A Closer Look at the iPad Mini
The Apple iPad mini follows Apple's core design paradigm, with the same aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically effective build that can be seen in all of its other devices, giving it that premium quality which characterises Apple. It's light, portable and comfortable to use, with good performance and excellent battery life. And to top it all off, the App Store provides what is undoubtedly the richest collection of apps available. Along with all this comes a premium price-tag as well, starting from £269. That, in addition to the poor screen resolution and older internals may drive away those looking for a bargain tablet with good performance.
The iPad mini's launch alongside the 4th generation iPad in late 2012 marked a significant change in Apple's product strategy in order to break into the seven-inch tablet market, till now populated by devices running Android.
With the full-sized 9.7" iPads, Apple arguably defined the premium standard for tablet PCs and there is no doubt that it intends to do the same with the iPad mini; let's see just how well it stacks up against the competition.
Hardware and build
What strikes you first about the iPad mini is just how slim and light it really is; at 7.2mm thick and 308g, it easily outclasses the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, its major competitors in the seven-inch field, not to mention the larger iPad models. This makes for a device that is very comfortable to use for extended periods of time (it just about fits in one hand), and very easy to carry around, especially when compared to larger ten-inch tablets.
Coming to the body of the tablet, the rear casing is composed of aluminium with a smooth finish, which comes in a choice of silver and black for the colour. The front is mostly glass with the front-facing camera on the top and the home button on the bottom being the only exceptions.
The edges of the device are noticeably more rounded than those of its larger siblings, which makes it a little more comfortable to carry in one hand. Another point to note is that the bezel on the front is very narrow, so much so that it's impossible to hold in one hand without your thumb sticking out onto the screen. Don't worry about it interfering with other touches though, since Apple added palm-rejection algorithms that ensure accidental swipes aren't recorded.
The iPad mini runs on the same A5 chipset (with a dual-core 1 GHz processor) that powers the old iPad 2, along with 512 MB of RAM. Though most apps run smoothly on it, some high-definition 3D games lag a little bit when a few other apps are open in the background, a result of the limited RAM. The decision to go with the older A5 instead of the newer A6 chipsets run the 4th generation iPad and the iPhone 5 is definitely a bit disappointing.
Display and cameras
The 7.9" IPS display gives about an inch more in terms of size (diagonally) when compared to regular seven-inch tablets like the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HD, which really does add a fair bit of added screen space, which comes in quite handy. A 16:9 aspect ratio would have been better suited for watching HD movies, but with the deep, clear colours and the wide viewing angles that this display has, most users aren't going to complain.
The one drawback to the display is the 1024x768 resolution, which comes out to a pixel density of 163 ppi. This is in contrast to the screens on the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, both standing at 216 ppi. Not to mention the beautiful Retina-displays on Apple's other devices. It still displays a good amount of detail, but some degree of pixelation is still apparent, meaning this is the only aspect other than the older generation processor in which the mini falls short of the competition.
The 5 megapixel rear camera takes decent pictures and 1080p videos, and while it is not the best camera that Apple has ever put into one of its devices, it captures colours fairly accurately and doesn't do too bad in low-light conditions either. The front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera is an upgrade from the 0.3 MP one on the iPad 2, and it performs commendably when using FaceTime for HD video chats.
Software and overall performance
When it comes to software, iOS's App Store gives access to the richest existing app environment, even more so when it comes to apps designed specifically for tablets. This alone is good reason to recommend the iPad mini to anyone looking to buy a new tablet at this time. The only difference between the regular iPad and the mini when it comes to using the software. The mini is, quite obviously, smaller and has a significantly lower pixel density, which could cause a bit of discomfort initially for someone used to larger, higher-resolution displays.
Performance was as smooth as expected from Apple's optimized operating system. Most apps run along just fine, though on occasion, more powerful games take a little longer to load up and display some lag as already mentioned. The old A5 chip and the lack of RAM is a cause for concern. Though there aren't many apps in the store that really stress it at this point in time, the current iPad mini might very well be rendered obsolete with Apple's next release.
Battery life is another field in which the iPad mini excels though, with a single charge lasting almost two entire days of fairly intensive use, including web browsing over Wi-Fi, playing games, watching videos and listening to music. This adds another dimension to the portability factor of the device and on the whole puts it far ahead of its closest competitors.
- Access to the App Store's wide selection of excellent apps
- Unmatched feel and build quality
- Lightweight and highly portable
- Long-lasting battery
- Low resolution screen
- Older generation internals and low RAM
With its premium build and elegant form factor, and the plethora of rich apps available on the Store right now, there's no denying that the iPad mini is a beautiful device. The Wi-Fi only version starts out at £269 with 16 GB of internal storage, so those looking for a budget tablet would be better off getting the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HD. But for those who desire a more premium experience and iOS's app selection, that price-tag is well worth the user experience, though the low resolution screen does fall flat of the standards set by Apple itself and the older internals might prove to be a limitation in the future.