Apple iPad Mini Review

95/100

WhistleOut
10 September 2013

Design

The idiom "size doesn't matter" may be true in some of the columns that fill the magazine racks beside the checkouts in supermarkets, but it has no place in a discussion about the latest tech gadgets. For some, the size and weight of a device is everything: metrics more important than power, the sharpness of the screen or the functionality of the device itself.

Apple's iPad Mini is a perfect example of this. While the standard 10-inch iPad may be too large or feel too heavy for some, and while the iPhone's 4-inch screen is not perfect for a number of tasks, the iPad Mini slots into the middle of Apple's range.

It's screen is not actually that much smaller than the screen on an iPad: 7.9-inch vs 9.7-inch, but the difference in the overall size and weight of the two devices is remarkable. The latest iPad (4th generation) is 50mm taller and wider than the iPad Mini and twice as heavy, at 662-grams. The Mini is a svelte 7.9mm thick and feels like thin paperback novel to hold.

The layout of the two devices is also very similar, with the power button and volume rocker in the same places on the Mini, for those of you who are used to using an iPad. Apple opts for a tapered stainless steel trim on the Mini, which looks fantastic, but has a rather sharp feeling edge which we find a little uncomfortable.

Also, we found that the aluminium chassis could get quite slippery after holding onto it for a while. While it certainly looks nice, perhaps a rubberised finish would have made more sense for a device that you will be toting around with you.

Being one of Apple's newest device in market, the Mini has the same Lightning USB port that you find on the iPhone. This means the iPad Mini won't be compatible with older iPad docks without an adapter.

Screen sharpener

Perhaps the most significant difference between the iPad Mini and its larger iPad brethren is that this smaller tablet doesn't have one of Apple's famous Retina displays. Instead, Apple choose a LED-backlit IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 768 x 1024 pixels (162ppi).

Should this stop you from buying the iPad Mini? Absolutely not. Unless you have uncommonly powerful and perfect eyesight, we believe you will struggle to care about the difference. Sure, you might be able to see it if you had both displays sitting side-by-side displaying exactly the same image, but this would be the only time you would be the least bit critical of the screen on the iPad Mini.

Every other day you will enjoy how colourful and bold this screen looks. The iPad Mini is on par with all of Apple's outstanding displays. It has an outstanding viewing angle, so it is easy to share with someone sitting next to you, and the touchscreen is fantastically responsive.

Ecosystem

Besides being an exceptionally well put-together piece of technology, the most important reason to choose an iPad product is the for the iPad apps. We're not just talking about iOS apps in general here, but about the 300,000+ apps designed just for iPads. This is an astounding number when you think about it, suggesting that iPads are not just a link in Apple's chain, but within an ecosystem in its own right.

There are literally dozens of examples of apps for iPad that you cannot get on any other device. Not that you can't perform similar tasks on other devices, but these apps are so polished and so much fun to use, that they are the preferred way to approach these tasks.

For example, no the front page of the 'Education' section on the iPad app store is a visual guide to human anatomy called Visible Body. This app features 3D models of all parts of the human body which can be manipulated with the touchscreen so that you can get a better look at them from different angles.

Apple's own apps put forward a compelling reason to choose and use an iPad. Garage Band is one of the most powerful music creation tools on a mobile platform and iMovie is similarly surprising for filmmakers.

Connectivity

As it is with most tablets on the market, you have the choose with an iPad Mini between a model with just a Wi-Fi connection for internet, or a more expensive model with a SIM card slot for using a mobile phone network for data. Adding the cellular connection adds AU$140 across the board to the iPad Mini range, but this is definitely worth it if you plan to use the tablet on the move -- like a daily commute to work and home.

Whether you choose to pay extra or not, all iPad Minis come with dual-band Wi-Fi radios which work with 802.11 b/g/n compatible wireless routers. There is also GPS and Bluetooth onboard, but no NFC.

This last part won't have too negative an impact on most of you considering the iPad Mini. NFC (near-field communication) is a chip found in many new phones which allows users to connect the phone to another device (another phone, or a speaker dock) simply by touching the two together. Not having NFC is a bummer for people with new Android phones who prefer to share photos using this technique, but not really for anyone else.

Camera

On paper, the camera in the iPad Mini looks a lot like the camera in the iPhone 5, albeit with a few million less pixels to play with.

In practice, the works just as quickly and easily, but we don't think the photos it takes are quite up to the same level as the ones we saw in the latest iPhone. They are outstanding for a tablet, don't get us wrong, but photogs will still want to have the smartphone handy for their best pics.

Performance and Battery Life

As we've seen time and again with Apple products, the iPad Mini works extremely well. The hardware and software are so well married together that it is uncommon to find any hiccups in the everyday use of the tablet.

This praise doesn't always extend to third-party apps, and you may find that they do fall over sometimes -- some more than others. During our trial of the iPad Mini we played the new Halfbrick games Band Stars quite a bit, despite it crashing every other day. Luckily, a crashed iPad app doesn't have a great effect on the rest of the tablet, and it only takes a moment to restart the app and continue playing.

Battery life is pretty solid, with the average cycle lasting for about 2-days between charges. Breaking this down, we'd see about 6 - 8 hours of actual use, and the rest in standby. This is a great result.

Overall

All things considered, the iPad Mini is our favourite iOS device. It's size and weight means that you get the benefits of a screen much larger than an iPhone, and a device which is much more comfortable to use than a full-sized iPad. It gives you full access to the gamut of iOS apps and the same user experience we've come to trust in from Apple.

Looking beyond Apple's own stable of products there are only a few which keep pace with the iPad Mini. Google's new Nexus 7 is a good option if you want a 7-inch display, or Samsung Galaxy Note 2 (or the upcoming Note 3) if you want this device to be a phone as well.

But remember, one of the big reasons to choose an Apple mobile device is for access to the ecosystem of apps. Many of these now are available on the Android platform, but some of the best iOS apps are made by Apple themselves and are available exclusively for its devices.


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