The iPad mini is Apple’s marquee product for the Christmas 2012 period, in our iPad mini review we take a look at this new smaller iPad with performance and benchmark tests and compare the iPad mini to other tablet devices (including the latest iPad).
iPad mini 2 review
We’re going to call it upfront: after using the iPad mini for a few days, we consider this to be the best iPad on the market (which makes it the best tablet on the market). In most cases this is a better option than the
iPad 4. This is the one to get.
In terms of design the iPad mini is a fairly easy concept to understand. It’s an iPad but smaller and with a compelling asking price of £269 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model. More memory is available at cost: £349 (32GB) and £429 (64GB).
An additional £100 enables you to upgrade from a Wi-Fi only model to a Wi-Fi plus Cellular model.
iPad mini teardown reveals Samsung display
The iPad mini in a nutshell
The iPad mini’s internal components are reminiscent of the iPad 2 model first introduced in March 2011 (the iPad 2 is still on sale as the entry level iPad at £329). Externally, however, the iPad mini has more in common with the latest generation of iPhones and iPod touches. Like the iPhone 5 the first thing that hits you about the iPad mini is how incredibly thin and light it is.
We weighed it in at just 308 grams (375 with the Smart Cover attached). It is an incredibly small, light, and highly desirable product. The dimensions are a paltry 200 mm x 134.7mm x 7.2mm (it’s less than a centimetre thick).
The bezel between the screen and edge of device is also much smaller on the mini. You can hold it with one hand: either by grasping both sides of the iPad mini like an iPhone, or by clasping one side. Unlike the iPad, which is very much a two-handed or rest-on-lap affair, the light weight ensures that it can be held in the one hand.
Aside from the thinner styling and smaller bezel the iPad mini is remarkably similar to the full-sized iPad. The Home button, Sleep/Wake button, Volume controls, Ring/Silent switch are all in the same positions as before. The volume connection is on the top of the device, as on the iPad, and not positioned at the bottom like the iPad. Perhaps the only difference is that the Volume controls are two independent buttons, as on the iPhone, rather than the single rocker found on the full size iPad.
The speakers are located at the bottom of the iPad, and there are now two speakers for stereo sound flanking the new smaller Lightning connection. Like most iOS models, the iPad has surprisingly good sound, but the stereo speakers are close to each other and add little to the effect (although holding the device horizontally doesn’t block the speaker so much).
Like the iPhone the iPad mini is available in two models: black and slate or white with an aluminum reverse. Aside from styling there’s little difference between the two models.
The iPad mini display
It sports a 7.9in display with 1024 x 768 pixels at the same 4:3 aspect ratio as every other iPad that precedes it. The iPhone 5 in contrast now has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio (earlier models of iPhone had a 1.5:1 aspect ratio).
Somewhat disappointingly (although not crushingly so as it turns out) is the iPad mini’s non Retina display. With it’s 163 PPI (pixels per inch) the iPad mini display is considerably lower than the 264 of the iPad 3 and iPad 4.
The iPad mini display is clearly a compromise between the lightness and battery life, but it’s fair to say it’s not Apple’s finest display ever. As well as being non-retina it also has a lower color gamut than the iPad, and testing by
DisplayMate.com has shown that it has a higher level of reflection.
Having said that, it’s still clearly a very high quality display we found it excellent for rendering video and graphics. We did a good hands on test of using the iPad mini for various different purposes,
which you can read here. In a nutshell it’s great for games, movies, photos, web surfing, email, and general usage. The area where it could be marginally better is for long-term reading of text, where a Retina Display would provide a clear boost. However, the 4:3 format of the display is, to our mind, better for reading books than the widescreen (16:10) format found on the Google Nexus 7. And the larger display, combined with the lighter case make it better overall. We also found it perfectly passable for reading iBooks, and have happily read a electronic book from start to finish on the iPad mini display.
The iPad mini 7.9in vs 7in display
The iPad mini display is both considerably larger, and smaller than you’d imagine. It’s manifestly smaller than the full-sized iPad display, in fact turn the iPad mini on its side and you have half an iPad. However, that extra 0.9in makes a big difference between an iPad mini and 7in display such as the Google Nexus 7.
That extra 0.9in provides an extra 40 per-cent viewing space on the iPad mini over it’s rivals, and when you put them together it clearly shows. Despite the small stature of the iPad mini, and it’s non Retina standard the display is still great to look at.
The larger size gives it 29.6 square inches of display area, versus 22 square inches on a 7-in tablet such as the Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire HD. This, it turns out, is a lot of extra screen estate. It really makes the difference when using the iPad mini for watching movies, gaming, or surfing the web.
The iPad mini bezel
The bezel around the iPad mini is much, much smaller than on the iPad. It’s just 20mm at the top and bottom; and a scant 5mm on the sides.
