Now that I've spent a full week using the iPad Mini, here are some thoughts on its strengths and weaknesses.
iPad Mini Tablet: Visual Tour
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I want to love the iPad Mini, but I'm afraid it's going to have to settle for something a little bit less. I've used the iPad Mini every day for the last week, jumping back and forth to a full-sized iPad and Google Nexus 7 to see how its usability compares day in and day out. Here's what I found.
Like the Nexus 7, the smaller, thinner, lighter frame of the iPad Mini makes it much more comfortable for couch surfing. On any given night, I settle in to watch TV at around 10 PM, with tablet in tow. The full-sized iPad can be fatiguing to use for the one or two hours that I surf while catching up on my favorite shows. The iPad Mini is perfect for this.
As with the full-sized iPad, I hold the iPad Mini in landscape orientation (horizontal) most of the time. It feels more natural o me that way, and it negates the on-screen navigation problems caused by the thinner frame around the iPad Mini's screen.
Despite the Mini's smaller dimensions, it's just a wee bit too wide to use one-handed for very long. I have large hands and still have to stretch my hand a bit, which causes muscle fatigue after about 10 minutes. The Nexus 7, which has a smaller, narrow display and build, is more comfortable to use in the portrait orientation and to hold one-handed.
After further testing how well apps run on the iPad Mini, I can say with confidence that my initial fears about the processor being underpowered can be put to rest. I loaded some heavy-duty 3D games on the iPad Mini, as well as RAM-intensive music creation apps. They all worked flawlessly and ran without issues. iMovie and GarageBand, for example, were just as quick to use for pasting together movies and recording some sample chord progressions.
Infinity Blade II, one of my all-time favorite iPad games, worked very well -- but definitely loses the impressive visuals thanks to the iPad Mini's inferior screen. Where Infinity Blade II looks absolutely stunning on the Retina Display of the third-generation iPad, it looks merely OK on the iPad Mini.
The screen remains my biggest gripe with the device. If you haven't used another high-resolution screen for several days, you don't notice it much. But if you switch back and forth between a Retina Display iPad or even the Nexus 7, the iPad Mini's display is a big let-down.
I picked up one of the iPad Mini Smart Covers with the device and have used it all week, too. I'm not as impressed with it as with the Smart Cover for full-sized iPads. The iPad Mini's Smart Cover has three segments instead of four. With four segments, the full-sized Smart Covers have one segment that overlaps and magnetically connects to form a strong, supportive triangle under the iPad. This isn't the case with the iPad Mini's Smart Cover. There's no overlap, so the triangular stand is not nearly as strong. Since it is smaller, it also presents a lower viewing angle, which makes the iPad Mini harder to see and interact with. The Smart Cover for full-sized iPads provides a bit more tilt.
I have yet to find any good third-party cases that work well with the iPad Mini. Accessory makers have yet to really ramp up production. I assume by the end of the year there will be plenty to from which to choose.
Battery life is quite good. The iPad Mini easily bests the Nexus 7 and Motorola XyBoard 8.2 by several hours when browsing via Wi-Fi and listening to music. In fact, I've had a hard time running the battery down completely.
At this point, I like the iPad Mini a lot, but I don't love it. The display alone really detracts from the overall experience -- at least if you're coming from a device with a Retina Display. If the iPad Mini is your first-ever tablet, though, you're probably not going to worry about the display too much.
I'd still recommend the iPad Mini over most Android tablets, with the exception of the Nexus 7 or Nexus 10. The iPad Mini's app ecosystem and compatibility with Apple's iTunes music and movie stores gives the iPad Mini a real leg up on the competition.
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