Forget the headlines and exit the hype train at the next station. The iPad mini is here and it's not the shining beacon we all expected it to be, but it damn-well got close.
What Is It?
A 7.9-inch iPad that sports the same specs as an iPad 2 and the form factor of your favourite A5 notebook.
Under the hood of the 7.9-inch device is dual-core A5 processor with a neat little clock speed of 1GHz, 512MB of RAM, a 1024x768 pixel screen that packs 162 pixels per inch and a 5-megapixel rear facing camera. It weighs just north of 300 grams and is built out of the same sleek aluminium as the iPhone 5.
The mini's form factor really is awesome. I love 7-inch tablets. I think it's just the right size for a content consumption device. The last tablet that did the 7-inch form factor some justice was the mould-breaking Nexus 7 tablet from Google and Asus. The iPad mini adds 0.9 of an inch to the device (diagonally speaking) and it makes the whole thing look that much better.
0.9 of an inch doesn't do that much to the device per sé. What really makes the mini pop is the thin bezel on the edges of the device. It's so tiny! It's the closest thing to an edge-to-edge screen we're likely to see from Apple for a while. Coupled with a slightly larger screen, all the elements come together to give you the impression that the mini is actually a lot bigger than it really is. It looks less like a grown-up iPhone and more like a device you'd actually use.
The most interesting thing about the mini's design, however, is the fact that it doesn't fragment the app experience like the iPhone 5 does. Sure the mini is a different (and slightly awkward) size that Apple hasn't made before, but the screen is still packing the same resolution as an iPad 2, meaning all the apps, games and videos work just fine. The 2x magnification button is still there for iPhone apps that need to be upscaled, but apps intended for the 9.7-inch iPad don't require obnoxious black bars like we find on the iPhone 5.
Inside the device, it's just an iPad. You'll need to update the thing straight out of the box to iOS 6.0.1, but other than that, it's the same, pleasant walled-garden it always has been.
The screen has been hailed as the iPad mini's Achille's heel, and that's true to an extent, being a non-Retina grade panel, but where it really shines against the Nexus 7 is brightness. The Nexus is barely usable in direct sunlight. The iPad still has some glare, but it's nowhere near as washed out as its Google-born competitor. It's much brighter when held side-by-side and the colours are far more vibrant.
What really strikes you about the iPad mini, though, is the weight. It's incredibly light. Apple has finally ditched its glass-obsession that we saw ad absurdum in the iPhone 4S, and instead adopted a new design language that focusses on pure aluminium again.
The battery life from the 4400mAh battery is great on the Wi-Fi version of the mini. If you're smart about it, you'll get a rough day and change before having to recharge the thing. To put it into perspective, that battery is three times that of the iPhone and roughly one-third smaller than the 3rd-generation iPad.
The Best Part?
Two words: App Store. The App Store is the best thing Apple has going for it right now. It's the reason it starts off every keynote saying how many apps there are and how much they're giving developers, and it's the reason it can get away with charging people this much for an under-specced tablet. I believe the apps on the App Store give a better experience all round than inconsistent apps from somewhere like Android's Google Play, for example. That's just me, though.
There's no denying it. This thing is way to expensive for what it is. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only model is $369. If you want 32GB of storage that'll cost $479 and the 64GB version hits a whopping $589. The cellular version is coming in a few weeks and that starts at $509 for the 16GB model and tops out at $729 for the 64GB version.
While the 16GB model is priced at the top end of what I'd deem reasonable, asking for over $700 for a tablet with these specs is nothing short of a farce. There's no doubt that Apple will sell boatloads of the things to people who want a 7-inch tablet in the Apple ecosystem, but that doesn't make it right. It's charging through the nose for people who have been waiting for this for years.
There's not even a Retina-grade display to speak of on the iPad mini. There's no doubt it's coming, but the fact that Apple, who prides itself on crisp screens, put a 162ppi display on here is pretty disappointing. It's not as junky as everyone is saying it is, but Apple customers have been spoiled by a run of Retina displays in recent months.
Also, don't buy the iPad mini expecting a supercomputer. The benchmark results are pretty abysmal.
It rates just 753 on Geekbench 2. To put that into perspective, the Nexus 7 with its quad-core, 1.3GHz processor ranks a healthy 1200 and the more comparably specced, long-in-tooth Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 with its 1GHz dual core processor scored 793.
Everyone knows there's a better one already in the works, so a lot of people will hold out until it packs a Retina display, at least.
This Is Weird...
Not sure if it's just mine or if it's everyone's, but my Smart Cover doesn't actually sit flush with the device. There's this little bit that always pokes up. It's not a problem, it just puts me off when I see it.
Should You Buy It?
If you've always wanted this form factor along with iOS and its bountiful selection of lovely apps, now is the time to jump in. The 16GB Wi-Fi version isn't as absurdly priced as its brothers in the range and if you use the cloud correctly you won't need all that storage anyway.
If you're a pixel and processor tragic, though, you'll want to wait for the next iPad mini. Imagine this device with a Retina display and the A6X processor in the fourth-generation iPad? Phwoar...
If you want something right now that packs more power and still saves you a few bucks, go the Nexus 7. It's still the most powerful and best looking device in this form factor, but it all depends on which ecosystem you like best.
Image: Megan Allen
The iPad mini isn't your average workhorse, but it makes for a lovely Shetland pony: smaller, less powerful, but just as lovely to own.