Apple iPad Mini Review: In Depth

The iPad Mini is the fifth generation iPad and the first to deviate from the 9.7-inch screen size, with it’s 7-inch screen. The 7-inch tablet market has been neglected, RIM’s BlackBerry Playbook has great hardware, however the lack of native email on launch disappointed fans, it was only when Google joined forces with Asus to create the Nexus 7, with a quad core processor and – crucially – £169 price point, that the tablet market got its first runaway success.

Apple dominates the tablet market, so producing a smaller (and cheaper) iPad is a natural progression – and of course a reason to stop people investing in Android products. But how does this tablet compare to Google’s offering and is there room for another iPad?

Apple iPad Mini: Design

Whether or not you’re an Apple fan, you’ll appreciate the craftsmanship of the iPad Mini, it’s the latest in a long line of premium products from Apple. The aluminium unibody is just 7.2mm deep, yet despite being slim, it’s still sturdy. 

The iPad Mini comes in two variations – black and slate  or white and silver. We’ve been using the black and slate version, which with its matt finish, is more subtle than the iPhone 5 and less of a fingerprint magnet. At 308g, it’s a whopping 53 per cent lighter than the iPad and incredibly portable to boot, but although you can just about hold it with one hand, it’s not particularly comfortable for prolonged periods.

To create the iPad Mini Apple hasn’t simply just shrunk the iPad – there are some stylistic differences. The vertical bezel is notably slimmer and the main control buttons is slightly smaller than the iPad, while running down the side are separate volume controls.

Orientation lock, 3.5mm jack and power control sit along the top as usual. The sole connector is at the bottom is Apple’s new Lightning port, which is far smaller than the 32-pin connector and comes with a reversible connector, either side are good stereo speakers.

Apple refers to the iPad Mini as a ‘concentration, rather than a reduction, of the original’ so many of the specifications match the original, so the smaller 16.3-watt-hour battery lasts 10 hours and there’s a 5-megapixel camera.

The iPad Mini comes in capacities of 16, 32 and 64GB and like previous versions there’s no option for using removable memory. Soon, as well as support for 3G, you’ll be able to buy a SIM card and connect on the move,while 4G support brings access to ultra-fast speeds.  Like the iPad 4, the iPad Mini it will only support the 1800MHz band used by EE (and Three next year), not future bands Vodafone and O2 may bid on in 2013.

Apple iPad Mini: Screen

The 7.9-inch LCD screen has a 1024×768 resolution, which is the same as the iPad 2 and it’s bright and colourful. However, it’s certainly not as impressive as the Retina display on the iPad 3 and fourth generation iPad. Text although sharp and readable doesn’t leap out at you from the page, there are also more jagged edges, which are particularly evident when playing games. Side-by-side with the Nexus 7, Google’s tablet with it’s higher resolution is more impressive.

IPS technology ensures viewing angles are excellent, We tested a few games on the iPad Mini and found the smaller size actually improved the gaming experience – the device is easier to hold and touchscreen controls easier to use – bear in mind that it’s similar size to the Sony PlayStation Vita (200mm’s to the Sony’s 182mm).

There’s more than enough screen real estate for movies and text, although you’ll notice the difference if you’ve swapped from a bigger tablet to the iPad Mini.

Apple iPad Mini: Operating System

Launching with the latest version of iOS – iOS 6, the UI is identical to the iPad, just with smaller icons. It’s very simple to use – drag apps around multiple homescreens and combine them to create folders, so if you’ve come from an iPhone or iPod Touch, it will be instantly familiar. Alternatively, if this is your first tablet you’ll be able to pick it up and use it straight away.

If you’ve come from an Android phone, it’s far less flexible – there are no live widgets, sharing options are limited (although Facebook integration is welcome) and the pull-down notifications bar is limited.

Siri is excellent – with support for businesses and film reviews, whether you’ll be comfortable talking into a 9.7-inch tablet is another matter. Apple Maps has it’s flaws, which you can read more about here.

One area Apple still surpasses Android is the quantity of tablet apps and everything designed and optimised for the iPad will work with the iPad Mini – which means over 275,000 apps.

Apple iPad Mini: Performance

The iPad Mini includes Apple’s dual-core A5 chip – the same used in the iPad 3. It feels exceptionally quick. You can easily swap between applications – whether it’s streaming HD video, play games or browsing the internet.

Graphics performance is excellent- run a graphically intensive game like N.O.V.A.3 and it can easily handle fast moving action and display detail like the burning buildings. – easily matching the iPad 4. Gaming is also very smooth – even 3D games launch quickly and run without lag. 

Battery performance is excellent, with heavy use during the day and evening, it lasted well into the second day, although we didn’t test the 4G version, which may impact battery performance further.

Apple iPad Mini: Camera

The iPad Mini has a 5-megapixel camera, with autofocus and face detection, which takes decent photographs. It does lack some of the features of the iPhone 5, so there’s no Panorama or HDR mode, which means it can struggle with scenes with contrasting highlight and shadow detail.

If you’ve used an iPad – or any tablet – to take photographs you’ll know the larger size means camera shake a blurred shots can be more of an issue than with a smartphone. Macro photographs are sharp and colour rendition is good.

Full HD 1080p movies are pretty good, action is smooth, although fine detail is not quite as sharp as we’d like. There’s also a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera for making video calls using Skype, with decent video quality.

Apple iPad Mini: Verdict

There are hardware compromises, the smaller screen has a lower resolution than rivals, but in use it doesn’t feel like a compromise and the wide selection of apps makes it more enticing than Google’s tablet.

The iPad Mini is likely to appeal to a generation of iPhone and iPod Touch users who have bought into Apple’s ecosystem, yet never justified the £329 price for the 9.7-inch tablet. With prices starting at £269, it’s too expensive – it’s only £50 more for the 9.7-inch iPad 2, £249 would have been a more reasonable price, however there are a lot of people out there who have waiting for a tablet this size from Apple.

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