iPad mini Review: The Joy of Being a Lightweight

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iPad mini and box

I’ve had the new iPad mini for a little more than 5 days now, and I thought it was about time to share my thoughts on the smallest member of the iPad lineup. I went for the 32GB black model. I’m way too much of an apps junkie to try a 16GB model and I am hoping that 32GB on the iPad mini, backed by 64GB on my iPad 3, will be enough.

I definitely plan to get a WiFi + Cellular model, but they’re not available until later this month – November 23 is the expected release day I’ve heard for them. By then I’ll have figured out whether 32GB is Ok for me and will either stick with it or go the whole hog with a 64GB WiFi + Cellular model – but I’m very confident that 32GB should be fine.

So, on to some thoughts on the iPad mini:

The Wonderful Lightness

I knew of course that the mini was substantially lighter than the (now old) new iPad or iPad 3, and even lighter than the iPad 2. But it is just so wonderfully light. I thought the lighter weight was going to be my favorite feature, but even my high expectations in this area have been far exceeded. As soon as I took mine out of its box in the Apple store I was in love with the weight of it. I’ve been within the first 10 or so people into the Apple store for every iPad launch and this is the first time I have ever gushed about the iPad to the Apple staff person helping me with the purchase. I think my jaw dropped a little when I held it and I definitely shared my enthusiasm for my new little lightweight pal.

Five days later I’m still crazy about how light the iPad mini is. And the great thing is this is a feature that just keeps on giving. Every time I use it, whether it’s for a quick note or task entry or when I spend a couple hours using it, the mini reminds me just how great it is to use a lighter iPad. I’m using it with a smart cover most of the time; it adds minimal weight and the mini is still superb to hold and use with it on.

iPad mini in stand

The Not So Wonderful Display

No great shocker here. If you’ve come from using a retina iPad, the display on the iPad mini is noticeably inferior. Some reports cite it as being a ‘very capable’ display but not quite matching up to some other smaller tablets. In spite of that, I think the display is still more than good enough for most uses, and I agree with Kevin C. Tofel’s take on it:

So is the 1024 x 768 screen resolution an issue? Not as much as you’d think, even though that’s the same resolution as the first and second iPad models. As I explain in the video, cramming the same number of pixels into a small screen adds some clarity. It’s no Retina Display, but it’s better than the first two iPads.

I’ve been giving the iPad mini some heavy use every day since I bought it and I can honestly say that I don’t notice the lower display quality much when it comes to viewing images or playing games. I did tend to notice it a lot when reading – whether on web pages or iPad magazines or in the Reeder app, for instance. For a little while I almost felt I wanted a global setting to make text a little larger. I got used to it quite quickly though, and now I’m reading tons on the iPad mini and finding it comfortable. One thing I’ve found that helps a lot, especially on web pages, is that the double-tap to zoom in text makes the text just about a perfect size for my reading comfort, and does not make it where I need to scroll horizontally at all to see full paragraphs (which is what always happened on the Kindle Fire 7 inch tablet).

I really like the iPad mini’s display size. You definitely feel that 35% bigger overall display area (compared to 7 inch tablets) that Apple highlighted at the launch event. For my older eyes, it’s far nicer to spend large chunks of time with than an iPhone screen – and again the lightweight nature of the device is making it very easy and pleasant to spend big blocks of time with.

It’s also worth remembering that just a year ago the iPad 2’s display was considered a thing of beauty. Just because tech specs move ahead so quickly doesn’t mean that the mini’s display is terrible, It’s just not quite as good as a retina display or some of the other very high spec tablet displays … yet. I’ll take the not quite state of the art display but incredible lightness tradeoff very happily.

Geekbench iPad mini

Performance

Another area where the iPad mini’s spec has taken some criticism is its A5 processor, the same one found in the iPad 2. I’m not a player of any processor-intensive games on the iPad, so I can’t comment on how those might fare on the mini.

I can say that I’ve already installed over 90 apps and games on it, and they all run great on the iPad mini.The only time I’ve seen an app look slow or lagging was when using the Facebook app after its most recent update. I’m not blaming the iPad mini for that though, as the app ran fine before the update and I’ve seen many other Facebook users complaining about the app’s performance following its 5.1 update.

Tests with the Geekbench 2 app got scores that were about in line with the iPad 2. WiFi speed tests using the SpeedTest app showed that the iPad mini had slightly slower ping times than my iPad 3 but faster download speeds and about the same upload speeds. I also tested it against my iPad 3 in  loading iPad Insight, Yahoo, and other web pages – and both iPads seemed just about equal on page loads.

