iPad Mini: A Not-So-Mini Review

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It’s been three weeks since the launch of the iPad Mini (and our post which pitted the iPad Mini against other mini tablets in the industry). After finally getting our hands on an actual iPad Mini, we’re ready to tear the claims apart.

Was Steve Jobs right to say that a 7-inch size for a tablet was useless and that sandpaper should be included to "sand [the user’s] fingers down to a quarter of their size"? Is the 7.9-inch iPad Mini really in a ‘whole different league’ from other 7-inch tablets?

Well, there’s nothing like an in-depth review (and some experiments) to get some answers.

Dock Connector

This review will cover the iPad Mini’s design, mobility, hardware, how it works with games, ease of setup, and price compared to other tablets in its competition.

Smooth Bezel, Typical Apple

On paper, the iPad Mini is a shrunken down iPad 2, carrying the old A5 processor and (surprisingly) without the Retina display featured in the last two generations of iPads that are in the market. But this is still an Apple product and sleek is (still) key with anything that bears the iPad brand.

The simple and clean packaging makes the unboxing an adrenaline rush. At first glance, you see the shiny smooth bezel seamlessly connect the front glass and the back aluminium casing as one.

iPad Mini

At the back, the curvature is smooth, feels nice to the touch and is easy to grip. It is pleasantly lightweight and pencil-thin but this doesn’t forfeit its sturdiness and built quality.

The back, made of anodized aluminium (which also comes in black) bears the signature Apple logo and unlike the iPad, its side buttons are all of the same color.

iPad Mini Volume Buttons

For the connector, Apple is going for the same look as the new iPhone 5, opting for the lightning dock connector, located in between the built-in speakers. The new lightning connector cable is said to be durable, but we like the fact that it doesn’t take guesswork to plug the cable in for charging anymore.

Nice For iOS Gaming

When Apple first announced Retina display requirements, app developers had to redo their apps to compensate for the high-resolution display. This is not an issue with the iPad Mini – whatever works on the iPad, works for the iPad Mini – which is a good thing since gaming on the iPad Mini is a surprising treat.

Without the excess weight and the smaller size, the iPad Mini dominates in this section; the size is just about right, for hands of any size.

Gaming

If you’re worried that you would accidentally leave your thumb resting, and hence interacting with the screen when it’s not meant to, Apple says that the iPad Mini display is smart and can tell when this is deliberate or not.

Smaller Size, Better Mobility

The iPad Mini is apparently smaller, and is around two times lighter than its older brother. It is a snug fit in pockets, and can easily fit into handbags or smaller zip compartments, and not leave you strained from carrying it around.

iPad Mini vs iPad 3

There is no problem gripping the device in one hand or holding it on the longer side of the display; you get this sense of security that you won’t lose grip of your device. The small size also makes it ideal for taking pictures (but would you? More on that later).

Battery Life, Not Too Shabby

Battery life is every mobile device’s next best friend. The iPad Mini has an ideal size but we wondered how it would hold up when it comes to usage.

So here’s what we did, we setup a small benchmark test to simulate a typical use and an extreme use of the iPad Mini, just to see how long the battery life can last. Here’s what we found.

Experiment #1 – Simulating regular usage

We used the app AirVideo which allows you to stream video files located on your desktop PC and streamed 20 minutes of video, over Wi-Fi, at 50% brightness and 50% volume.

Result: The iPad Mini did not show any drop in battery life.

Experiment #2 – Simulating extreme usage

We then continued to push it and compared it with a couple of other devices in the following settings:

  • 100% brightness
  • 100% volume
  • 20 minutes of video playing

And here are our results:

Devices Battery Consumption
iPad Mini 3%
iPhone 5 1%
iPhone 4s 2%
iPad with Retina display 4%

The iPhone’s battery consumption was minimal but take into account that it has a small yet still Retina display, plus smaller hence softer speakers. In contrast, the iPad with Retina has room for a bigger battery to power its Retina display and louder speakers.

The iPad Mini at 100% brightness, with a louder volume and constant Wi-Fi streaming did fairly well in our experiment, only dropping by 3%, which is why we think the 10-hour battery life claim is as good as gold.

Mingles Just Fine with the IOS Crowd

If you already have an Apple device, a Macbook, iPad or iPhone, introducing this new addition to the family should be abreeze with the iCloud. The setup is simple and you’ll have all your contacts, mail, calendar, reminders, Safari bookmarks and notes synced to your iPad Mini after logging in with your iCloud account.

iCloud

If you have gotten an Android device, the setup would take longer. In this sense, the iPad Mini would have an edge.

The iPad Mini also comes with LTE connectivity which gives it a mobile advantage over other ‘mini-sized’ tablets available in the market, which are dependent on Wi-Fi.

Using Hardware of Devices Two Years Ago

If you put the size of the iPad Mini aside, there’s its winning feature out the window. It is powered by a 1GHz A5 processor, found in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. But the iPhone 4S has retina display.

