There was never a doubt in my mind that I would love the iPad mini. Now I have had a couple of days with the new cellular 32GB mini, I can confirm that it is all I expected. And more. The size and weight is just what I have always wanted from an iPad and the quality, with its metal and glass construction is faultless. It feels absolutely right in the hands and it is now my constant companion, much more a faithful follower than the bigPad with its size and bulk. This is the iPad we have been waiting for.
When the original iPad was introduced by Steve Jobs I was disappointed that it was so large and heavy. Right from the start I wanted a smaller, lighter device: A Kindle tablet, no less. Jobs was not infallible, of course, and his finger-sharpening quip convinced no one, especially not iPhone owners who were even then productive despite their podgy digits. More likely Apple had decided that it couldn’t at the time produce a smaller iPad because of the difficulty in squeezing all the gubbins into a smaller case while still offering acceptable battery life. Now things have changed and the iPad mini is the result.
The first thing I looked at, unsurprisingly, was the screen. This non-retina display has been roundly criticised simply because it isn’t retina. In reality it is a very good screen with the same resolution as the iPad 2 but over a smaller area. Unless I put it side by side with my retina-equipped “new” iPad, aka iPad 3, I honestly cannot tell the difference. In the real world, sitting on trains, browsing in Starbucks and reading in bed, this screen is absolutely ok. Please do not be put off by the angels-dancing-on-pins dogma of the self-appointed pixel police. You will find this screen perfectly adequate. Interestingly, Ben Brooks absolutely disagrees with me on this. In his view it is impossible to go back to a non-retina display after being spoiled by the newcomer.
The iPad mini is immediately more useful and convenient than the iPad, simply because of its size and weight. Reading in bed is no longer a wrist-breaking chore and the device fits in the corner of a bag, alongside, say, a MacBook Air, without being noticed. With the bigger iPad it is a simple choice: MacBook or iPad. Now you can take both. The mini is even pocketable provided you have big enough pockets. It is too wide for the inside pocket of a suit jacket or sports coat, but only by three or four millimetres. Overcoats are a different matter. It will fit the front pockets of one of Barbour’s finest Beaufort or Bedale jackets, although it is a little too long to allow the flap to be studded into place. Whatever, is infinitely more handy than the big iPad.
The narrow sides of the screen frame take a bit of getting used to after holding the bigger model. Inevitibly fingers stray on to the screen and Apple’s new software tweak helps prevent this triggering unwanted actions. On the other hand, if you do have to press a virtual button near the edge you will find it sometimes doesn’t work and needs a second prod. I discovered this while trying to close down an app sitting at the far left of the bottom launchbar. After pressing the application icon to bring up the jiggles and Xs, I found it difficult to press the X to close the app. I then realised this is caused by the software damping introduced to prevent unwanted actions. It’s a minor point and I will put up with this in return for the narrower device.
Incidentally, in this respect, I find Kindle reading in landscape (which means the wider top-and-bottom screen frames become the holding areas) is much better than on the bigger iPad. Set to two-column display, Kindle books in landscape on the mini resemble the dimensions of a real book. Up to now I have always preferred reading books on the iPhone but I think the mini, which is similar in size to a Kindle, will now become my reader of choice.
Overall, the mini looks and feels a better quality device than its bigger brother. The slate black version I ordered is absolutely superb and is a thing of beauty, much more so than my iPad 3 with its silver back and radically chamfered back edges (I preferred the more squared-off design of the iPad 2).
I was prepared to wait a month for the cellular version and it was the right choice. The mini, like the iPhone, is likely to be a constant companion and deserves, if not demands, 3G/4G constant connection. I have never been a fan of wifi-only devices and have always specified cellular. Apart from cellular being almost essential for the mini, there is the security aspect. As I found last February, the iPad’s cellular connection helps recover a stolen device before the thieves have had time to cover their tracks.
Time will tell, but I believe the introduction of the iPad mini will be the defining moment in the history of Apple tablets. I would not be surprised to find it significally outselling the bigger iPad, not just because of the lower price but because of its all-round rightness. I doubt I shall ever again be tempted by a 10-in tablet, however wonderful the screen. My existing iPad 3 is on notice of immediate sale, retina screen and all, if I do not have occasion to use it before Christmas. As for the screen, we can certainly expect a retina display just as soon as Apple is able to achieve acceptanle overall size while maintaining the industry-leading battery life we expect. Next autumn is my guess.
What we shouldn’t overlook is that in one way Jobs was right. Apple would never produce a 7-in tablet. Instead, by a cunning sleight of hand, Cupertino has introduced an 8-in tablet that is no bigger that competing 7-in devices. What’s more, it is significantly lighter that smaller-screen competitors. Read my comparison article.
The mini is here to stay and I believe it will be the iPad for the future.
by Mike Evans, 7 December 2012