It's been tough for me to find a smaller tablet I love. And it's not like there haven't been plenty of choices.
Still, it took more than two years after Apple kicked off the tablet revolution with the original iPad to find a good tiny tablet –– Google's Nexus 7. Other tech reviewers agreed, which is likely one of the reasons why Apple felt the need to go on the defensive and leak to the press that it had plans to make its own smaller tablet.
Now it's here.
After about a week on the market, Apple bloggers have already deemed the iPad Mini as the real iPad, the one Apple always intended to release. In theory, I agree. There seems to be insane consumer interest in small cheap tablets, so I can see the iPad Mini eventually outselling its big brother.
But in reality, the iPad Mini isn't good enough yet. It doesn't have a high-resolution Retina display like the full-sized iPad and the iPhone 4S/5. Its internal specs are outdated; they're about the same as what's inside the 20-month-old iPad 2. And at $329, the iPad Mini costs $130 more than competing tablets like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD that come with the added value of sharper screens and faster processors.
Overall, I think the iPad Mini is an excellent tablet, and I certainly don't think you'd be disappointed if you buy one. But it's not the best value out there.
Hardware And Design
The iPad Mini feels more like a Kindle or Nook e-reader, not a tablet. And that's pretty amazing considering until now every tablet I've used has been relatively thick and/or heavy. So it's a marvel that Apple was able to cram so much into the iPad Mini's svelte body.
I love holding this thing. The iPad Mini weighs next to nothing, which makes it a better option for reading for long periods of time or streaming video while sitting in bed. As much as I use my full-sized iPad, I tend to only use it in short bursts, like for reading an article or two or checking Twitter. I found myself using the iPad Mini for longer periods of time in one sitting, either reading the entire edition of the day's New York Times or watching a full-length movie.
Under the hood, the iPad Mini is about as powerful as the iPad 2, meaning it can still handle all the latest features of Apple's iOS, including Siri and Apple's 3D maps. (Oddly enough, the iPad 2 doesn't support Siri, which makes me worry that the iPad Mini may miss out on some new features when Apple updates iOS again next year.)
My biggest complaint with the design is the super thin bezel on the sides when the iPad Mini is held in portrait mode. Unless your hands are big enough to hold the device from the back in your palm, your thumb is forced to cover a portion of the screen, hiding some of the content. Apple's software recognizes this and makes sure your thumb doesn't accidentally swipe or tap something, but I still would've preferred a little extra bezel to avoid that.
When Apple introduced the iPad Mini to the world a few weeks ago, it spent a good chunk of its presentation slamming Google's Nexus 7 tablet and its lack of tablet-optimized apps. It's a legitimate problem with Android tablets, and one you won't have to worry about on the iPad Mini. You're still getting the very best ecosystem with Apple's selection of movies, TV shows, books, and apps.
That's not to say the Nexus 7's ecosystem is horrible. I've had one since July and haven't had a problem finding the content I want. But with the iPad Mini, you're more likely to get the latest and greatest tablet apps first. It's up to you to decide if that's worth a $130 premium.
I also watch a lot of streaming video on my Xbox, so the Mini is the perfect complement thanks to Microsoft's excellent SmartGlass app that lets you control the video game system. Same goes for Apple's Remote app for the Apple TV. As others have speculated, there's a good chance the iPad Mini will become the ideal "second screen" device for watching TV.
I've been using Apple devices with Retina displays since the iPhone 4 launched more than two years ago. It's why I bought the third-generation iPad on day one; I wanted that same gorgeous display on my tablet.
So when I powered on the iPad Mini for the first time, I felt like I was peering into the past. Compared to the display on my full-sized iPad, text, images, and app icons seem blurry. It's just a pain to read on, which is mostly what I use my iPad for. That said, video quality still holds up well. I have no complaints with the quality of streaming Netflix or Hulu videos or video content stored on the device from iTunes.
For those of you who have never used one of Apple's Retina displays, you won't notice anything wrong. The display holds its own; it's perfectly adequate. But it's still worth knowing that the iPad Mini display doesn't live up to the high standards Apple has set for itself as the company that makes the very best mobile devices. It's simply not as good as it can be.
Apple made a mistake not including a Retina display on the iPad Mini. Yes, I understand it had its reasons, like protecting its profit margins or keeping the tablet super thin. But as a consumer, I don't care if Apple makes money off of me. I want the most bang for my buck.
But between the relatively weak internals and low-resolution display, the iPad Mini doesn't meet those qualifications at $329 or more.
Should You Buy It?
I have a feeling this review will look very different a year from now. Ideally, I want an iPad Mini with a better display and faster guts. But that's not the device Apple delivered this year.
The iPad Mini will suit most people just fine. You're still getting the best ecosystem for tablet-optimized apps, movies, and music. Apple just expects you to pay a hefty premium for that.
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