Apple iPad mini full review
The iPad mini tech specs
The iPad mini is sporting the A5 processor first found in the iPad 2. Because it’s been a while since the A5 came out, we thought there might have been some slight changes to the chipset, but recent photo analysis suggests otherwise.
Geekbench reports that the iPad mini (which is iPad2,5 according to Apple’s internal numbering) has a single ArmV7 CPU running at 999MHz with two cores . It has 32KB L1 cache and 1MB L2 cache (no L3 cache). Geekbench report 303MB RAM (so that will be 512MB in total with some being used by the system).
The Geekbench Score is 748, considerably slower than the iPad 4, but faster than the 471 of the original iPad, and in the same ballpark as the new iPad (third-generation) 757. The third-generation iPad wasn’t significantly faster than the second-generation, it’s extra power pushed the Retina display.
The iPad mini framerate was measured at 25fps (using GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD test) which is lower than the iPad 4 (and iPhone 5), although interestingly slightly higher than the iPad 3's 22fps.
So that’s pretty impressive. The iPad mini is on-par with the iPad (third-generation) which was selling until a couple of weeks ago for £399 with many a happy owner.
We found the iPad mini perfectly capable of running all the games we threw at it, including powerhouses such as Real Racing 2 and N.O.V.A 3 with a respectable framerate and no frame drops. And because of its diminutive stature, we think the iPad mini is a real contender for the best portable gaming system around.
iPad mini experience
We often say that many tech pundits focus on specifications rather than experience. Put simply: Apple products are nice to use.
Why they are so nice to use is something of a mystery, Apple has little real advantage over the rest of the market. And while Apple clearly spends a lot of time, effort, and will to designing good, well-built, crafted products – it’s by no means the only company that does this (even though many claim to do it but can’t really stay the course).
It’s hard to benchmark ‘niceness’ but it’s clearly a valuable commodity. Apple products have sellability, given that they appear to be outselling everything on the market. So if it's important to customers it's a factor that really should be taken into account.
Recent web benchmarks showed Microsoft’s Surface is actually slower than an old iPhone 4S at web browsing, despite having a much faster processor, four times as much RAM, and a much faster graphics card. Way back in 1997 Jakon Neilsen identified speed as the defining factor for a website, and by wider implication a web browser, and device. Browser speed is a factor that contributes to the 'niceness' of the device: the processor helps with this; but it's clearly not the be-all-and-end-all.
And a device like the iPad mini is made up of countless such small experiences. All of which add up to whether a device is nice to use or not.
What we're trying to get at is there's much more to a device than specs, and that techheads often value some specs, like processor speed and RAM, over other specs like weight and battery life. Creating a truly great device requires a company to think of all these different factors and create a device that balances everything together in the best way. This is what we think Apple has achieved with the iPad mini. It's a great device to use.
We haven't used a Surface yet, but creating a 'great experience' is something we think Microsoft has most likely failed to do. The end user is still getting a slow service and Windows is probably clumsy and difficult to use on a tablet. So it’s really not what components you have that matter, it’s what you do with them.
Measuring up the iPad mini
The iPad mini is a small and light device. It’s hard to determine all the choices and balances Apple have made. But you get the feeling that they’ve made the right ones.
The iPad mini would be better with a Retina Display. That’s beyond doubt. But an iPad mini with Retina Display would probably need an A5X processor to power it. That would, in turn, require a larger battery which would make it heavier. Which would defeat the point (you might as well make it bigger while you’re at it and call it the iPad).
It might be that next year Apple has managed to create a more energy efficient SoC (system on chip), better battery technology and improved iOS to negate the difference. Next year you may (probably, will) see an iPad mini with Retina Display. This, for now, hypothetical device will be better than this iPad mini. You are welcome to keep dreaming about it, and buy it next year.
The iPad mini dimensions
As Apple is keen to point out, the iPad mini is an extremely small and light device. Measuring just 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm the device has a small surface area and at just 308g (WiFi) or 312g (WiFi plus 4G/LTE) it is exceptionally light. Less than half the weight of the fourth-generation iPad.
Apple points out that you can easily hold the device one handed, a believable claim given the size and weight involved.