It has also shown its speed very nicely when installing heavily-used apps on it. Importing nearly 2,000 notes on its first launch of Evernote, for example. Or when syncing the OmniFocus and 1Password databases, or pulling all of my Google Reader data (for 200+ subscriptions) to Reeder.

iPad mini home screen

Apps

So far I’ve used the iPad mini heavily for email, browsing, a few games (mostly Letterpress and Tank Battle: 1944), writing (in Byword, iA Writer, and Evernote), keeping up with news via Reeder, Flipboard, Zite and other sources, socializing via Tweetbot, Facebook, Google+ and other networks, keeping up with site stats and comments moderation, listening to music and watching video, reading iPad newspapers, magazines as well as books in the iBooks and Kindle apps, and assessing apps for review. In other words, I’ve been using it for just about everything I’ve become used to using an iPad for.

As mentioned above, I’ve already installed 90+ apps and they’re all performing very well on the iPad mini. The only type of app that I’ve largely left off the iPad mini thus far is big (in file size terms) reference or ‘coffee table book’ sort of apps – as this is a 32GB model and there’s plenty of room for those sort of apps on my iPad 3. It’s nice to see that the operating system / system files take up just over 4GB on the iPad mini – leaving nearly 28GB available for user apps and data on a 32GB device.

So far I’ve not had any issues with touch points or buttons being too small on the iPad mini, nor with the thinner bezels and seeing any unintended touch response when holding it in those areas.

Flipboard on iPad mini

Tank Battle on ipad mini

Battery Life

No shocker here either. The iPad mini gets great battery life. I’m easily going two days and a bit more of moderate to heavy usage without needing to charge. For instance I charged it to 100% early afternoon on Saturday (around 1:20PM) and it wasn’t until 5PM on Monday that it got down to 10%.

Charging it with Apple’s new 12W USB power adapter took it from 10% to 100% in under 3 hours.

Overall

As awful as it is to ever borrow a line from a McDonalds ad, the best way to sum up my experience with the iPad mini is: I’m loving it. Apple touted it as being ‘every inch an iPad’ and it is – but a much, much lighter iPad.

I agree with John Gruber of Daring Fireball that this would not have been the right size for the original iPad, but it is absolutely the right size now, and very possibly the favorite size for most users in future. My 4th grade daughter uses iPad 2s in her classroom. They share just a few of them, but there are school districts near us that already do one iPad per student. I know that my daughter, and I imagine most students, will love this lighter, smaller iPad. The first two people in line with me at Crazy O’ Clock last week for the iPad mini launch were a pair of middle school and high school students. Both already have an iPad 2 given to them by their school, but were out there waiting on the mini.

Of course, the iPad mini looks great as well. I’m a big fan of the new slate back and it feels great to hold too.

I’m still working out my usage pattern for when I’m using iPad mini, the iPad 3, and my MacBook Pro. My iPhone was long ago demoted to being largely ‘just’ a phone and camera. I think when my MacBook Pro is ready to be replaced I won’t be getting another laptop – as I use it like a desktop really, and the iPad has become my laptop. So I might replace it with a Mac Mini – which would have a far smaller footprint on my desk and would likely end up costing me around half of what a MacBook Pro would, even with a memory upgrade. The Mac Mini would sort of share duties with whichever ‘big iPad’ I have by then, and the iPad mini would become more of my laptop device.

That’s getting ahead of myself though. For now I can say that the iPad mini is rapidly becoming my favorite device and I already hate the idea of being without it for any number of days when I need to return it within its 14 day return window to help pay for the WiFi + Cellular model.

I think the iPad mini is already a superb device. When it inevitably gets a retina (or whatever future best display tech Apple comes up with) upgrade and perhaps a bit of bump up in processor and RAM specs, this will be a damn near irresistible device.

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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12 thoughts on “iPad mini Review: The Joy of Being a Lightweight

  1. Nice review. I got to use one at Best Buy for a few minutes and was quite impressed. I could see myself getting one to use while being mobile and just using my ipad 3 at home. The weight difference was unreal.

  2. Well written. Thanks! I virtually always use my iPad in landscape mode. That’s what I would prefer on any tablet. That said, you mention the 35% larger display area on the iPad Mini, (most other reviews do too) but that’s in portrait mode. If you compare viewing area in landscape mode the iPad Mini is a full 67% larger than the 7″ tablets.

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