iPad Mini - As Light As A Book

12/29/2012 9:11:39 AM

We brought you our first impressions of the new 7.9in iPad last issue, but in the full knowledge that we wouldn’t really be able to call it until we’d spent longer with the device. Well, now we have, and we’re calling it: this is an absolute revelation. It’s probably as big a step forward as the original iPad.

iPad Mini

iPad Mini

If that sounds like a bonkers reaction to a machine that’s essentially an iPad 2 with the iPad 4’s cameras squashed into a smaller case, all we can say is that’s why Apple doesn’t bang on about specs. Compared to the iPad 4, this is an underpowered machine with a very average screen. Like all iOS devices, it works smoothly and with few if any glitches, making it a pleasure to use; but if we’re honest, now that we’ve been spoiled by superior models, we do notice the little pauses that creep in from time to time with the old A5 processor when tapping quickly around different features or switching between tasks.

The screen is very similar to the iPad 1 and 2, lacking the super-vibrant colour of more recent iPads and iPhones, and although the pixels are smaller - keeping the same resolution of 1024 x 768 increases the density to 163ppi - there’s still a slightly grainy feel, especially when challenged by, for example, Siri’s fine white-on-black text. But we’re being extremely picky: the original iPad screen was fine, and this is better. Everything appears slightly smaller, but this very rarely matters; typing, for example, is surprisingly OK, although we found the piano keys in GarageBand suddenly a bit tight.

It’s a perfectly decent iPad - and if you do use the cameras, whether the rear one for shooting stills or video or the front one for FaceTime calls, they’re noticeably better.

None of this, however, is really the point. As soon as you pick up the iPad mini, you’ll know why; but you’ll only truly begin to understand when you have it around your house or office for a few days. Remember how the iPad attracted everyone’s attention when it first appeared, and people would always be asking to have ago? And then, once the novelty of having a Star Trek prop fully working in real life had worn off, they didn’t. You’ve probably noticed a similar cooling in your own behaviour.

Why is this? We think we may now have the answer. The full-size iPad, although brilliantly convenient with its long battery and instant wake, is still quite unwieldy to use. Because it’s bigger than your hand, heavy for its size, and has no features to grip onto (unless you keep it permanently in a case), it’s really quite droppable, a fact that you’re subconsciously - or sometimes all to consciously - alert to all the time you’re using it. The weight means you’ll tire of holding it and keep shifting position trying to prop it. None of this is fatal to the iPad’s charm or its usability, but it’s always there.

The iPad mini measures 200 x 135 x 7.2mm (as seen here) and weighs 308g, or 312g for the Cellular version. The 7.9in screen has 1024 x 768 pixels, so existing iPad apps run normally

The iPad mini measures 200 x 135 x 7.2mm (as seen here) and weighs 308g, or 312g for the Cellular version. The 7.9in screen has 1024 x 768 pixels, so existing iPad apps run normally

Well, Apple fixed that for ya. The iPad mini is unbelievably thin and light. When you pick it up, nothing is less likely to enter your mind than putting it down again. It’s effort­less to hold, switching naturally between a phone grip at the bottom edge, Schiller’s across-the-back finger vice if you have biggish hands, or a two-thumbed typing posture, depending on what you’re doing. You’ll soon find your own favourite ways.

And that’s why, when you switch to a mini, you’re going to find you use your iPad more. Which has to be a sign that Apple has got this thing right.

Oh, and it’s cheaper, too. Of course, the tech industry thinks it’s still not cheap enough, and consumers will buy Android tablets such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire for a bit less. All we can say is, those consumers would be crazy. The build quality of the iPad mini, which strongly resembles the new iPod, is so far ahead of its rivals that handing over the cash feels like grabbing a bargain.

This is a truly remarkable machine at a sensible price. The only question is whether you’re going to wait until they add Retina; and we don’t yet know when that will be.

Smart Cover

Smart Cover

It was inevitable that Apple would replicate the Smart Cover for the iPad mini, but the design it’s come up with isn’t getting a lot of love from users. The loose aluminium hinge that snaps so satisfyingly onto the full-size iPad has been shrouded in plastic, presumably because people felt uncomfortable with its bare edges around their iPad screens. But that could surely have been addressed by rounding off the profiles. Instead, the result feels mushy and imprecise - ironic when Microsoft has ripped off the magnetic ‘snap’ of the original Smart Cover as a selling point of the keyboard cover for its Surface tablet. With one segment fewer, the mini Smart Cover doesn’t fold up into a stand quite as convincingly, either; instead of two sides of the prism overlapping and magnetically binding, you have to rely on the weight of the iPad to keep the origami together. Overall, we’re unimpressed - which is good news for iPad case makers, at least. There’s no Smart Case option to protect the back

Strange power

Apple says the iPad mini has the same ten-hour battery life as other iPads (nine if you’re on 3G). Our experience confirms this. Yet it runs exactly the same processor as the iPad 2, whose battery has about 50% more capacity. The smaller screen may partly explain this, but we still think witchcraft is probably in there somewhere. Rival 7in tablets, which are heavier, last only about 7.5 hours. A compact iPhone-style charger is supplied rather than the higher-powered two-piece model, but it still charged our mini in four-and-a-half hours, reaching 75% in three

The Home button has shrunk. It also has a less clicky feel than the iPad 3 or 4, but we soon got used to it and never had to press it twice

The Home button has shrunk. It also has a less clicky feel than the iPad 3 or 4, but we soon got used to it and never had to press it twice

Will it blend?

Despite being incredibly thin, the display assembly isn’t fused, so you can replace the front glass without the LCD if it gets cracked. Not so reassuring is the fact that the Lightning connector is built into the main board, so if you damage the port, repair will be extremely fiddly at best. The battery is hard work to extract, but not Apple’s worst

Actual size

We mentioned that Apple had wanted to be able to say the iPad mini was as light as a book - presumably having in mind a Penguin paperback, not Guinness World Records - but it turned out to be even lighter. Warming to his stationery theme, he also compared the device’s thickness to a pencil. Here they are; see for yourself. We tried it with our own pencil, laying both down on a flat sur­face: the pencil just edged it, but the mini was almost as thin. Your pencil may vary


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