I’ve been using an iPad mini instead of my third-generation iPad for the past few days. I’m no stranger to the seven-ish-inch form factor, having a Nexus 7. I like the size more than I expected to, based on my experience with the full-sized iPad. I’ve frequently wished that my iPad was actually a little bigger, wishing its screen was more of the size of a comic book. Instead, Apple decided to go the other way and make a small one.
The first impression the iPad mini makes is “it’s light”. In fact, after days of use, the light weight is my favorite aspect of it. Sure, the smaller overall dimensions are occassionally nice but, in general, I find that I am better served by the more generously endowed model.
For larger tablets, in terms of aspect ratio, I’m very much in favor of the 4:3 ratio versus the longer 16:9-10 of the competition. In the seven-inch size category, I find this to be less emphatically true, but I still appreciate that Apple stuck with it for the “mini”.
The screen is by far the biggest let-down of the iPad mini. Most reviews I’ve seen have let the mini off the hook far too easily in this regard. Text on the mini is far blurrier than I expected, even in comparison to the Nexus 7, let alone a Retina iPad. The Nexus 7 has marginally higher resolution but, in concert with its slightly smaller size, the sharpness of the Nexus is clearly superior. Additionally, my iPad mini has a blue color cast compared to my iPad 2, third-generation iPad, and the Nexus 7. The iPad mini has been described as a smaller iPad 2, and there’s a lot of truth to that, but I was surprised to find that the mini looked blurrier in practice than my iPad 2. Overall, the screen is the biggest thing holding the iPad mini back (no pun intended).
One bright spot with regards to the screen was reading magazines on it. I thought that the smaller iPad with a low resolution screen would really make the magazine reading experience bad, with complicated layouts that rely on small stylized text. Reading several magazines, including the most recent (and excellently re-implemented) Esquire magazine, was a real pleasure. Comic books were decidedly inferior, especially compared to Comixology’s HD versions, which are presented only on high-resolution devices like a Retina Display. Still, I did enjoy the weight difference when reading for an extended period of time.
As an aside for those who enjoy photography and the associated gear, when the ThinkTank Retrospective 5 came out, I decided it was (as most photo bags are) almost perfect. I wrote to the company and asked for a Retrospective 6: a bag exactly like the 5, but with just enough extra capacity to carry an iPad. ThinkTank went a little too far and came up instead with the Retrospective 7, which accommodates an iPad or an 11-inch MacBook Air. It’s too big, heavy, and close to the Retrospective 10 for my tastes. The Retrospective 5 can accommodate the iPad mini in its front pocket, making this by far the best reason for me to desire one: it allows me to use my favorite bag I don’t carry. That I own the 5, 7, and 10 tells you how much I love these bags, even though none of them is “just right”.
From the hardware front, the screen is the only thing that favors the Nexus 7, other than the price differential. The apps and iOS itself, as expected, work very well on the mini. The software ecosystem is alone enough reason to own the iPad mini ahead of the Nexus 7, in my opinion, but that gap is narrowing with each release of Android.
So, in summary, the weight of the iPad mini is the star. Once I went back to my full-sized iPad, it was like I’d been wearing clothes that were ever-so-slightly too small and I had been walking around without eyeglasses, where I really could have used them. I found that what I really want isn’t a small iPad (unless it’s to go out with a small photo bag), but a lighter, full-sized iPad.
I also have had the chance to use the fourth-generation iPad, albeit in much more limited fashion. I had one on order for myself, but ordered one for testing at work, which arrived first. (Mine hadn’t arrived because it was an LTE model, which don’t ship until later in November.)
Bottom line: it’s faster, but I decided that it wasn’t different enough from the third-generation, and I canceled my order. It would be a great update, a no-brainer really, if you own an iPad 2 or older.