Over the last two months, Apple has updated almost all of its core product lines, with the addition of a 13” model to the Retina MacBook Pro line and new silicon for the iPad and Mac mini to go with ground up redesigns for the iPhone, iMac, iPod touch, and iPod nano. But the biggest story from the “little more” event was definitely the introduction of the iPad mini, a 7.9” counterpart to the 9.7” tablet that started it all.

We’ve been hearing whispers of a 7” Apple-built tablet since even before the original iPad was shown off in January 2010. By late 2011, the speculative consensus seemed to center around a 7.85” iPad targeted at the then-new Kindle Fire, with a 1024x768 resolution that would give it the same pixel density as the iPhone 3GS and a resolution that matched the regular 9.7” iPad. We’ve basically been hearing about this new device every two weeks since then. Apple’s “veil of secrecy” is almost entirely gone at this point, something that is getting more obvious with every new product launch and a fact I think is worth mentioning because we’ve essentially known what the iPad mini was going to be, design and component-wise, since late summer.

The result is a healthy blend of parts-bin engineering, a device that shares features and components with many other iOS devices. The design language is nearly identical to that of the fifth generation iPod touch, as is the SoC (the 32nm shrink of A5, also shared with the iPad 2,4) and camera - a 5MP sensor with Apple’s five-element, f/2.4 optical system. With the same aspect ratio and screen resolution as the iPad 2, the iOS software stack is pretty straightforward too.

The Retina display technology is one that very prominently didn’t trickle down to the iPad mini; with seemingly the entire rest of Apple’s mobile lineup going Retina, from the iPod touch all the way up to the 15” MacBook Pro, the lack of a super-high resolution panel is noteworthy. We’re left with a 7.85” IPS panel (rounded to 7.9” in Apple’s marketing material) that runs a 1024x768 resolution and a pixel density of 163. That’s the same as the first generation iPhone (as the 3G/3GS), which was cutting edge back in 2007, and half that of the iPhone 4/4S/5. I’ll talk more about the display later on, but it’s safe to say that the Retina display is the single biggest omission from the iPad mini feature list.

iPad Specification Comparison
  Apple iPad mini Apple iPad 4 Apple iPad 3 Apple iPad 2 Apple iPad
Dimensions 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8mm 243.0 x 190.0 x 13.4mm
Display 7.85-inch 1024 x 768 IPS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS
Weight 308g (WiFi) 652g (WiFi) 652g (WiFi) 601g (WiFi) 680g (WiFi)
Processor 1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX543MP2)

Apple A6X (2 x Swift, PowerVR SGX 554MP4)

Apple A5X (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX 543MP4)

1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX543MP2) 1GHz Apple A4 (1 x Cortex A8, PowerVR SGX 535)
Connectivity WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 3G WiFi , Optional 3G
Memory 512MB 1GB 1GB 512MB 256MB
Storage 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB
Battery 16.3Wh 42.5Wh 42.5Wh 25Wh 25Wh
Starting Price $329 $499 - $399 -

Unlike previous releases of the 9.7” iPad, which have all come with new SoCs or otherwise significant internal upgrades, there’s not much in the way of silicon-level innovation. Each iPad has come with a new SoC, with A4, A5, A5R2, A5X, and A6X all showing up first in the various iPads, and the only major Apple SoC release in that time to not ship first in an iPad was A6, which of course came alongside the iPhone 5 two months ago. The iPad mini, on the other hand, is on paper basically just an iPad 2,4 in miniature form, plus better cameras, optional LTE, and new industrial design.

The mini is available with the same color schemes as the iPhone 5, with the black or white bezels being joined by slate and silver anodized aluminum chassis, respectively. NAND options are the usual 16/32/64GB, with LTE-enabled models available through AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Pricing starts off at $329, with NAND going for $100 per step and $130 for LTE, as on the other iPads. This is a major point of contention with the mini, because the most obvious rivals in the Android world, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD 7”, start at $199 and charge less for NAND upgrades. A 32GB Nexus 7 will run you $249, same with the 32GB Kindle Fire HD, while a 32GB iPad mini goes for the rather princely sum of $429. You could buy two 16GB Nexus 7s and a bundle of paid apps for the same as a 32GB mini.

But here’s the thing - I don’t consider the iPad mini a competitor to the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7, to me, is what I buy if I’m in the market for a $199 tablet or I want a 7” Android device. It’s a completely different experience than the iPad mini. In my mind, the closest competitors for the iPad mini are, in order, the iPad 2, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, and the Nook Tablet HD+. The iPad 2 is obvious because these are the two lowest priced iOS tablets right now, and with similar underlying hardware, they’re actually pretty closely matched. I think the latter two are especially interesting comparisons to make, because all three exist in the ~$300 “small premium tablet” niche that has suddenly appeared.