This gives the iPad mini a much more stylish fit and finish than the iPad, and also makes more room for screen. One potential downside is that if you hold the iPad mini vertically your thumb is likely to be just poking into the touch-screen display. Fortunately the iPad mini has a software algorithm designed to ignore unintended thumb touches, and it works pretty well. We found few instances when moving the thumb around interfered with screen navigation.
The iPad mini interface and keyboard
The iPad mini is running the same interface as the full-sized iPad. This has a number of advantages, not least of which is that all iPad apps can run on the iPad mini without any need for developers to reskin, or redesign the interface.
This is a good thing, although some buttons are smaller than they’d be on the iPad they tend to have enough spacing around them still to work effectively.
The keyboard is also a lot more usable than we imagined it’d be, although it’s clear that typing anything more than an email or message on the iPad mini would be a challenge.
It’s easy to type two or three fingered on the horizontal keyboard, although you can thumb type in vertical mode, as you would on an iPhone. We used the Split Keyboard feature to type vertically, which makes more sense on the iPad mini than on the full-sized iPad.
And it’s great to see Siri on the iPad mini, unlike the iPad 2 (although this raises uncomfortable questions about why Siri isn’t on the iPad 2 if they’re running pretty much the same internal technology). Siri’s expanded functionality – especially in the UK – is starting to make it a much more functional feature. It’s especially good to be able to switch apps just by speaking the app’s name out loud.
As with the full size iPad you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard and use that to type. Initially we thought it’d feel a bit silly to use an Apple Keyboard with such a small device, but it works really well. The iPad mini hooked up to an Apple Keyboard is on par with the iPad; we can easily see ourselves typing out long-form articles and reviews using an iPad mini using Pages.
The iPad mini tech specs
The iPad mini is sporting the A5 processor first found in the iPad 2. Because it’s been a while since the A5 came out, we thought there might have been some slight changes to the chipset, but recent photo analysis suggests otherwise.
Geekbench reports that the iPad mini (which is iPad2,5 according to Apple’s internal numbering) has a single ArmV7 CPU running at 999MHz with two cores . It has 32KB L1 cache and 1MB L2 cache (no L3 cache). Geekbench report 303MB RAM (so that will be 512MB in total with some being used by the system).
The Geekbench Score is 748, considerably slower than the iPad 4, but faster than the 471 of the original iPad, and in the same ballpark as the new iPad (third-generation) 757. The third-generation iPad wasn’t significantly faster than the second-generation, it’s extra power pushed the Retina display.
The iPad mini framerate was measured at 25fps (using GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD test) which is lower than the iPad 4 (and iPhone 5), although interestingly slightly higher than the iPad 3’s 22fps.
So that’s pretty impressive. The iPad mini is on-par with the iPad (third-generation) which was selling until a couple of weeks ago for £399 with many a happy owner.
We found the iPad mini perfectly capable of running all the games we threw at it, including powerhouses such as Real Racing 2 and N.O.V.A 3 with a respectable framerate and no frame drops. And because of its diminutive stature, we think the iPad mini is a real contender for the best portable gaming system around.
iPad mini experience
We often say that many tech pundits focus on specifications rather than experience. Put simply: Apple products are nice to use.
Why they are so nice to use is something of a mystery, Apple has little real advantage over the rest of the market. And while Apple clearly spends a lot of time, effort, and will to designing good, well-built, crafted products – it’s by no means the only company that does this (even though many claim to do it but can’t really stay the course).
It’s hard to benchmark ‘niceness’ but it’s clearly a valuable commodity. Apple products have sellability, given that they appear to be outselling everything on the market. So if it’s important to customers it’s a factor that really should be taken into account.
Recent web benchmarks showed Microsoft’s Surface is actually slower than an old iPhone 4S at web browsing, despite having a much faster processor, four times as much RAM, and a much faster graphics card. Way back in 1997
Jakon Neilsen identified speed as the defining factor for a website, and by wider implication a web browser, and device. Browser speed is a factor that contributes to the ‘niceness’ of the device: the processor helps with this; but it’s clearly not the be-all-and-end-all.
And a device like the iPad mini is made up of countless such small experiences. All of which add up to whether a device is nice to use or not.
What we’re trying to get at is there’s much more to a device than specs, and that techheads often value some specs, like processor speed and RAM, over other specs like weight and battery life. Creating a truly great device requires a company to think of all these different factors and create a device that balances everything together in the best way. This is what we think Apple has achieved with the iPad mini. It’s a great device to use.
We haven’t used a Surface yet, but creating a ‘great experience’ is something we think Microsoft has most likely failed to do. The end user is still getting a slow service and Windows is probably clumsy and difficult to use on a tablet. So it’s really not what components you have that matter, it’s what you do with them.
Measuring up the iPad mini
The iPad mini is a small and light device. It’s hard to determine all the choices and balances Apple have made. But you get the feeling that they’ve made the right ones.
The iPad mini would be better with a Retina Display. That’s beyond doubt. But an iPad mini with Retina Display would probably need an A5X processor to power it. That would, in turn, require a larger battery which would make it heavier. Which would defeat the point (you might as well make it bigger while you’re at it and call it the iPad).
