Image Gallery: iPad Mini Hands-On

Nov 06, 2012 (10:11 AM EST)

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Apple's iPad Mini is an expensive but excellent small tablet.

The first thing that wowed me about the Mini was its size and weight. I really can hold it in comfort with one hand. To me that alone is worth the price difference between, say the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD.

Then there are the apps. The first thing I installed was Twitter as it's my favorite social media tool. But after some testing I found that apps from media outlets like The New York Times, The Daily, and BYTE, of course, were what I gravitated to. That's because the Mini's size, weight, and screen make media consumption easy -- so much so that the Mini is now my go-to device for that kind of activity.

Here's a major plus for the iPad Mini: The same apps that work on the iPad work on the Mini, too. That's because the Mini is an iPad 2 only smaller and lighter. It's got a similar processor -- the A5 -- and 512 MB of RAM. Even the display is the same resolution, just shrunk.

In other words, the computing hardware isn't all that impressive, but that isn't the point. The point is that all the iPad apps work out of the box on the Mini. And they work flawlessly. When the chips are down, Apple's app ecosystem is going to be what separates the Mini from the competition.

I wrote this review on the Mini using a Bluetooth keyboard.

Name: iPad Mini

For a first-time tablet buyer the Mini is a great option. It's clearly more expensive than the Kindle Fire or Google Nexus 7, but its size, hardware and app ecosystem make the extra bucks worth it. If you already own a tablet, though, there isn't much reason to rush out and buy a Mini.
Price: $329.00
  • The envious look on your friends' faces.
  • Apple's app ecosystem.
  • The size: it fits in hand, easily in a bag.
  • Weight: at 308g it's possible to hold for a long time without fatigue.
  • Easy to read text on.
  • 10 hours of battery life.
  • Easy to hold in two hands and type.
  • Stereo speakers in bad place.
  • Starts at $329, significantly more than other tablets in its class.
  • No Apple-provided Google Maps or YouTube apps.

Being slightly larger than the typical 7-inch tablet, the iPad Mini is a bit too big for some purposes, like fitting in a pocket. It didn't fit into the inside pocket of my jacket.

The Mini comes in 16-GB ($329), 32-GB ($429), and 64-GB ($529) models. It is also available with cellular service on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon for $130 more than the Wi-Fi-only model.

The Mini isn't perfect. One of the first things I noticed was the stereo speakers are located on the bottom of the device. Not only is having them so close together not ideal for stereo sound, but when you hold the Mini to watch a movie or video in landscape, your right hand blocks the speakers. Of course, it's easy enough to plug headphones in and enjoy stereo sound in every orientation.

The Mini is noticeably thinner than an iPhone 4, but it weighs more than twice as much: 308 grams vs. 137 grams. Still, the Mini is light enough that I could hold it for extended periods of time without noticeable fatigue. It was easy to hold in one hand at the breakfast table and read the news, check email, social media, and so on.

Like the iPhone 4, the iPad Mini has a 5-MP iSight camera on the back that's pretty fast -- f2.8. The back camera also shoots 1080p movies. The front camera is only 1.2 MP, which makes photos look pretty grainy. The front camera's 720p movies also looked grainy to me.

The screen is pretty good. I tried out the Netflix app and the streaming looks decent at 720p. As someone involved in film production I'd be a lot happier with 1080p, but 720p is broadcast quality and I'm not sure how much of a difference it would make on such a small screen. For reading text the iPad Mini is fantastic. Apple hit a home run there.

Apple no longer includes Google's YouTube app with iPads and it doesn't come with the iPad Mini, either. You'll have to install the YouTube app yourself, from the App Store.

The bigger problem is the absence of Google Maps. I have to say that Apple Maps did just fine for me in San Francisco, despite its poor reputation. But Apple Maps doesn't have Google Map's just-added support for offline maps and bicycling navigation.