Consider it like the Mini Cooper equivalent in the tablet world - a premium experience offered at a very attainable (if not particularly value-oriented) price point. Obviously, that game plan has worked very well for BMW in the automotive world, and certainly if any company could use it successfully in consumer electronics, it would be Apple. The business case for it almost writes itself, but does it result in a truly stand-out product or a half-hearted me-too attempt by Apple to grab a share of the budget tablet market? With relatively little in the way of new hardware to talk about, a lot of this review will center around the user experience, and that’s really what will determine how successful it is. Let’s start with the major differentiating factor brought by the iPad mini, the new form factor.

Ergonomics
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  • Constructor - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    You keep it from even installing any of the offered updates and then you complain that it doesn't work as well as it should?

    Look into a mirror one of these days if you're searching for the source of your problems.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I have a 3rd gen iPad and decided to give the mini a try. I was a little reluctant because of the display (it is definitely a step down from the 3rd gen), but I agree with Anand that the form factor is great. The full size iPad is a little heavy to hold and read on a train or airplane, but the mini excels at that. Hopefully Anand is wrong and Apple can figure out a way to get a Retina Display into the mini form factor sometime in 2013. If they do, I think that the mini would actually be the preferred iPad choice overall.

    I had an original Kindle Fire last year, but never used it much and wound up selling it. I think I'll keep the iPad mini, though for now I also think I'll keep the 3rd gen iPad.
    Reply
  • ABR - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    The Mini is all well-and-good for the "carry-it-anywhere-squint-and-peer" crowd, but as someone who mainly uses my iPad on the couch and such around the house, I'd rather have one with a BIGGER display, not smaller. Make it thinner so there's no weight penalty, and with a display about the size of an 8-1/2x11 sheet, or a standard magazine. (Particularly since magazine and other media consumption is a big use.) Reply
  • uhuznaa - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    There's no way to make it thinner or just weight the same with a larger display. The display is a major power consument in tablets, make it larger, brighter or in a higher resolution and it draws *much* more power. Reply
  • PrayForDeath - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Hey Ananad,

    When can we expect to see the iPad 4 review? I'd love to read your in-depth analysis on the new hardware and how it compares to previous generations.
    Reply
  • chleuasme - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Why on your pictures for the comparison of the letter 'e' and the 'topic of the webcast' text, the RGB components of pixels appear vertically aligned on the mini, and horizontally aligned on the iPad 2. And the contrary on the Safari icon comparison on the mini vs the 4? Reply
  • chleuasme - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    And same* thing* on the Safari icon Reply
  • A.T. - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Please some "fanboy" leaves an and staff alone. I think they did a fair comparison, and comment about it. It is foolish to say that is 1 and a half year technology, why don't those fanboy army try to make it and fit the 45nm A5X or A6 with holding 10 hours battery life without make it thicker.

    It is a nice device for reading and easy to carry around but there is a downsize to become a productive tool at work. The price is relatively expensive than other, but the thing is Apple is a company that unlike google and amazon to cut their throat and sell it with no profit because Apple is software and hardware company and Google and amazon is ads and service company.
    Reply
  • pliablemoosethebanned - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I bought a N7, and use it every day,

    I'll be selling the N7 and replacing it with a mini, will likely wait till it hits the Apple refurb store though.

    Build quality: the iPad mini wins, hands down,

    Form factor: again, a big plus, the thing feels more like an e-reader than a tablet, and the extra screen real estate does make a big difference. 7" is just too small for a great smaller tablet experience.

    Software: Yeah, iOS is due for an overhaul, but frankly, I have never used widgets that much, preferring to use folders to group the actual apps. I tire of widget overload, saw an SGN II the other day with the home screen filled with widgets and it was way too damn busy.

    And as far as the "OMFG, Anand is biased" comments, give it a flipping rest, the man benches the crap out of the latest and greatest on a nearly daily basis, can he be allowed to like something you don't?

    Anand likely cost Apple millions by proving the antenna system on the iP4 was defective, and he has some very strong empirically proven data that the iPad mini is a parts bin device with a screen that lags the industry. Yet the device meets his needs.
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    http://www.displaymate.com/iPad_mini_ShootOut_1.ht...

    It seems the reflections are the worst of its problems, as this tablet is more likely to be used outside
    Reply

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