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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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    That's not exactly true, the iPad mini was launched nearly a month ago, our review of it is very late. In the interim I have published articles on Intel's SSD DC S3700, Microsoft's Surface, the Titan Supercomputer at ORNL and Samsung's Cortex A15 based Chromebook.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Alucard291 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    No offence but you could have just said - "same soc as ipad 2. Same display as ipad 2 except smaller so pixels are slightly denser Its lighter than ipad 2 and has the same form factor but smaller."

    There I wrote the review for you.

    Instead you guys put out this monster - showing tests? Of the same soc? Again?

    Well one more review site feels the need to get some apple advertisement revenue.

    And I approve how you compared it to mini cooper. Yeah great comparison especially since mini cooper is a car for people who can't afford a decent one but really want to seem cool...

    So yeah. What makes this product great is the apple logo on the back. As usual.
    Reply
  • Jakers Ugly Brother - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    It would be so nice to read one single tech thread without running into a paranoid "Oh noes another site has sold out to Apple" screed like yours.

    But no, you haters have to spread your sick, sad bile across everything you see.

    Thanks for lowering the signal to noise ratio of yet another comment section.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Anandtech's Microsoft Surface review was up 3 days before the device was on sale and their Windows RT review was up the day before it shipped. The iPad Mini review comes 18 days after the tablet went on sale and they aren't or haven't yet done an iPad 4 (18+ days) or 5th gen iPod Touch (36+ days) review. From this you conclude that Apple reviews get done right away and Microsoft reviews take forever?

    Ryan already explained why they aren't doing a massive review for Windows 8 and are doing more focused articles instead, which doesn't seem unreasonable.
    Reply
  • blacksamurai30 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I don't see the reasoning behind your dissapointment. I've been reading for years (despite my only just making an account haha); they are easily the most informative on the internet. The crew here does stellar indepth reviews for pretty much everything. Don't use your own personal misgivings against Apple in an attempt to discredit the hard work that goes into reviewing these products, or the invaluable service it does for the internet and consumer knowledge.

    Keep up the good work Anandtech!
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Wow, honest mistake, let me reshoot that real quick. I shot that before I left for SC12 and didn't catch it in my final assembly of the article today.

    If anything, the photo I posted is contrary to the point I make in the text above. Things are bigger on the iPad compared to the Nexus 7.

    Give me a few and I'll get a better photo up.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Kepe - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    The same thing happened in two pictures. On pages 4 and 11, although that's the same image file.

    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tablets/apple/...
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Fixed in both places. Thank you! Reply
  • seanleeforever - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    and now you have to update the tags..

    for example. the last page, ipad mini is actually on the right. i am sure no one would mistaken those two, but still.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Fixed. The black mini wasn't mine so I no longer had that for comparison, had to use the white model for this shot - but I hope this better shows the difference. I also exported the full size shots at 2800px wide if you want to get a better, up-close look between the N7 and iPad mini.

    I included two shots on the display page, but here's a link to all 4 I just took:

    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tablets/apple/...
    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tablets/apple/...
    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tablets/apple/...
    http://images.anandtech.com/reviews/tablets/apple/...

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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