The iPad mini goes on sale 2 November, and while specs and features won’t come as a surprise to many, I’ve been enjoying an early test run over the last week, using it in place of a 3rd generation iPad – the one with the Retina display – to see how it fits into my daily life.
Just like the iPhone 5, reading about the mini only goes part way to conveying how the device really feels once you have it in your hands. Measuring 200mm by 135mm, it fits comfortably in one hand, and the 7.2mm thick case lends an air of quality, while still being quite sturdy.
Also available in white and silver, the black and slate unit we tested is understatedly attractive, although the metallic slate finish on the back does retain some fingerprint smudging.
The front edging of the ‘unibody’ chassis has the same diamond-chamfered design as the iPhone 5, and it’s light too, weighing about half that of a full-fat iPad at 308 grams. Apple has remained consistent with the button layout, so the home button, power, volume controls and mute/orientation lock switch are in the same positions as they are on iPhones and the larger iPads.
All up, the device will be familiar for those migrating from other Apple gear.
Of course, the big focal point of the mini is its screen. It’s 7.9 inches, which is larger than most tablets in the 7inch category, however another key difference is its aspect ratio. While the mini’s closest competitors (7-inch Android tablets from various manufacturers) have a form factor that follows their 16:9 ratio, the mini tracks a 4:3 form.
This is the same shape as the larger iPad 2 and iPad 3, which means all of the existing iPad apps will fit onto the mini’s screen without any jiggery-pokery. Another big plus is that the 4:3 aspect ratio is wider, which translates into a better viewing experience for web browsing, reading books and tablet magazines, mail and apps.
Also, when held in landscape mode, the onscreen keyboard doesn’t occupy most of the screen. Overall, the 16:9 shape used by Android tablets is optimal only for watching 16:9 videos, but is quite narrow when held in portrait mode, and fairly shallow in landscape mode.
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.