The 7.9in tablet arrives on the market as Apple follows competitors by making a pocket-sized device. Does the iPad mini retain the magic of the original?
The Californian firm may have taken time to release a cut-down 7.9in edition of its popular tablet, but it has done so with gusto: the iPad mini is the most physically accomplished tablet on the market. At a mere 7.2mm it's considerably slimmer than the Fire HD and Nexus 7, and its weight of 308g makes it lighter as well.
The iPad mini is a lovely thing to hold in the hand, with a flat, matte aluminium panel at the rear and slightly rounded corners and edges. As with other iPads, any ports, switches and buttons are kept to a minimum: the single home key sits below the screen; there’s a volume and silence switch along the top right-hand edge; the power switch is just around the corner from that; and the Lighting connector sits on the bottom edge.
It isn't only the physical design of the iPad mini that's appealing, though. At 7.9in the screen is nearly an inch larger than its rivals and, critically, this doesn’t have too much of an impact on the overall size of the tablet. Unusually narrow bezels to the left and right of the screen ensure it isn’t too wide; at 135mm, it’s 1.5cm broader than the Nexus 7. Those with small hands will struggle to grip the tablet around both edges.
The quality of the IPS panel is up to Apple's usual standards. A maximum brightness of 389cd/m2 sets it in front of the Nexus 7, and a contrast of 720:1 ensures images and video look vibrant and leap off the screen.
The iPad mini has a thickness of 7.2mm, and it's lovely to hold in the hand
If you were expecting a Retina display similar to the one on the full-sized iPad, however, you’ll be disappointed. When the mini's 1,024 x 768 resolution is stretched over the 4:3 ratio display, it gives a pixel density of only 163ppi - almost half that of the 3rd/4th-generation iPad with its glorious Retina display. It’s also a noticeable distance behind the displays of the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, both of which offer 1,280 x 800 and a pixel density of 216ppi.
In use, the lower resolution is clearly noticeable, and icons, text and graphics have a visibly grainy quality that isn’t apparent on its cheaper rivals. It looks precisely as you’d expect a shrunken iPad 2 to look. We’re surprised Apple didn’t see fit to endow the iPad mini with a Retina display, especially given the premium price tag, but in day-to-day use the lack of pixels isn’t that big a deal.
What also isn’t that big a deal is the smaller screen size. It’s true that the buttons and general UI furniture don’t resize on the mini, and so are smaller and slightly fiddlier to press. The narrow screen bezel means that if you hold the screen a certain way, your thumb can creep onto the touchscreen surface and inadvertently turn pages in the Kindle app, for instance.
These are by no means big problems, however, and using the keyboard is a surprisingly pleasant experience. Although you won’t be touch-typing on it, it’s easy to get up a reasonable head of speed, and it’s perfectly good for tapping out emails and social network updates.
OS: iOS 6
PROCESSOR: 1GHz dual-core
STORAGE: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB SSD
SCREEN: 7.9in IPS (1024 x 768)
CONNECTIVITY: 802.11abgn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
CAMERA: 5-megapixel rear, HD front
PORTS: 1 x Lightening connector
DIMENSIONS: 135 x 75 x 200mm
WEIGHT: 308g (312g with 4G)