It might be that next year Apple has managed to create a more energy efficient SoC (system on chip), better battery technology and improved iOS to negate the difference. Next year you may (probably, will) see an iPad mini with Retina Display. This, for now, hypothetical device will be better than this iPad mini. You are welcome to keep dreaming about it, and buy it next year.
The iPad mini dimensions
As Apple is keen to point out, the iPad mini is an extremely small and light device. Measuring just 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm the device has a small surface area and at just 308g (WiFi) or 312g (WiFi plus 4G/LTE) it is exceptionally light. Less than half the weight of the fourth-generation iPad.
Apple points out that you can easily hold the device one handed, a believable claim given the size and weight involved.
The bezel (the space between the screen and edge of the iPad mini) is significantly thinner than on the regular iPad, whether this affects usage or not is something we will discover when the device ships. Although we don’t find using the iPhone 5 with it’s near edge-to-edge display a problem.
iPad Wi-Fi + 4G/LTE
Height: 200 mm
Height: 200 mm
Width: 134.7 mm
Depth: 7.2 mm
Depth: 7.2 mm
Weight: 312 g
iPad mini: the right balance
In some respects it might be right to think that this is the device Apple should have made in the first place. But technology – and Apple’s understanding of it – marches forwards on multiple fronts.
The initial iPad was large, and quite heavy. A fantastic device but Apple managed to shave the weight off and speed things up in the second iteration. In the third generation Apple managed to really push the technology forwards with a Retina Display, and keep the same form factor (just a little more weight), and keep the 10 hour battery life. It did this by more or less turning the whole iPad into one giant battery with components embedded inside and as thin a screen as possible attached to the surface.
The iPhone 5 has taken ‘giant battery with small components’ technology further. Now they’ve managed to make it even thinner and lighter with a larger screen. Faster, better, thinner, lighter, maintain the battery life. That seems to be Apple’s mantra.
The next generation of iPad
The iPad mini is to the iPad, what the iPod mini was to the iPod. It’s the leap forward, it may be lower in terms of specification (although not much to be honest), but it’s smaller, lighter, cheaper, and generally more accessible and usable. You’ll have an iPad mini with you when the iPad is left at home; and it does everything the iPad does.
And it’s got a lower price point. This could be the point where the iPad goes mainstream.
Which, given the ridiculous popularity of the iPad, might seem a bit of preposterous thing to say. Surely the iPad is already ‘mainstream’, about as mainstream as you can get. But let’s see where this takes Apple. We think it’ll be the point where you go from lots of people having them (iPod) to seemingly everybody having them (iPod mini).
iPad mini vs iPad 4
Whether to go for the iPad mini or an iPad 4 is a debatable issue. There are manifest differences between the two. The smaller form factor of the iPad mini guide it towards content consumption, rather than content creation (or ‘work’ as it’s otherwise known). An iPad 4 is perhaps more appropriate for working, although a MacBook Air even moreso. There are limitations to using either an iPad or iPad mini; you can’t use InDesign, Final Cut, or a raft of other specific and high-end programs. You can’t program directly on it either, for that matter.
iPad 4 review
Where it gets a tad fuzzy is perhaps some of the high-end apps such as GarageBand and iMovie, which benefit on the iPad with Retina Display from the larger 9.7in display. But we really think that the portability of the iPad mini really gives it the edge as a mobile device, even when using these particular apps.
It may be that next year the iPad mini also has a retina display, and becomes the definitive tablet without any arguments. It may the that the iPad 4S or 5 gets the thin and light manufacturing process that the iPad mini has, and regains its title as the most important iPad. But right now it’s the iPad mini’s turn in the spotlight.
So why didn’t Apple make the iPad mini in the first place?
The more you use the iPad mini, the more you get the impression that this is the right device. It’s the way forward. This is a lighter, more portable device, than the full iPad that offers the same functionality in a more compact and useful case.
It’s also possible to envision a future where the iPad mini (or some equivalent) replaces both the iPhone and iPad in many cases. There’s a stumbling block that the iPad mini can’t place calls or send SMS texts, even with the iPad Wi-Fi and Cellular, although Apple could work around this (as long as it doesn’t expect – as Samsung does – people to hold the thing up to your head).
If the iPad mini form factor is much better than the full-sized iPad, why didn’t Apple just make that in the first place? It’s a question worth asking. Especially if we’re now claiming this to be a better form factor and device than the full-sized iPad.
There have been a lot of battery improvements since the iPad launched, it might simply have not been technically for Apple to make the iPad mini first time around without it being an inch thick, which would have made for a brick of a device. Time moves on.
John Gruber also has a theory that by launching the iPad at 9.7in Apple managed to create a new category of device (which was compared to a large iPhone even at that size). And developers got used to creating different interfaces for larger displays. Both of which might not have happened if Apple had immediately gone with the 7.9in screen
iPad mini release date, rumours, and leaked images