Years after the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs questioned the usability of tablets with a screen smaller than the original iPad’s 9.7 inches, Apple has released a new, smaller, version of the device.
The iPad mini is available in the same White & Silver and Black & Slate glass/aluminium finish as the iPhone 5 and features a 7.9” screen.
On paper this is only marginally larger than the 7” offered by most rival tablets, including the Kobo Arc we recently reviewed.
In practice the extra .9” means the iPad mini offers noticeably more screen space than its competitors.
The device is also incredibly light, weighing in at 308g for the WiFi only version and 312 for the WiFi + 4G model and lighter than the Kobo Arc (364g), Amazon Kindle Fire HD (395g) and Google’s Nexus 7 (340g) despite having a larger screen.
The new model is also impressively thin at just 7.2mm, compared to 9.4 mm for the larger iPad, 10.3mm for the Kindle Fire HD, 10.45 mm for the Nexus and 11.5 mm for the Kobo Arc.
Apple has worked hard to squeeze the full iPad experience into a smaller package, as part of those efforts it’s reduced the side bezel to keep the same screen resolution as the iPad 2. This means the mini is capable of running all existing iPad apps.
But although it’s lighter and thinner than its rivals, the iPad mini lacks the Retina display of the newest full-size iPad and has a lower number of pixels per inch (PPI) than its rivals – 163 versus 216 for the Nexus and 215 for the Arc.
Apple watchers expect the company to add the Retina display to the 2013 model in order to help persuade the faithful to part with another dollop of cash. If the higher resolution screen is a big ‘must have’ feature for you, you might want to consider waiting a few months for the new model.
The smaller size and lighter weight of the mini address previous complaints that the original was too heavy to hold for long periods of time and therefore unsuitable for tasks such as ebook reading.
With its 10 hour battery life – enough to read through the night – and reduced weight, the iPad mini is a credible ereading solution. Especially as it allows the loading of ereading apps from all the big players including Amazon’s Kindle, Kobo, NOOK and Apple’s own iBooks.
But how does it compare when it comes to the standard iPad activities such as games playing, browsing the web and email? The answer is surprisingly well, especially as Apple once seemed to suggest otherwise.
During my review period with the mini I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game I’d also played on my iPad 2. I found using the mini to be more comfortable and more akin to playing on a portable games console than is the case with the larger iPad 2.
Browsing on the mini was little different than on the larger iPad but the text in the Safari address bar is noticeably smaller on the mini and some users may find themselves failing to spot typos in URLs as a result.
Although the onscreen keyboard is smaller, I found typing on the mini just as easy as on its big brother. Indeed, in landscape mode it’s actually easier to type on using just thumbs because your hands can more easily reach across the whole screen.
Anyone who uses the iPad version of Apple’s Pages word processor will be pleased to know that this remains entirely usable despite the smaller key size, although a short period of adjustment may be necessary.
At £269 for the cheapest model – WiFi only and 16GB of storage – the iPad mini is considerably more expensive than its rivals which tend to bunch together at around the £159 mark.
Is that premium justified?
As noted above, it certainly doesn’t get you the highest quality screen on the market but it does get you a product that looks and feels completely different to the clunky black plastic tablets offered by Apple’s competitors.
You also get access to Siri, Apple’s voice operated personal assistant and of course the largest collection of apps, many which come to iOS first, designed specifically for a tablet.
For my money, the mini refines the total user experience yet another notch to ensure the iPad remains the best tablet on the market.