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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  • menevets - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I own an iPad and debated between the Mini and the Nexus 7. I went with the Nexus 7.

    Without rooting, I can copy files from camera to external hard drive without resorting to wifi or buying anything extra. GPS, turn by turn voice navigation, offline maps, easy integration with Google tools like Mail, Picasa Web, YouTube, etc... I can see why someone would want a wider screen, but the narrower N7 can fit in more pockets and make for easier holding on the train. And in general, there is much more detail in settings.

    The N7 is sorely missing a rear facing camera. I like to photograph articles, documents, basically text. The 1.2 megapixel front facing camera is not enough to capture text clearly. The build quality is a little suspect, for example, the screen lifting problem.

    Jelly Bean, in general, may be more buttery smooth than its predecessors, but it is much easier navigating iOS, selecting text, scrolling, etc... iOS is much more responsive.

    Obviously iOS app selection is better, but I notice that Android equivalent apps are not as good. For example, the Kindle app on iOS, when you highlight a word on the bottom of the screen, the definition appears on the top, which allows you to alter the highlighting selection. The Android version, the definition covers the bottom so you can't change the highlighting selection. I noticed other instances of how the iOS app works better than its Android equivalent. Dropbox, Evernote for example.

    Google Play has a limited selection of movies and tv shows compared to iTunes/Amazon.

    So my use case for the big iPad is reading music scores from the piano, reading books with complex formatting, reading novels at home - fewer page turns, videos and apps I can't get on Android. The N7 for everything else.

    So the above N7 drawbacks for me are well worth the $130 savings.. Hope this helps others in their decision.
    Reply
  • Rodney McKay - Friday, November 23, 2012 - link

    I went to an Apple store today (Black Friday) planning to buy a 4th-gen iPad on sale. Though I hadn't yet seen a mini, I dismissed it out of hand because I "wanted a retina display". It happened that there was a mini next to a iPad 4 on display, so I compared them. The resolution difference wasn't really obvious to me (after all, the mini has a higher pixel density than the iPad 2), and in reading text (web pages, for example) I felt no clear preference. The mini's display was somewhat yellower/warmer than the 4's, which I didn't much care for. However, I opened Apple Maps on both, and was shocked to see that that the mini had a MUCH clearer display than the 4. On the mini, the smallest streets were clear at the zoom level where they appeared, but on the 4 they were so washed out as to be almost invisible. And in pretty much every other respect, the mini's Maps display looked better. I spent half an hour mucking with brightness and zoom levels trying to equalize the displays for a fair test, but no matter what I did the mini display was dramatically better.

    So, I tried an iPad 2 next to a 4, and got exactly the same results. The 2's display looked very much like the mini's (albeit larger), with map details much clearer than on the 4 (a *different* 4 from the one I compared to the mini, so this wasn't just a sample glitch with that particular iPad). I called over a store rep and showed him my results. He said "Hmm... but the Retina Display is better on things like photos and videos. Watch..." and he brought up the same sample image on both. We were both surprised to see that the image on the 2 was again dramatically nicer (less washed out, in particular) than on the 4, and at that point I realized that the real difference is that the 4's display has rather poor contrast (for which there is no adjustment), which would account for all the differences I observed.

    I very much prefer the Retina Display on my iPhone 4s (and my wife's 5) over the previous ones, but on the iPads it seems to be significantly flawed (at least with the two samples I tried). I left the store with an iPad mini, even though it was the only iPad not on sale today.

    I have a feeling that iPad reviewers haven't really been doing side-by-side comparisons between models. I dread the day when the iPad mini gets "upgraded" with a Retina Display--maybe I'll stock up on them now.
    Reply
  • SanX - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    ROTFL go to the eye doctor
    usually only technical illiterates or salespeople having merchant interest write such bs
    Reply
  • miatadan - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I had the iPad 2 for a while and sold it as too large to take it with me daily. I purchased the wifi 32GB black model.
    It is the apps available for iOS that make the iPads attractive. I use n-Stream for Naim network player, use it as remote with Logitech app. Skype works well, Textplus for free texting nice.

    I tried Rim blackberry playbook, liked actual hardware but no apps I could use....

    Even with Targus case Mini iPad fits inside pocket of winter jacket when walking, hopefully once summer comes around I find summer jacket with large enough inside pocket.

    Regular iPads at work feel heavy now compared to Mini, so I agree with Anand.
    Reply
  • SanX - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    You wrote "It pains me to say it, but compared to most similarly priced notebooks, the iPad mini's display is amazing."

    Should be "It pains me to say it, but compared to most similarly priced notebooks, the iPad mini's display is amazing trash. I really do not know what's went wrong with Apple and in which city dump near Cupertino they found such display"
    Reply
  • jameskatt - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    The problem of going the Full Retina Display Route is that that is an even ultra higher resolution than the iPad 3-4. And the battery and GPU needed would make it heavier, larger, and more expensive. This is thus not the route.

    Apple can more easily make the iPad Mini like the iPhone 5: increasing the vertical resolution and not forcing existing apps to rerender. They just keep working as before but with letter-boxing. This solution would increase the resolution so it is Retina-like and would work with existing apps.
    Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    Another idiotic glossy screen. Reply
  • iSee - Monday, November 26, 2012 - link

    These are also all reasons the iPad and iPhone can't have retina displays.
    Hm.
    Reply
  • Alex Veit - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - link

    If you give someone $5 they will ask "why didn't you give me" $10.
    Just the fact that most applications that a few years ago could only be performed on a desktop or laptop are now being implemented in handheld devices is freaking awesome!!
    who cares about the minor dimension differences in between the devices.

    By the way, if you own an iPad and you want to get the most out of it http://d7a79zq53j51xd1830fjvzkexx.hop.clickbank.ne...">Click
    here to get some awesome stuff.
    Reply
  • EarthCore - Thursday, May 30, 2013 - link

    AnandTech "unbiased" tests always seem to be skewed toward Apple. The Nexus 7 can easily get 13+ hours runtime looping a 720p movie:

    http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2...
    Reply

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