- Fantastic selection of amazing apps
- Rock-solid iOS 6 operating system
- Beautiful industrial design
- Lower-resolution screen than some competitors
- Relatively high price
Given that so much about the iPad Mini is so familiar - its version of iOS 6 is identical to that running on all other iPads, and its design also sticks to Apple's trademarked (not always literally…) use of thin, simple lines and aluminium - it's genuinely surprising how different and impressive it is as an overall product. And even more unexpected is that its pretty much the best tablet Apple has ever made.
The Mini was released last week and starts at £269 for the 16GB WiFi model. It has a 7.9-inch display, is just 7.2mm thick and weighs 0.68lbs, or about half as much as an iPad with Retina display.
The design is minimalistic as ever, which can make Apple devices seem a little bland -- and it's true that nothing about the appearance of the Mini is all that surprising.
But in this case, familiarity is no detriment. This is a device which is startlingly light, solid as marble and easy to use and hold in one hand - which could never be said about the heftier original. The Mini also features thinner bezels along the side, with a helpful sensor which knows when you're touching the screen by accident.
Inside, the Mini runs an A5 chip, which is the same as in the iPad II and the iPhone 4S and performs as well as ever. Only the latest 3D games give it any trouble, and even then it's hard to notice. It also has a Facetime HD camera in front and a solid 5-megapixel snapper in the back that shoots 1080p video. WiFi speeds are improved across the board if you have the network to take advantage, and it comes with a 10-hour battery, which performed well in our tests, and Apple's new Lightning connector.
The Not-Retina Display
In hardware terms the only downside to the iPad Mini you'll notice day-to-day is the screen. The Mini has a 1024 x 768-pixel display, the same as the iPad II, which while being bright and clear (it's an IPS panel) is also a very noticeable step down from the iPad 3. It even compares relatively poorly in resolution compared to, for instance, the Kindle Fire HD or the Nook HD, which packs in 1440 x 900 pixels.
That said, Apple has taken pains to point out that the shape of its display is physically larger than competitors like the Kindle, the Nook HD and the Google Nexus 7. And, to be fair, they're right. The screen is 35% larger than a Nexus 7, and in portrait mode there is a lot more information on screen. The 4:3 aspect ratio isn't great for movies, but it makes almost every other task easier.
The iPad Mini is also noticeably larger in another area - cost. The iPad Mini starts at £269 and reaches all the way to £529 for the 64GB with 3G connectivity, which will be available in late November. The Android 4.2-running Nexus 7 costs £159 for the 16GB, the Kindle Fire HD also starts at £159 as does the Nook HD.
Other publications have dedicated thousands of words to comparing these four products - and there are questions to weigh for some consumers on price, screen quality and the like. But in our view, in industrial design alone the Mini is obviously the far superior product. It is thinner, stronger, eschews cheap plastic and rubber casing and makes no compromises for price. It alone feels like a product from the future. We think that's worth another £100 or so.
That works in both directions. If you're just looking for a cheap 7-inch tablet to browse the web, the Nexus is a good choice. If you just want to read or watch films on an excellent screen, the Nook and Kindle make sense. But the iPad Mini isn't more expensive for the sake of it - for the build quality alone, it's worth the money.
What does it do?
But the iPad Mini has also a trump card which, for most users, will tip the value balance back in its favour - Apps.
The Mini can run each of the 275,000 dedicated iPad apps in Apple's store. That's good. But this isn't a numbers game - it's a question of quality. And the superiority of the 100-200 best iPad apps is objectively definitive for this ecosystem. At the upper end of the scale, the iPad's apps blow the competition apart. There is just no comparison.
Whether its Paper by 53, which is among the smoothest and most beautiful drawing applications ever made, IA Writer, the elegant iCloud-enabled writing app or Apple's own Pages, Garageband and iPhoto, there are just no equivalents in quality on the Android platform, let alone the walled gardens of Amazon and the Nook.
Added to that, every decent tablet game is released either simultaneously or, more often, first, on Apple's store, while the free Kindle app and Chrome browser take the best features from competing devices and put them on the iPad's home screen.
The result is that once you've made your peace with the screen and moved past browsing and email, the iPad Mini is by far the fullest-featured, most usable and best value tablet on the market.
Which is the real iPad?
Yes, that includes the new fourth-generation iPad.
While the larger iPad still has its uses - the beautiful Retina display is far better for movies and photos for instance - the iPad Mini is more attractive on almost every count.
It is thinner, lighter, more beautiful and more practical. It feels like the iPad Apple meant to make all along and, pound-for-pound, it's the best mobile device Apple has ever produced.
From one abstract perspective the iPad Mini is just a "bigger iPhone" or a "smaller iPad". But if you pick one up, you'll know why it's different. It is a satisfying, gorgeous device. And anyone who has used and likes iOS can trust that it's going to do what they need it to. There is no leap of faith.
All the iPad Mini has to do to make its case is exist. Stick a Retina display on it, and it will conquer the world.
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