Apple iPad mini full review
The iPad mini is Apple’s marquee product for the Christmas 2012 period, in our iPad mini review we take a look at this new smaller iPad with performance and benchmark tests and compare the iPad mini to other tablet devices (including the latest iPad).
See also: iPad mini 2 review
We’re going to call it upfront: after using the iPad mini for a few days, we consider this to be the best iPad on the market (which makes it the best tablet on the market). In most cases this is a better option than the iPad 4. This is the one to get.
In terms of design the iPad mini is a fairly easy concept to understand. It’s an iPad but smaller and with a compelling asking price of £269 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model. More memory is available at cost: £349 (32GB) and £429 (64GB).
An additional £100 enables you to upgrade from a Wi-Fi only model to a Wi-Fi plus Cellular model.
The iPad mini in a nutshell
The iPad mini’s internal components are reminiscent of the iPad 2 model first introduced in March 2011 (the iPad 2 is still on sale as the entry level iPad at £329). Externally, however, the iPad mini has more in common with the latest generation of iPhones and iPod touches. Like the iPhone 5 the first thing that hits you about the iPad mini is how incredibly thin and light it is.
We weighed it in at just 308 grams (375 with the Smart Cover attached). It is an incredibly small, light, and highly desirable product. The dimensions are a paltry 200 mm x 134.7mm x 7.2mm (it’s less than a centimetre thick).
The bezel between the screen and edge of device is also much smaller on the mini. You can hold it with one hand: either by grasping both sides of the iPad mini like an iPhone, or by clasping one side. Unlike the iPad, which is very much a two-handed or rest-on-lap affair, the light weight ensures that it can be held in the one hand.
Aside from the thinner styling and smaller bezel the iPad mini is remarkably similar to the full-sized iPad. The Home button, Sleep/Wake button, Volume controls, Ring/Silent switch are all in the same positions as before. The volume connection is on the top of the device, as on the iPad, and not positioned at the bottom like the iPad. Perhaps the only difference is that the Volume controls are two independent buttons, as on the iPhone, rather than the single rocker found on the full size iPad.
The speakers are located at the bottom of the iPad, and there are now two speakers for stereo sound flanking the new smaller Lightning connection. Like most iOS models, the iPad has surprisingly good sound, but the stereo speakers are close to each other and add little to the effect (although holding the device horizontally doesn’t block the speaker so much).
Like the iPhone the iPad mini is available in two models: black and slate or white with an aluminum reverse. Aside from styling there’s little difference between the two models.
The iPad mini display
It sports a 7.9in display with 1024 x 768 pixels at the same 4:3 aspect ratio as every other iPad that precedes it. The iPhone 5 in contrast now has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio (earlier models of iPhone had a 1.5:1 aspect ratio).
Somewhat disappointingly (although not crushingly so as it turns out) is the iPad mini’s non Retina display. With it’s 163 PPI (pixels per inch) the iPad mini display is considerably lower than the 264 of the iPad 3 and iPad 4.
The iPad mini display is clearly a compromise between the lightness and battery life, but it’s fair to say it’s not Apple’s finest display ever. As well as being non-retina it also has a lower color gamut than the iPad, and testing by DisplayMate.com has shown that it has a higher level of reflection.
Having said that, it’s still clearly a very high quality display we found it excellent for rendering video and graphics. We did a good hands on test of using the iPad mini for various different purposes, which you can read here. In a nutshell it’s great for games, movies, photos, web surfing, email, and general usage. The area where it could be marginally better is for long-term reading of text, where a Retina Display would provide a clear boost. However, the 4:3 format of the display is, to our mind, better for reading books than the widescreen (16:10) format found on the Google Nexus 7. And the larger display, combined with the lighter case make it better overall. We also found it perfectly passable for reading iBooks, and have happily read a electronic book from start to finish on the iPad mini display.
The iPad mini 7.9in vs 7in display
The iPad mini display is both considerably larger, and smaller than you’d imagine. It’s manifestly smaller than the full-sized iPad display, in fact turn the iPad mini on its side and you have half an iPad. However, that extra 0.9in makes a big difference between an iPad mini and 7in display such as the Google Nexus 7.
That extra 0.9in provides an extra 40 per-cent viewing space on the iPad mini over it’s rivals, and when you put them together it clearly shows. Despite the small stature of the iPad mini, and it’s non Retina standard the display is still great to look at.
The larger size gives it 29.6 square inches of display area, versus 22 square inches on a 7-in tablet such as the Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire HD. This, it turns out, is a lot of extra screen estate. It really makes the difference when using the iPad mini for watching movies, gaming, or surfing the web.
The iPad mini bezel
The bezel around the iPad mini is much, much smaller than on the iPad. It’s just 20mm at the top and bottom; and a scant 5mm on the sides.
This gives the iPad mini a much more stylish fit and finish than the iPad, and also makes more room for screen. One potential downside is that if you hold the iPad mini vertically your thumb is likely to be just poking into the touch-screen display. Fortunately the iPad mini has a software algorithm designed to ignore unintended thumb touches, and it works pretty well. We found few instances when moving the thumb around interfered with screen navigation.
The iPad mini interface and keyboard
The iPad mini is running the same interface as the full-sized iPad. This has a number of advantages, not least of which is that all iPad apps can run on the iPad mini without any need for developers to reskin, or redesign the interface.
This is a good thing, although some buttons are smaller than they’d be on the iPad they tend to have enough spacing around them still to work effectively.
The keyboard is also a lot more usable than we imagined it’d be, although it’s clear that typing anything more than an email or message on the iPad mini would be a challenge.
It’s easy to type two or three fingered on the horizontal keyboard, although you can thumb type in vertical mode, as you would on an iPhone. We used the Split Keyboard feature to type vertically, which makes more sense on the iPad mini than on the full-sized iPad.
And it’s great to see Siri on the iPad mini, unlike the iPad 2 (although this raises uncomfortable questions about why Siri isn’t on the iPad 2 if they’re running pretty much the same internal technology). Siri’s expanded functionality – especially in the UK – is starting to make it a much more functional feature. It’s especially good to be able to switch apps just by speaking the app’s name out loud.
As with the full size iPad you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard and use that to type. Initially we thought it’d feel a bit silly to use an Apple Keyboard with such a small device, but it works really well. The iPad mini hooked up to an Apple Keyboard is on par with the iPad; we can easily see ourselves typing out long-form articles and reviews using an iPad mini using Pages.
Next: iPad mini tech specs and benchmark results