Apple’s iPad Mini reviewed

Screen test

The mini’s LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS display has the same 1024 x 768 resolution as the larger iPad 2. This means the pixels are smaller and closer together than the iPad 2 (163 pixels per inch versus 132), but it’s certainly no match for the sharpness of the iPad with Retina display, which has a super-fine 264ppi.

Still, the mini’s display is fine for viewing small text on web pages. But only to a point, as some of the finer text found in some tablet magazines from the Apple Newsstand were a little fuzzy. Despite the display’s compact dimensions, however, you should be happy enough reading most things on the iPad mini, and we didn’t encounter anything that we wanted to read but couldn’t.

The screen also dictates the size of the onscreen keyboard. Yes, it’s smaller than a full-sized iPad, but larger than the iPhone, so it’s not difficult to use, especially in landscape mode. However, it’s not something that you would want to write a lengthy tome on, and the idea of connecting a Bluetooth keyboard seems a little strange for such a small device, but definitely doable via the mini’s Bluetooth 4.0 connection.

In terms of reading, the mini is a similar size to many popular ebook readers, and does an admirable job substituting print and paper. You can hold the mini comfortably in one hand, and with the recent update to Apple’s iBooks reader, you can now scroll pages one-handed rather than using your opposite hand to flip pages.

An iBook page as it appears on the mini (left) and a magazine page from Apple's Newstand (right). Only the text in the small green box was difficult to read.

Like Apple’s other iPhone and iPads, there are only a couple of physical connections, including the headphone jack and new Lightning connector. USB and SD card connections can still be made with the purchase of Lightning adaptors. Otherwise, the case design is similar to the iPhone 5 at the bottom. The stereo speakers do put out a fairly decent amount of sound, and retain depth at higher volumes. A FaceTime HD camera is on the front, which captures 720p video for video conferencing, plus there’s a 5MP iSight camera on the back for photos and recording HD video.

While it can’t shoot panoramic shots like the iPhone 5, the rear camera does provide image stabilisation for recording 1080p, or full HD, videos. Photo quality is reasonable from the F2.4 lens system, with useful low-light performance, touch-based focus and exposure controls and face detection for up to 10 faces. Still, it’s not quite up to iPhone 5 camera’s standard, but will get the job done for most uses.

The photo taken from the iPad mini (left) is slightly more exposed and has more grain than the comparison shot taken with the iPhone 5 (right).

While the unit we tested did not have 4G (or LTE) connectivity, the mini will come with this option a few weeks after the Wi-Fi only versions are released on 2 November. Like the iPhone 5, the system can also revert back to DC-HSDPA, which is also fairly speedy, and then 3G if an LTE signal isn’t available. Apple has confirmed the mini will work with 4G LTE from Telstra, Optus and Virgin, and it will use the very small nano-SIM format.

Since there are few physical connections, most of the time you’ll use Wi-Fi to transfer information in and out. Apple has equipped the mini with the ability to combine two Wi-Fi streams together for improved performance – up to a theoretical 150Mbps. To do this, you’ll need to be running on an 802.11n type of Wi-Fi connection that has both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies.