iPad Mini Review

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The iPad Mini reviews have just be let out into the world and we have a roundup from the reviews at Engadget and The Verge below.

Hardware

Apple wanted to be very clear at its product-packed iPad mini launch event that this isn’t just a shrunken-down iPad. And, indeed, that starts with a very different case design. While the second, third and fourth generations of iPads have all been more or less indistinguishable, the iPad mini’s anodized aluminum back looks entirely different. In fact, the whole thing looks a lot more like a blown-up fifth-generation iPod touch than a shrunken-down fourth-generation iPad.

The profile itself is more rounded than the full-size iPad, lacking the sharp taper at the edges. This, we presume, gives a little more room for the battery inside, but it also makes this a more comfortable slate to carry around. The edges on the 10-inch iPad can cut into your hand if you’re the sort who carries yours wherever you go. Not so with the mini.

All of the standard iPad button and switch placement is intact here, save for the move of the speaker grille to the bottom of the device (it’s been around back for iPads previous to this version), along with the new Lightning port. And that’s a good-sounding set of stereo speakers, by the way. You’ll find separate volume buttons on the right side beneath the mute / rotation lock toggle, and the power / sleep button on the top, just as expected. The front of the device is all glass, save for an HD camera in the center of the top bezel (as you hold it in portrait) and the home button on the bottom. There’s also a 5-megapixel camera on the back.

Though the iPad mini sports a slightly larger display than other devices in this class, its profile feels extremely lean. Sometimes too lean. The device weighs just 0.68 pounds, and it’s only 0.28 inches thick (noticeably thinner than the Nexus 7’s 0.41 inches or Fire HD’s 0.4 inches). I actually had a little trouble holding onto the device when I wasn’t using the Smart Cover due to the back being as smooth as it is, and the frame being so thin. Maybe it’s just my big hands, but I wanted a little more to grab onto. In that regard, I prefer the feel of the Nexus 7.

That problem was exacerbated by how wide the device feels in your hand, as well as the lack of a significant bezel around the left and right of the screen in portrait. Maybe it’s just old habit, but I didn’t feel completely comfortable putting my thumb over the screen itself. Apple has apparently included some new palm rejection logic in the iPad mini’s version of iOS which wards off unwanted touches, and it did seem to work. It may have caused other issues, however, which I’ll touch on in the software section.

Minor quibbles aside, the iPad mini stands head and shoulders above the competition in terms of design, the caliber of its components, and the solidness of how it’s been built. But it also has another quality, one that’s nearly as important: the device has personality. I’ve started to think of it as a constant companion — small enough to throw in a bag or carry around the house. There’s something endearing about the mini that makes you want to keep it on-hand and use it often. It’s a feeling the larger iPad never elicited in me.

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Internals

Inside the mini, you’ll find specs essentially identical to the iPad 2, save for a few alterations. The system is built atop the two-generations-old A5 CPU, appears to sport a dangerously tiny 512MB of RAM, and ships in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB storage capacities (I tested the 64GB, Wi-Fi-only version). All the requisite radios are here too: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n, 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0, and eventually you’ll be able to buy a version with CDMA, GSM, and LTE cellular options. As you would expect, a light sensor, accelerometer, and gyroscope are here as well. It really is a mini version of the iPad 2, except for the cameras, which are significantly improved.

As you may know, I’m not a fan of people taking photos with tablets. Just as with previous models I’ve tested, I find the act to be not only awkward, but embarrassing as well. The slightly more diminutive size of the iPad mini does make the experience slightly better, and its 5 megapixel backside camera is actually not terrible for general shots. In fact, its color tone and low light performance was better than what I’ve seen on many newer smartphones. It was sometimes difficult to get a clean image due to shakiness, but that has more to do with the odd physicality of taking a photo with a tablet than it does with the actual camera.

The front-facing FaceTime HD camera is fine for video chatting (and I think is a lot more comfortable than chatting with the full size iPad), but won’t be useful for anything more than that.

Display

No, this isn’t Retina, but maintaining the same resolution as a 10-inch display shrunken down to 7.9 means a necessary boost in pixel density: 163ppi. That’s a nice increase over the iPad 2’s 132ppi, but it still falls short of the 264ppi of the fourth-generation iPad — not to mention, the iPhone 5’s 326dpi. Naturally, this means that text isn’t anywhere near as sharp as on the newer iPads, but this is still a very nice-looking display.

In fact we found the brightness and color reproduction to be improved over the iPad 2, comparable to the latest Retina displays. Colors are very pleasing to the eye and viewing angles, as ever with an Apple display, do not disappoint. You can line up as many friends as you like and sit them shoulder-to-shoulder, they’ll all have a bright, clear picture. Yes, mini owners may have to make do with some resolution envy, but they at least won’t be lacking in any other regard.

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Software and Performance

Software, performance, battery
Its app selection is an embarrassment of riches

The biggest change in the software on the iPad mini that you need to be aware of is… everything is smaller. 99 out of 100 times while using it, this wasn’t an issue, but it did take some getting used to in places. For instance, because the screen real estate is so much larger than an iPhone but icons are now roughly iPhone size, apps with lots of navigational elements can be a little less intuitive to navigate. Furthermore, the keyboard size feels altered — most notably in portrait — and the keys don’t seem tall enough for my fingers. On the other hand, the mini makes landscape typing a lot easier.

