Apple iPad mini 32GB, Wi-Fi, 7.9in - White & Silver Reviews
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Apple iPad mini 32GB, Wi-Fi, 7.9in - White & Silver

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A Dazzling Best of Both Worlds

Dec 4, 2012 (Updated Dec 5, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:smaller, thinner, lighter, with an amazingly deft compromise between portability and fullness

Cons:relatively expensive, could have been thinner, not to be dropped

The Bottom Line: This is going to be a very practical product with a host of uses.


OVERVIEW

I had the opportunity to take one of these home for a short time and found the iPad Mini to be everything it was meant to be.  If it had any qualms about introducing a 7" tablet - despite Steve Jobs' unmitigated contempt for the category - Apple has found a way to bridge the gap between Jobs' perfectionism and the realities of the marketplace.

As an owner of an original iPad, I have enjoyed hundreds of hours on the device that turned the market on its ear, but I never found a compelling reason to upgrade with each iteration.  Even the iPad 3's adoption of a retina screen didn't really do it for me.  I took my old iPad down to the Apple Store - driving an hour to get there - and compared the old with the new.  Yeah, there's a difference, particularly if you blow up and compare the same image on a website.  But in the real world, I didn't see it, not even as I held the two devices together and stared like a sniper.  I don't doubt that retina displays do have it all over the original screen, but I do doubt it really matters in real time.

Call me crazy, but I go with what I see.

Which brings me to the iPad Mini.  The Apple people have hypnosis down so well, they could sell sand in the desert and ice at the poles.  With that in mind, I kept my distance and gave this new device only a casual inspection.  I had already dissed the iPhone 4S for the Galaxy Nexus - and the iPhone 5 for the Galaxy S3.  I wasn't about to get snagged in yet one more bit of Apple hype, especially after feeling that the iPad is, in essence, an iPod the size and weight of a bathroom scale.

Well, they got me again.

The iPad Mini is and isn't a 7" version of the iPad, which is a 9.7" version of the iPod Touch.  To be sure, all three devices are essentially the same device, just scaled up or down.  Then again, the charm of the iPad has always been in what it means to have an iPod the size of a small computer screen.  There's something luxurious about being able to read a newspaper-sized display, without having to stretch its bits and pieces just to read the text.  But there has always been a cost to such a convenience.  Forget about the $500 price tag.  Just consider the heft of the original iPad, which has gotten a little better over the course of the product run but not that much better.  

Another issue has been size.  When the original iPad came out, it was envisioned that people would hold it from the edge, with their fingers working a vice grip like a pair of pliers.  The original concern must have been that one misplaced thumb would interfere with the touchscreen, making it desirable to wrap this wonder screen in an inch of margin all around.  The result is a device a tad bigger than its screen, making it less elegant and less impressive, at least to the likes of me.  While I've enjoyed my iPad, I've often wondered how much more bang for the buck I could get if somebody did something about all those margins.

If the iPad Mini is now cannibalizing iPad sales, in ways that Apple's competitors could never do, it's because it attacks the iPad's biggest weaknesses - and does so ruthlessly.  With the lateral borders decimated, the iPad Mini sports a 7.9" screen on a device that's just under 7.9" tall (7.87" to be more accurate).   It's wider than the typical 7" tablet, and almost an inch taller.  This makes it less "handy" than its competitors, like the Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire HD and the Barnes & Noble Nook.  If you want a smaller, more diminutive device, you can find it for significantly less than $329.  What Apple's engineers have figured out is that if you go medieval on those borders (which the iPad Mini does, courtesy of software that allows it to disregard a wayward thumb on the edge of the screen) you can create a 7.9" display that gets you almost as much  real estate as its full-size big brother.  

Next to the iPad, the iPad Mini gives you a little less, but when you look at how much less framing you have to deal with, it's easy to see this device as a "middle path" between the portability of the iPhone 5 and the fullness of the iPad.  But it isn't just "size" that "matters."  This thing is thinner and lighter than its big brother.  At 7.2mm deep, it's just a millimeter thicker than the original Droid Razr.  Weighing all of .68 of a pound (308g), this thing sheds almost every downside of the iPad (Alas, even Dumbledore, himself, could not have gotten us around the corporate non-support and AppStore controls that come with the Apple ecosystem).