What this means is that an iPhone 4S could outperform it as the 4S has a better processor, plus Retina display.

What about outside the family? Both the Kindle Fire HD and Android-powered Nexus 7 (featured in our iPad Mini comparison) are swimming circles around it – with a higher resolution and PPI, better processor and higher RAM. And they are both more than $100 cheaper than the iPad Mini as well.

No Retina? Turn Off, Period

The Apple’s Retina display is awesome. If you have seen and used it, you can never go back. Hence, we were surprised (and utterly disappointed) to learn that reading on the iPad Mini is a step backwards.

What it does have is a slightly higher PPI than the iPad 2 (but the display size is smaller). However, the iPhone 4 display has 326 PPI while the third and fourth generation iPads are at 264 PPI. So what is stopping (or stopped) them from pushing the ppi-limit higher on the iPad Mini?

Retina-less

If the rumors of an iPad Mini 2 coming next fall is true, then there was a plan to equip the iPad Mini with retina display. But the problem is, within a week of the first iPad Mini launch, Android-powered Nexus 10 came into the picture with a 300-PPI limit, on a 10-inch display, which begs the question would it still mater then if the iPad Mini came with retina display?

The Answer to Photo-Taking

We bet you’ve seen people take photos with the iPad (or you probably have done this yourself). Let’s get real, watching someone take photos on the iPad is painfully awkward.

While manufacturers are trying to make digital cameras smaller or DSLR’s more powerful, iPad owners walk around with the monster device in their hands to snap pictures (it’s worse when you see a decent-sized digital camera hanging down one wrist).

The smaller iPad Mini will probably make this slightly better.

The iPhone 5 Has A Better Camera

But photo quality wise, where does it stand? Well, it has the iSight back camera which allows you to "take amazing photos and HD video".

The thing is, it features 5-megapixel with autofocus but in reality, this doesn’t amount to high quality photos. We took some photos with the new iPad Mini camera and the results were satisfactory at best.

iPad Mini

iPhone 5

iPad 3rd Gen

iPhone 4s

iPhone 4

Quality-wise, it’s on par with its big brother, the iPad with retina display and the iPhone 4S, and is definitely better than the iPhone 4. But as you can see above, the clear winner was a no-brainer, the iPhone 5’s 8-Megapixel iSight Camera still wins hands down.

Disadvantageous As A Navigation Device

There are two versions of the iPad Mini, one with Wi-Fi only and the other with Cellular 3G/LTE support. If you are getting one just as a reading or gaming device, the former will suffice.

But if you are looking to use it as a navigation device, you’d be disappointed. It could have been great if Apple had not pull Google Maps from iOS 6 (yes, the iPad Mini runs on iOS 6).

Maps

WIth outdated and inaccurate maps, Apple Maps has been making high officials in Apple take the heat for a few months. While there are alternatives to Apple Maps you can use on the iPad Mini, it’s no surprise that this was left out of the iPad Mini presentation when it was pitted against other tablets.

Price Starts at $329, Not Exactly Generous

Finally, the biggest upset of all, the price. With so many stronger ‘mini’ tablets announced earlier than the iPad Mini yet going at lower prices, it is a daring move for Apple to start the iPad Mini pricing at $329 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only model; while the 16GB LTE model sets you back $459.

While many gasped at the exhorbitant price, reports were released soon after about the iPad Mini selling out in record time, but there was no mention of what the official numbers were.

Price-wise, the competition got tougher when Google announced a 32GB Nexus 7 with HSPA+ a week after the iPad Mini launch for $299; the price of their Wi-Fi only, 16GB Nexus 7 has since been lowered to a scandalous $199.

And before we forget, Apple also released a newer, faster iPad with retina display on the same week: the 16GB Wi-Fi only model goes for $499.

Summary

Here’s a summary of the review:

Pros

  • It’s a comfortable size for big or small hands.
  • Ideal for gaming due to easy reach.
  • It’s lightweight (great on the move).
  • Decent battery lifespan that lasts a full day.

Cons

  • A lack of Retina display (it’s an outrage!)
  • Photo-taking quality beneath iPhone 5.
  • Outdated processor
  • A hefty price for a smaller version of the iPad 2.

Are You Getting One?

We’ve collected some feedback from friends and peers on what they think of the iPad Mini, if they’ll buy and why.

Our Bottom Line

It’s safe to say that if you are just starting to warm up to the idea of owning a tablet, the iPad Mini will hardly be your first choice. If you already have the iPad and is satisfied with its size, there is hardly a reason for you to go for a smaller, downgraded (performance-wise) version of that.

iPad 3

If you do intend to get an iPad Mini or already have one, we’d love to hear from you about why you chose to get it.

Author:

Brian is a Mass Communication graduate with a passion for everything related to technology, minimalistic designs, and every kind of gadgetry.

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