Supposedly, the software on the mini has been tweaked to reject unwanted touches on the sides of the display, and during my testing it did seem to keep my thumb from making accidental moves in apps. The flip side to that, however, is that it sometimes seems to overcompensate and reject touches you intended — meaning that sometimes apps don’t respond the way you want. It wasn’t a huge problem, but it could be annoying at times, so I hope that Apple makes some effort to fine-tune this in future updates.

Other than that, iOS on the iPad mini is exactly the same as the software on a regular iPad. That’s it. The end. Fin.

I’m not going to go into great detail about iOS 6 since we’ve already seen it on other products (and in fact have a review of it right here). What I will say is that the fact that is for all intents and purposes a regular iPad makes it easily the most attractive tablet in this size range when it comes to software.

It’s easy to become used to how vast and impressive the library is for the iPad, but using the mini reminded me of just how right Apple got this part of their ecosystem. Compared to the Nexus 7 or the Fire HD… well, there is no comparison. The iPad’s app selection is an embarrassment of riches, and using apps like the powerful Paper or GarageBand, or playing games like the incredibly fun PunchQuest or Letterpress really makes a tremendous case for why a consumer might spend that extra $129.

Performance on the device was expectedly snappy. I didn’t see any weirdness, stuttering, or lag that would cause alarm, though some heavier apps and games took noticeably longer to load up than they do on the new 4th generation (or even 3rd generation) iPad. I think for the time being, the mini can handle what developers are throwing at it just fine — but I do have my concerns about the shelf life of this product considering how much older its internals are. Given Apple’s habit of rapid-fire obsolescing of products, your timeline for the mini may be shorter than you expect.

Battery life was — not surprisingly — everything Apple claimed it would be. On the tablets more than on any other product the company makes, it seems to be hitting its targets on longevity. I spent some pretty heavy days in mixed use (intermittent sessions of email, web browsing, Twitter, IRC, game playing, music, and video playback), and didn’t have to worry about charging until the about the middle or evening the next day.

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The iPad mini is running a dual-core 1GHz CPU with 512MB of RAM, same as in the iPad 2 and as such it throws down the same benchmark scores and overall performance figures. Geekbench averages out at 751 and GLBench shows 24fps on the 2.5 Egypt HD benchmark. The SunSpider JavaScript benchmark completes in 1,426ms.

These numbers pale in comparison to the new, fourth-gen iPad but we think that in day-to-day usage the relative lack of performance won’t be as noticeable. Apps do load more slowly but most are still up and running within a second or two and when it comes to general web surfing tasks the iPad mini easily kept up with our taps and swipes. So, perhaps not the greatest performance in the Apple lineup, but there is one place where it bests the rest: battery life.

In our standard battery run-down test, which entails looping a video with WiFi enabled and a fixed display brightness, the iPad mini managed an astounding 12 hours and 43 minutes. This gives it the longest battery life of any tablet we’ve ever tested, besting even the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 by 42 minutes. Indeed during the course of our testing the battery on the iPad mini exceeded our expectations, expectations that were already high thanks to the consistently great battery life offered by the iPad family.

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Wrap-up

This isn’t just an Apple tablet made to a budget. This isn’t just a shrunken-down iPad. This is, in many ways, Apple’s best tablet yet, an incredibly thin, remarkably light, obviously well-constructed device that offers phenomenal battery life. No, the performance doesn’t match Apple’s latest and yes, that display is a little lacking in resolution, but nothing else here will leave you wanting. At $329, this has a lot to offer over even Apple’s more expensive tablets.

Those comparing this to the Kindle Fire HD will have a hard time, as that’s a tablet manufactured to a fixed cost and designed to sell you content. This is very much more. Similarly, the hardware here is much nicer than the Nexus 7 and it offers access to the comprehensively more tablet-friendly App Store, but whether that’s worth the extra cost depends entirely on the size of your budget — and your proclivity toward Android.

Regardless, the iPad mini is well worth considering for anybody currently in the market for a tablet. Its cost is compelling, its design superb and it of course gives access to the best selection of tablet-optimized apps on the market. To consider it just a cheap, tiny iPad is a disservice. This is, simply, a great tablet.

The iPad mini is an excellent tablet — but it’s not a very cheap one. Whether that’s by design, or due to market forces beyond Apple’s control, I can’t say for sure. I can’t think of another company that cares as much about how its products are designed and built — or one that knows how to maximize a supply chain as skillfully — so something tells me it’s no accident that this tablet isn’t selling for $200. It doesn’t feel like Apple is racing to some lowest-price bottom — rather it seems to be trying to raise the floor.

And it does raise the floor here. There’s no tablet in this size range that’s as beautifully constructed, works as flawlessly, or has such an incredible software selection. Would I prefer a higher-res display? Certainly. Would I trade it for the app selection or hardware design? For the consistency and smoothness of its software, or reliability of its battery? Absolutely not. And as someone who’s been living with (and loving) Google’s Nexus 7 tablet for a few months, I don’t say that lightly.

The iPad mini hasn’t wrapped up the “cheapest tablet” market by any stretch of the imagination. But the “best small tablet” market? Consider it captured.

The above review is an amalgamation of the reviews from Engadget and The Verge below The Verge, Engadget

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