What you get with the iPad Mini is a version of the iPad that can git into a coat pocket.  It's got the portability missing from the iPad while avoiding the little-display issues of a smartphone.  Next to the screen on the iPad Mini, even the massive 5.5" display of the Galaxy Note II looks anemic.  In the meantime, you also get Siri and some fun stuff, like front and back cameras.

Will it work without the now-famous retina display?  You should already know my answer.  Some complain that the screen's resolution (1024 x 768) is that of the iPad 2, but on a smaller screen, the pixel density jumps from 132 to 163 ppi.  It's not the 264 ppi of the iPad 3 and iPad 4 but I certainly didn't feel cheated.  The auto brightness setting is a bit tame for my blood, but when I went into Settings and cranked up the backlight, I had to back off of full brightness as overkill.  I'm not sure how things would fare in the brightest of daylight but I never had an instance where I couldn't see and enjoy what I was doing on this charming little device.

In the end, it won't matter how glittery the device is - and this one, with its camphored edges, is pretty glittery.  It'll all come down to what you can do with it.  The beauty of the iPad Mini is its ability to give you enough screen real estate to feel relaxed and uncompressed - but without sacrificing portability.  Could it be better?  Yes.  If I had designed this device, I'd have made it skinnier, since the screen can be turned on its side to produce a wider angle.  In designing the iPad Mini, Apple had to have exercised a bit of caution, as this device's success will determine whether there will be further tweaks down the road.  What Apple's engineers did here was to capture, as much as possible, the look and feel of a full-sized iPad, but within a noticeably smaller frame.

And that's why these things are selling like hotcakes, even priced $100 higher than the competition.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT PERFORMANCE

1. The display on this 7.9" iPad Mini obviously isn't as large as the display on the 9.7" iPad, but is it "good enough?"  In my opinion, it's just fine.  The full-sized iPad doesn't give you the same experience you'd get from a 13-inch laptop, but it feels full enough.  I'd say the same about the 7.9" display on the iPad Mini. That's because the tablet form, enhanced by the reduced weight of the device, not only allows you to hold it closer to your face, but to do so comfortably.  But while a smartphone like the iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 needs more occular intimacy, the iPad Mini gives you a comfortable stretch.  The text will be somewhat smaller than on a full-sized iPad but not by that much.  The difference between 9.7" and 7.9" is simply not enough to leave the page displayed feeling compromised or crowded.  I found that full pages were still readable.  With the ability to pinch and blow up text, I could easily pull in the fullness I had with my iPad, but if I chose to pull back and get more of a full-page view, I could still read the text comfortably.

2. Speed.  I found the speed of the device to be terrific.  With my original iPad, there's a little jutter as I pinch text, particularly if I do it radically.  I didn't find that with the iPad Mini.  Its dual-core A5 chip was plenty fast.  Flitting from site to site and app to app was liquid smooth.  I'm not a heavy gamer, so I'm not sure how the device would perform under the most grueling tasks, but I never saw a task that slowed it down.

3. Wi-Fi.  I ran the device off my Broadband and then off my Hotspot on my phone.  I didn't encounter any wi-fi issues beyond the need to go into Settings and set up each of the Wi-Fi networks.  I had one moment of delay, but that was my fault for getting a little rusty with one of the passwords.  Once the Wi-Fi networks were loaded in, I never had another problem.

4. The Lightning Connector.  This connector has turned out to be better than expected.  When Apple first introduced it, man of us wondered if Apple wasn't just looking for another revenue stream. As someone who uses Micro USB on my Galaxy S3, I've never gotten why Apple needed to create its own connector.  That said, working with the iPad Mini has given me an opportunity to put this Lightning Connector to the test.  I can say, with relief, that the LC lives up to its name.  Charging and data transfer are refreshingly fast.  There's also the creature comfort of not having to check the orientation of the plug, as the LC works the same no matter how you have it turned (up or down is the same).

5. Display Quality.  Right out of the box, the display seems a little dim, but that's because the auto brightness is geared more toward power saving than stunning the casual observer.  If you go into Settings and adjust the display brightness, the Ipad Mini's display gets very bright.  In fact, I dialed it down a bit just because I felt like I was getting an unintentional suntan.  I haven't found anything that lets you adjust the color saturation but I'm very happy with the display quality.  Those for whom the retina display is a must may want to wait for a version 2.0, but to my eyes, the display popped delightfully.  I watched several movies on Netflix and found them terrific.