The bezel (the space between the screen and edge of the iPad mini) is significantly thinner than on the regular iPad, whether this affects usage or not is something we will discover when the device ships. Although we don't find using the iPhone 5 with it's near edge-to-edge display a problem.
iPad Wi-Fi + 4G/LTE
Height: 200 mm
Height: 200 mm
Width: 134.7 mm
Depth: 7.2 mm
Depth: 7.2 mm
Weight: 312 g
See also: Apple iPad mini tech specs revealed
iPad mini: the right balance
In some respects it might be right to think that this is the device Apple should have made in the first place. But technology – and Apple’s understanding of it – marches forwards on multiple fronts.
The initial iPad was large, and quite heavy. A fantastic device but Apple managed to shave the weight off and speed things up in the second iteration. In the third generation Apple managed to really push the technology forwards with a Retina Display, and keep the same form factor (just a little more weight), and keep the 10 hour battery life. It did this by more or less turning the whole iPad into one giant battery with components embedded inside and as thin a screen as possible attached to the surface.
The iPhone 5 has taken ‘giant battery with small components’ technology further. Now they’ve managed to make it even thinner and lighter with a larger screen. Faster, better, thinner, lighter, maintain the battery life. That seems to be Apple’s mantra.
The next generation of iPad
The iPad mini is to the iPad, what the iPod mini was to the iPod. It’s the leap forward, it may be lower in terms of specification (although not much to be honest), but it’s smaller, lighter, cheaper, and generally more accessible and usable. You’ll have an iPad mini with you when the iPad is left at home; and it does everything the iPad does.
And it’s got a lower price point. This could be the point where the iPad goes mainstream.
Which, given the ridiculous popularity of the iPad, might seem a bit of preposterous thing to say. Surely the iPad is already ‘mainstream’, about as mainstream as you can get. But let’s see where this takes Apple. We think it’ll be the point where you go from lots of people having them (iPod) to seemingly everybody having them (iPod mini).
iPad mini vs iPad 4
Whether to go for the iPad mini or an iPad 4 is a debatable issue. There are manifest differences between the two. The smaller form factor of the iPad mini guide it towards content consumption, rather than content creation (or ‘work’ as it’s otherwise known). An iPad 4 is perhaps more appropriate for working, although a MacBook Air even moreso. There are limitations to using either an iPad or iPad mini; you can’t use InDesign, Final Cut, or a raft of other specific and high-end programs. You can’t program directly on it either, for that matter.
See also: iPad 4 review
Where it gets a tad fuzzy is perhaps some of the high-end apps such as GarageBand and iMovie, which benefit on the iPad with Retina Display from the larger 9.7in display. But we really think that the portability of the iPad mini really gives it the edge as a mobile device, even when using these particular apps.
It may be that next year the iPad mini also has a retina display, and becomes the definitive tablet without any arguments. It may the that the iPad 4S or 5 gets the thin and light manufacturing process that the iPad mini has, and regains its title as the most important iPad. But right now it's the iPad mini's turn in the spotlight.
So why didn’t Apple make the iPad mini in the first place?
The more you use the iPad mini, the more you get the impression that this is the right device. It’s the way forward. This is a lighter, more portable device, than the full iPad that offers the same functionality in a more compact and useful case.
It’s also possible to envision a future where the iPad mini (or some equivalent) replaces both the iPhone and iPad in many cases. There’s a stumbling block that the iPad mini can’t place calls or send SMS texts, even with the iPad Wi-Fi and Cellular, although Apple could work around this (as long as it doesn’t expect – as Samsung does – people to hold the thing up to your head).
If the iPad mini form factor is much better than the full-sized iPad, why didn’t Apple just make that in the first place? It’s a question worth asking. Especially if we’re now claiming this to be a better form factor and device than the full-sized iPad.
There have been a lot of battery improvements since the iPad launched, it might simply have not been technically for Apple to make the iPad mini first time around without it being an inch thick, which would have made for a brick of a device. Time moves on.
John Gruber also has a theory that by launching the iPad at 9.7in Apple managed to create a new category of device (which was compared to a large iPhone even at that size). And developers got used to creating different interfaces for larger displays. Both of which might not have happened if Apple had immediately gone with the 7.9in screen
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See also: Apple iPad mini UK pricing announced
See also: iPad mini Wi-Fi + 3G models: UK pricing
See also: iPad mini cases, covers, and accessories