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

  • EnzoFX - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Just give the 7" the 2048 res treatment, and then double the 10" iPad's resolution once again! lol.

    Seriously though, it involves support on their end for some software changes, hope they follow through. I doubt they would want this mini to always (even the near future) have this resolution.
    Reply
  • Zink - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    LCDs in phones are at 440 ppi with some manufacturers testing almost 500 ppi so with a big investment from Apple, doubling the Retina (264 ppi) iPad's resolution would probably be possible within 1 or 2 years. It wont happen though because of reduced battery life and reduced performance on current hardware for a very subtle gain in image quality. It will probably be 5 years before we see 10 MP+ tablets because battery life and light weight are more important. Mobile SOCs also just aren't fast enough. Even with DDR3 next year the iPad will still only have twice the memory bandwidth it had for the iPad 3, not enough to even attempt 4x the pixels. Getting enough memory bandwidth for double Retina in an iPad will require next generation DDR technology or an even wider memory system which won't be viable anytime soon. Reply
  • jecastejon - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I just hope the "resolution war" on tablets and phones to be over at 400 dpi, but it should be already over at 350 dpi.

    From the human sight point of view it is basically over. The extra power and resources should go to better frame rates, better graphics and battery life.

    Today there are a few ridiculous measurements or also detrimental technology examples going higher every day like the dynamic contrast on TVs or the megapixel war on tiny consumer sensor cameras. They are misleading advertisement.

    500 dpi is useless to 99.9% of humans at almost all ages even if the technology allows to go further and further.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    It's going to age very fast with that ancient cpu, and only 512mb of memory. Basically the moment the mini 2 comes out with a faster cpu this one will be forgotten and apps won't run on it.

    tbh seems like a rip off to me. It says something that the main reason I read for buying it is the shape of the screen - you've got to love that a lot to buy something that is all the other ways worse then it's much cheaper competition.
    Reply
  • marcolorenzo - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Did you look at the benchmarks? I'm not sure I would say that it is "all the other ways worse then it's much cheaper competition."

    As a HTC One X user, I can tell you first hand the Tegra 3 isn't the sum of its parts, and the benchmarks that Anand provides proves that.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    You actually anticipate developers will drop support for the iPad Mini "the moment" the 2nd generation is released? The 1GHz A5/A5X CPU is also used in the iPad 2 and iPad 3, while the slower 800Mhz A5 is used in the iPhone 4S and 5th gen iPod Touch which will both be on sale into 2014 given Apple's 3 year iPhone and 2 year iPod Touch sale cycles as they move down price tiers. The majority of iOS devices are A5 devices and will be for the next year or 2. The vast majority of apps still support 3rd generation devices and 4th generation device support is even higher. Apple's license agreement guarantees the iPad Mini will get iOS 7 and historically each device runs 3 major OS revisions over it's lifespan, so the iPad Mini will likely get OS updates into 2015. The chances of developers dropping support for 5th generation devices like the iPad Mini in the next year or 2 seem slim. Reply
  • Dribble - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    You can think that if you like but 512mb of ram is already a limiting factor, and the cpu/gpu will start to be come one too as time goes by.

    This is the world of apple - if it's not new then it doesn't matter, and with the mini you are essentially buying something that's already 1 1/2 years old.
    Reply
  • drx11 - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Except its 512MB (megabytes, no mb or megabits) of RAM.... but I know what you are saying. I suppose you should have some concern, but then again Apple - at least for the last few years - has been the best at SoC and even my old arsed iPhone 3GS runs well with iOS 5. It could run iOS 6, though it wont have the best features ... so that should change your mind.

    Unlike Google/OEMs/phone carriers, Apple supports its hardware and you get more out of the hardware - even when the specs are not "as good" as the competition.
    Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    CPU is still ok, GPU the same, but the 512 MB RAM is absolutely something that's a worry. It wasn't enough on my iPad 2 a year ago and it's very annoying in Safari if you have several tabs. And it will only get worse as time moves on. Adding another 512 MB RAM would have cost Apple basically nothing and made the product a lot more future proof (as far as it is possible in this fast-moving segment of a fast-moving industry). Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Will it blend? Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now