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
POST A COMMENT

140 Comments

View All Comments

  • teiglin - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    +1 to wanting an updated Galaxy Tab 7.7. I have the P6810 and it's definitely the best tablet ever.

    Sadly it's probably not going to happen. The 7.7 barely made it to the US and when it did, it was stripped of its phone functionality and cost $700 from VZW. I don't have any basis to speak to its international sales, but they didn't include it in the list of incoming JB updates, which doesn't speak well to its popularity.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Well hardware variety is a key Android advantage. Samsung introduced the Galaxy S III mini in the 4" form factor of the iPhone 5. If the iPad Mini shows demand for a ~8" form factor, I don't see why Samsung wouldn't want to introduce a new Galaxy Tab 7.7 to tap into that market. Reply
  • chleuasme - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    > The second option would be to pick a new resolution that wasn't an integer multiple of the current one [...] Picking a non-integer multiple of those resolutions would force Apple to do some scaling and filtering to hit the new resolution, which could reduce quality. Apple does this on the MacBook Pro with Retina Display to enable higher resolution modes. To maximize image quality however, Apple renders the desktop offscreen at 4x the resolution and then scales down to fit the panel. There are obvious performance concerns here as well.

    If you want to make an analogy with the highest resolution on the rMBP, you have to take a 1536x1152 screen (i.e. 75% of the retina iPad res, just as the physical 2880x1800 pixels of the rMBP15 screen represent 75% of the 3840x2400 res) and scale down the 2048x1536 resolution on the physical pixels of the screen.
    So, the 4x part of the work would be done at the same price as on current retina iPad (and the same on your example: for 1600x1200, you're not go to do 1024x768 -> 3200x2400 -> 1600x1200 but 1024x768 ~> 2048x1536 -> 1600x1200). Still need to scale down after, though.
    But sub-pixel rendering probably make things better on OS X compared with what would happen on iOS.
    No talk about AutoLayout?
    Reply
  • Formul - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure why the general unavailability of tablet app versions for the android is not even mentioned in the summary as the big quality tablet software library is one of the most convincing points on top of the build quality to spend the extra $130 on the iPad mini. And no its not about OS preference or investment into an ecosystem, its about the general machine abilities and usability - if its more like a big phone or a small tablet.

    Hardware wise and depth wise the review is spot on though, don't get me wrong! Great job, guys!
    Reply
  • Cristian Sorega - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I see this comment posted all the time and don't get it. What is the unavailability or lack of tablet app versions on Android?
    This is a serious question because I might miss something obvious.

    I have 2 android tablets and used the iPad 1 and iPad 2 which I wanted to buy as I am quite invested in the Apple system thanks to my iPhones. The lack of any way to transfer photos from a drive to the iPad and also back was why I looked at Android tablets to begin with. Trying to upload photos on blogger was also a painfull experience, which worked perfect on Android.

    I am using quite a few apps and have found all apps I was using on iOS on Android (or good/better substitutes). Unlike on iOS I never need to worry about getting HD or non HD versions for apps and all look perfectly fine. Where iPhone apps need to be re-scaled 2x on the iPad and look blurry, I never had this problem on Android and all apps look perfectly fine.
    Also most apps take advantage of the higher resolution and display size without problem. Sure, some apps could benefit of having a better interface on the tablet but these apps usually use the same interface on the iPad.

    So your comment strikes me as someone who has not really used Android tablets in the last year or maybe I misunderstood something.

    On another note, all the benchmarks prove nothing really as in real life most tasks would be done faster and easier on an Android device and I have yet to see a proper real-world review of these devices.

    Take for example some basic tasks I do with my device:
    - Checking the weather: On Android I can now see it without unlocking my device on the lockscreen with a widget, or on the homescreen with a widget. On iOS I need to find and start the weather app, sure the weather app will start faster due to the better benchmark performance than it might on Android but on Android I don't need to bother.
    - Reading news using Pulse (or any other news App): iOS devices start the app very fast but then need to start downloading the latest data once the app is started. On Android the app might start a few ms slower but the latest updates have been done in the background so I can actually read the news right away.
    - Attaching a file to an email you reply to: iOS only allows to attach pictures to emails you reply to since iOS 6 with a long press, before it meant hitting reply, closing the email app, opening the picture viewer, finding the pictures, hitting select, then copy, closing the picture viewer, opening the mail app and hitting paste. On Android you just click attach and select any app you want to use, then simply select the file you want and it can be any file type not just emails.
    - Uploading pictures: The iPad is much faster at importing pictures via the Camera connecting kit than the Transformer for example but I can't choose the location or decide if I want to import both JPG and RAW files, nor can I import anything that is not under the DCIM folder. On Android I simply browse the file system and decide where to copy from an paste to, plus I can do this both ways so it allows to create a backup when travelling without a computer.
    - Freeing up space: On Android I can delete any type of file or app from anywhere on the system, on iOS I can not delete any music or pictures I imported through itunes so am stuck with it till I get back to a computer.