6. Sound.  As an owner of a Galaxy S3, I'm used to feeling as if I got slighted on volume.  I can make and receive phone calls and the alerts work as they should, but if I'm watching a movie and I want to comfortably enjoy the effects or dialogue, I often don a pair of in-ear monitors.  The iPad Mini is much louder, probably because size affords certain benefits, including the ability to pack a larger driver.  I'm not going to rave about the quality of the sound.  It's still what you'd expect from a small, thin portable device.  But sheer volume is definitely louder on the iPad Mini than what I've heard on a variety of portable devices.

7. Camera.  I had occasion to take photos using both front and rear cameras.  The 5 MP iSight camera (rear facing) is definitely better than the 1.2 MP Facetime (front-facing) camera, whose pictures looked grainier in low light.  If you're looking for a serious contender in the world of cameras, I wouldn't say that this is your best bet.  You can get more for less by simply focusing on buying a great digital camera.  Then again, I'm not sure why anybody needs  cameras on iPads in the first place.  That said, while the quality of the cameras is nothing to write home about, I couldn't help but get a bit of a thrill using the 7.9" display as my "monitor" while shooting pics.  It's just really cool to take pictures that look, immediately, like images on a flat-screen TV.  With the iPad Mini, as with the iPad, you get the thrill of seeing, on the screen, what the image looks like blown up.  But unlike the iPad, the iPad Mini gives you an easier platform to hold up while you're getting that image.  It's not a feather but it's certainly not a brick.

8. Hand Strain.  Can you get hand strain on a device that weighs only .67 pounds?  In short: yes.  As the owner of an S3, I never considered myself as having small hands.  In fact, I'd have purchased the Galaxy Note II if its release had come around at a time when I could have upgraded at a discount.  As it is, one of the iPad Mini's perks, for me, was in not having to rely on a cellular provider to use my device.  But as the Galaxy Note II is still "easily" clutchable in one hand, the iPad Mini isn't something you should clutch like a cellphone.  Those pictures of a single hand comfortably wrapping around the edges of the device are a bit misleading.  This is a device most people (who aren't basketball players) will pinch with their thumb and forefinger.  The problem is that, whether you try to put it all into the palm of one hand, or whether you pinch it along the edge, there will come a time when you fill discover muscles you didn't know you had.  The good news is that my early discomfort came, in part, from not being able to put the device down.  Typical use may involve less "hands on" treatment as the device is laid down between uses.  On the other hand, one should know - going in - that long-term use could bring on a sudden case of bursitis.  Ironically, the iPad is less likely to produce this issue, not because it's lighter (It's noticeably heavier and more bricklike) but because nobody in their right mind would try to juggle an iPad in one hand.  These little aches and pains may lead Apple or one of its competitors to build a device larger than an iPhone that is still more grip friendly than a 7.9" tablet.  Still, when comparing this device to its rivals, I can't say I found any that were this light.

9. Battery Life.  I like a bright device, so I'm willing to sacrifice battery life for pop.  The battery is supposed to last up to 16 hours, but that's using the auto brightness function and using it more casually.  My heavier use saw something closer to about 12 hours, but that was with intermittent sleep and web surfing.  I never tried to just run it to death, to see how quickly I could run the battery dead, but I was happy to see how much battery life I could get out of the device with heavy use.  I still think Samsung has the cooler idea of allowing swappable batteries (I have four spares for my S3) but, with the ability to run the device a full day without a charge-up of any kind, is impressive.

10. Beauty versus Practicality.  This device is really glamorous.  Like so many other Apple devices, it's a testament to design aesthetics.  The simple aluminum-and-glass configuration is stately and elegant.  The glass is a bit shiny, which is less practical than it might have been with an anti-glare coating.  Then again, holding it in your hand is a little like toting a piece of electronic jewelry.  One thing Apple did with the display was to create a slight beveling of the edges all around the display.  It makes the device that much more elegant but it also made me that much more anxious not to scratch it up.  The great irony here is that all that pop and shine will likely be buried underneath a rubber or plastic bumper because this device never stopped reminding me of what might likely happen if I dropped it.  Rival devices have a lot more bumper protection built in, especially the Nook, but such built-in bumpers look ugly to me. 


Recommend this product? Yes

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