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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  • daar - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Who manufactures the display? I recall in reviews of old this was mentioned, would be nice to see in future reviews of anything with displays this info, thanks. Reply
  • zepi - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Since the current-gen ipad-retina-displays are pretty abysmal in terms of power usage (see displaymate's measurements for example), would it be unreasonable to expect LTPS or IGZO panels to make things considerably better?

    Apple uses Low-Temperature polysilicon IPS in iphone for a reason and it's said that the forthcoming IGZO's would help in power consumption as well.

    I think that Ipad 4 is a "failure" as it doesn't address any of the shortcomings of the 3rd Gen ipad. Namely weight, thickness and reasonably poor visibility in direct sunlight. Though Apple just decided it's not worth the tradeoff to use A6 instead of A6x to reduce the battery weight by a tiny margin.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Firstly - the iPad 4 isn't a 'new iPad' as much as the iPad 3 was - it's an upgrade a partial way through the year, so it shouldn't be expected to address all 'the shortcomings'.

    Secondly - the iPad 4 doubles the GPU power which addresses the single biggest issue with the iPad 3 - the underpowered GPU. It's significantly faster than any other tablet (as is the iPad 3).

    Also it was important to get all the devices using the lightning connector.
    Reply
  • Alucard291 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Yeah its the newer new ipad >.>

    Also known as the biggest ripoff apple has yet produced. Lightning connector (differently shaped usb 2.0), not-really-upgraded soc which brought nothing for the end user. Right? Because iOS is always super smooth? Or is it not?

    Wait wait wait and you're also saying that having even more unused gpu power is a shortcoming that was addressed? Well no point arguing with such logic.

    Especially since the cpu is already outdated. A9's (even with a custom memory controller) are so 2011.

    Man you are a MASTER of facepalms. You initiate a wave of them with every post of yours.
    Reply
  • NCM - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Alucard291 writes: "Lightning connector (differently shaped usb 2.0)"

    Bzzt! Wrong.

    Thanks for playing, come back when you've done your research properly.
    Reply
  • Jorange - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Why did you zoom in on the Anandtech website on the Nexus 7, whilst the iPad mini is zoomed out, it makes the Nexus look like it can't display a full webpage which it can!! Subtle Anti-Android bias strikes again. Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I don't know about bias (I like to attribute ignorance over malice) but it seems particularly bad that not only is the N7 zoomed in compared to the Mini, but it's zoomed in so much that the N7's image is larger than the Mini's.

    I can see zooming so that they're physically the same size (but then the N7 would be using more pixels to render the same thing) but it's not even at that level.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    because Anand's bias is showing.

    Still waiting for this rumored 'Anandtech' windows 8 review. But OMG look a small ipad, the site owner himself reviews.

    Might as well start renaming the website 'appletech'
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Our Win8 performance guide will be done this week. We're not doing a massive review (that would mostly be rehashing our significant DevPrev and ConPrev articles) will hit all the high points.

    And note that what Anand does has no bearing on Win8. AnandTech is more than one person, and in this case since I'm the OS guru it's my article.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I'm just disapponted that a site I've trusted and visted for years, is changing focus.

    if its an apple thing, there are tons of in depth reviews done right away, product, os, accessories etc etc.

    windows is now becoming the abandoned step child.

    look at this, pages of writing, that could be summed up in 2 words:

    smaller ipad.
    Reply

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