the truth, there aren’t many drawbacks to the iPad mini. It truly is a great little tablet for everyday use.

Final thoughts

From the first few hours I used the iPad mini I knew I would really like it. After a couple days, I knew I’d love it. After a month, it’s my primary tablet. The iPad 4 is so much bigger and heavier than the iPad mini that I don’t enjoy using it as much for reading or playing games for long periods of time. However, I do prefer the iPad 4 for writing posts, longer emails, and surfing. The iPad mini’s screen is great for reading and reference, in fact when writing on my iPad 4 I keep the iPad mini handy to reference and check things. Then quick saves to Instapaper or Evernote and I have the material on the iPad 4.

As said in the gift guide, I think the iPad mini is a great all around tablet for people. It’s certainly my pick.

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Categories: iPad mini

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  • Alan

    I agree, I have an iPad 3, iPhone 5 and iPad mini and the mini is my go to device at home. It’s perfect.

  • Pacomacman

    I’ve spent the last couple of years writing software for the iPad. I test my software on all 4 revisions optimising for each. Obviously the iPad 1 is the slowest, so slow in fact I’m dropping support for it in my newer program’s. The next slowest would be the iPad 3 and not as people would expect the iPad 2. You have to disable Retina mode to see any speed boost over the iPad 2 so I really don’t see why people say the iPad 2 (or Mini) is slow compared to the iPad 3. And just for the record the iPad 4 is easily double the speed of the iPad 3, it’s just no developers are taking advantage of the extra horsepower yet! Until the iPad 4 came along I was using my iPad 2 in preference to the 3 because it was actually faster in general as it didn’t need to push Retina graphics!

  • Glen

    I picked up an iPad mini a few days ago after returning my iPad 4. I like the mini much better overall. I use it for reading and sufing the web mostly. Great device

  • Seanis

    where can i get that wallpaper?

    • Seanis

      sorry, the one on the lockscreen with the floating letters