    These are all things I do on a regular basis or have struggled with and I would like to see in a real world review because there the iPads would not look very good, great build and everything.
    Reply
  • akdj - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Wow...where to start?
    I'm both an iOS and Android user--iPad 4/iPhone 5 and Nexus/Xoom/Note (original) owner. I'm an iOS developer--and working on learning development with Android. Right there is an excellent place to start! Really cool 'coding' programs. I'm using Codea, but there are man...including the new drag n drop SkripKit...or Pythonista, which allows direct export to XCode!
    Productivity---I'm not a big fan of Docs2Go. It's what I use on Android...because it's what's available. In comparison...the iOS offering of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote...this is huge for me, especially with the plethora of Apple products we are trying to keep sync'ed
    Creative work---My day job is my audio/video production company....been at it for 21 years now and this past summer, we did 132 weddings and class reunions. The iPad/Mac combo has completely revolutionized my business. Between using dJay for ceremonies (where you need only 3 or 4 songs), Garage band for recording ceremonies live--Real, true Korg synths, excellent video production facilities with Avid and iMovie...a LOT more tools for YOUR photography!!!! There are a couple decent editing apps in the Play Store---but they pale in comparison to iOS offerings. Drawing apps...cookbooks, games, games and more games!!! The list TRULY goes on and on and on...
    There absolutely is a gaping hole in 'tablet optimized' apps in 'Droid-Land'. My fingers are crossed---but for now, if you truly want to be productive--at least in creative work, there truly is NO comparison.
    Sorry---not sure how you've not seen this owning both platforms AND being a photog. Not even hard core Android fans or sites would argue this...especially in the tablet world---we are rooting for more development in this sector
    J
    Reply
  • Cristian Sorega - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    I still fail to see why Android lacks tablet optimized apps, all apps run fine on a tablet.
    Are there apps on iOS that would be good to have on Android, sure there are and probably more than the other way around but for me I have all apps I need and all work fine on a tablet so there is not issue with optimization.
    For productivity and Office apps you should try Polaris office as I find this to work well but if Office is a priority I would simply get a Windows RT or 8 tablet and use the real deal.

    As for your comment "a LOT more tools for YOUR photography!!!!".

    - I have not tried or bought every app in the Apps store but there is no easy way to view a picture 1:1 without it having been re-scaled by iOS so this is a big issue. I have not found an app that can browse pictures and can show me EXIF information, Histogram or any other shooting information.
    - I can not create a simple subfolder to organize my pictures during travels, a major issue for me or maybe I just can't see how to do this.
    - I can not separate JPGs from RAW files, nor can I rename a file.
    - No way to view 2 pictures side by side.
    - Can't backup my pictures without a computer to another drive or SD card.
    - Not possible to resize pictures for quicker upload.
    - Posting a picture on Blogger and changing the size it appears is a nightmare.
    - Impossible to access any pictures not found in the DCIM folder nor can I access pictures at home on my NAS for viewing or editing.

    All this I can do with either standard pre-installed software or use Photo Mate, Photo Editor and so on. There is also Photoshop Touch available if I want to use layers.

    Don't get me wrong the proper iPads (I don't think the mini servers any purpose) can be quite useful despite being limited by Apple for no real reason. But having used tablets for travelling since they were known as UMPCs the iPad simply does not allow me to do what I need while traveling where both the transformer and Nexus 7 works just fine, the transformer even better than a netbook.

    Having more software available is never a bad thing though so I hope to see more on Android since it's the more useful OS because it allows more freedom. Having said this, there is certainly no shortage of tablet apps for Android and most things work just as well if not better.
    Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    Firstly, it's a iPad Mini review, so Android things don't figure that much into it.
    Secondly, it's getting better every day. There are tablet-aware Apps for most purposes I use tablets for - RSS reading, browsing, Comic reading, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Music, Photo Viewing...
    They might not always be the official Apps (Twitter's and Facebook's offerings are a joke on both Android and iOS), but they are quality Apps doing a great job on tablets.
    Reply
  • rakez - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    chrome is my favorite for desktop but, it blows on tablets. you will see android tablets score better simply by using a different browser. boat browser will run circles around chrome. Reply
  • marcolorenzo - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I just bought an iPad mini a few days ago and I'm loving it. My cousin's iPad now looks absolutely huge in comparison. The small form factor feels like the way it should've been the whole time. I don't care if it doesn't fit into my pockets, my pockets are for my phone and wallet. Someone previously said that if they're gonna carry it in a bag then they might as well get the normal iPad. I disagree because the small form factor doesn't just apply to portability, it also applies to your experience whilst carrying it. When holding the mini, I literally feel like I'm holding a small notepad. It's brilliant.

    I'm in no way an Apple fan (there are several reasons I dislike them in fact), having stopped using any Apple products since about a year ago, but I have to say, they really know what they're doing when considering their products' usability. When the iPhone 5 was released, I said to myself, "Damn, they did it again". Why? Because I have a HTC One X and as much as I love the big screen, it just isn't as practical as the "slightly longer, but same width" iPhone 5. They came up with a way to increase the screen size whilst maintaining the usability. Typical Apple. Same as the mini. There's a reason it's not as small as the Nexus 7. I saw the Nexus 7 and I kept thinking that I would never use it. Compared to my phone, it's not THAT much bigger, certainly not a big enough leap to make carrying both devices at the same time worthwhile in my opinion. The mini however, even though it's only slightly bigger, manages to cross over to the whole-other-device category. Of course, this is just my opinion, but for my money, the iPad mini is certainly worth the extra cash.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now