Apple's newest tablet boasts superior construction and easy portability, but you will find definite trade-offs with the iPad Mini.
The Apple iPad Mini went on sale Nov. 2 and I managed to pick one up over the weekend. I didn't encounter any lines at my local Apple Store, and the workers there said there wasn't the same amount of frenzy that has accompanied other recent Apple product launches.
Shorter lines were reported at Apple Stores around the world, but that didn't prevent Apple from selling 3 million iPads over the weekend, what it called a new record. In fact, my local Apple Store reported that it was sold out by Saturday evening.
The iPad Mini is Apple's smaller tablet that has a lower entry cost when compared to the full-sized iPads. Here are my first impressions after using it for a couple of days.
-- Build quality. The iPad Mini is unsurpassed in quality construction. The materials, finish, and feel show that Apple took care to design and build the iPad Mini. The metallic surfaces trump the cheap plastics used by rival devices such as the Nexus 7.
-- Size and weight. The iPad Mini is more comfortable to hold than the full-size iPad. It's indescribably thin. I don't know how Apple managed to make a tablet as thin as the iPad Mini, but it did. The weight is significantly less than the full-size iPad and the Nexus 7. I stuck it in my backpack and couldn't tell that it was there at all. In fact, my empty backpack weighs more than the iPad Mini does.
-- Wi-Fi. According to Apple, the iPad Mini's Wi-Fi is twice as fast as its previous tablets'. Although I can't verify that claim, I can attest to the fact that it's fast as all get out. Using my home Wi-Fi network, the iPad Mini was significantly quicker at loading Web pages than both the third-generation iPad and the Nexus 7.
-- Camera. The iPad Mini has two cameras. The main iSight camera shoots 5-megapixel images and records 1080p HD video. It's a very, very good camera; perhaps the best I've seen on a tablet. The FaceTime camera can also shoot images, though at a lower 1.2-megapixel resolution. It shoots 720p HD video for FaceTime chats. I found it worked great for talking with far-flung relatives. The Nexus 7 doesn't have a main camera for taking pictures.
-- Apps. Using my iTunes account, I was able to download and install about four dozen apps in no time. They all worked flawlessly. There are 275,000 iPad-optimized apps for the iPad, and they work with the iPad Mini just as they do with the fill-size iPad.
-- Battery. The iPad Mini's battery life is just as good as the full-size iPad's. I charged it Saturday afternoon, and despite using it non-stop all weekend, it still has about 50% of its charge left.
-- Screen. You knew this was coming, right? The iPad Mini's screen resolution is noticeably inferior to the Nexus 7's. The iPad Mini has 1024 x 768 pixels, and the Nexus 7 has 1280 x 800. Pixels are easy to spot on the iPad Mini. It doesn't hold a candle to the third- and fourth-gen iPads' Retina screens. On the flip side, it is definitely better than the iPad 2's screen. The Mini's screen is not horrible, but it's certainly not impressive. It is incapable of rendering full HD movies. For example, I was able to stuff the full 1080p HD version of "Prometheus" on my iPad 3, but had to settle for the SD version on the iPad Mini.
-- A5 processor. An underpowered processor was one of my chief concerns with the iPad Mini. The A5 chip that provides the iPad Mini's get-up-and-go showed signs of stress in my initial tests. I saw random freezes and stuttering from time to time, and some apps were slow to open. Also, the iPad Mini syncs content with Apple computers at a much slower rate than the faster iPad 3 I have.
-- Thinner frame. When the first iPad was announced, many decried the inch-thick frame that surrounds the screen. It looked unsightly. Over time, it became apparent that the bezel served a purpose: it helps you hold the iPad without putting your fingers on the display. Apple reduced the thickness of the iPad Mini's frame significantly, especially on the sides. The result is I found myself accidentally pressing the screen when I didn't intend to. Most often, I'd be looking at an app and accidentally swipe backward or forward a page. This will probably not be a problem over time, but it was something I noticed during my first few days with the device.
-- Keyboard --. I've become an incredibly adept iPad typist in the last two-and-a-half years. With the full-size iPad turned sideways, I can type almost at full speed on the QWERTY keyboard. The iPad Mini's keyboard is too small to do this. I found myself making plenty of mistakes. On the flip side, however, it is much easier to type with your thumbs when holding the iPad Mini in portrait orientation.
I am mostly impressed with the Apple iPad Mini. It is not as incredible a computing machine as the full-size, fourth-generation iPad, but it gives Apple a respectable toe-hold in the smaller tablet segment. Given the relatively low price, incredible build quality, and rich availability of apps, I see the iPad Mini as the tablet of choice for holiday shoppers over the next few months.
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