The iPad Mini Review

Is the Mini the Best iPad?

ipad mini in hand
Chris Kelly/Wikimedia Commons

The original iPad Mini was announced on October 23, 2012 and released less than two weeks later on November 2nd. The iPad Mini not only introduced a new screen size for the iPad (7.9 inches measured diagonally compared to 9.7 inches), it also had a slimmer form factor which led to the iPads we know and love today.

The Original iPad: Still Worth It?

Our original review of the iPad Mini paints the picture of a good, if not great, iPad. The only disappointment in the original Mini was the decision to use the guts of the iPad 2 rather than the iPad 4, which made the iPad Mini somewhat dated upon arrival.

Over a half dozen years old, and this model is showing its age. The iPad Mini is now obsolete, with Apple no longer supporting operating system updates. An upgrade to a newer iPad will produce an enormous speed increase with features like Touch ID to make things easier.

But the original iPad Mini is not useless. It can be a great iPad for a younger child, especially when loaded up with some educational apps. The iPad Mini also still functions as a good web browser. Serious iPad users may want to look for something newer, but if you want an iPad to set down next to the couch for occasional browsing, the iPad Mini can still do the trick.

The iPad Mini: Original Review

After years of rumors, the iPad Mini is now reality. But does it live up to the hype? Apple is positioning their smaller tablet to take on mini-sized competitors like the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, but rather than drop the price to the $199 price point of the competition, the entry-level iPad Mini is $329. And it's worth every penny.

Let's make no mistake: The iPad Mini is an iPad. This is evident from the first time you hold one in your hand, where it fits quite snuggly and is so light you'd think you were holding a magazine or a pad of paper. While the competition makes the 7-inch screen size seem like a trade off for the cheaper price, Apple somehow has managed to pack in more with less, making the smaller size seem like an added feature.

iPad Mini: Key Features

The iPad Mini Review

The one thing that sticks out most about the iPad Mini is how much it feels like an iPad. And I'm not just talking about the weight and size of the tablet, which is so thin and weighs so little you'd almost think you were browsing the web on a piece of paper. I'm talking about everyday use. Once you pick up the Mini and begin using it, it is easy to forget you aren't holding the full-sized iPad.

The iPad mini may not have the Retina Display or fast A6X processor of the iPad 4, but it still looks beautiful and is extremely responsive. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Most apps are designed to run great on an iPad 2, which uses the same processor as found in the iPad Mini, and only a few apps actually support the latest full-sized iPad's superior graphics.

The 7.9-inch iPad Mini is slightly larger than competitors like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, a little over half the size of the iPad 4, and yet, when you pick it up with one hand, it seems just right. While the full-sized iPad begs to be held with both hands, it feels natural to hold the Mini in one hand. Compare the iPad Mini to the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7

Perhaps the most amazing part is how the iPad Mini manages to be a smaller iPad without shortchanging the user. The iPad Mini performs admirably in most day-to-day uses like watching videos on Crackle, listening to music on Pandora Radio and playing fun games like Temple Run. And you aren't limited to casual games, with the more hardcore variety like Dungeon Hunter 3 or Infinity Blade looking and playing great on the 7.9-inch display.

What really surprised me was browsing the web, where I assumed the iPad Mini would be hampered by the same awkward size of the other 7-inch tablets. The 4:3 aspect ratio of the display (the same aspect ratio of its bigger brother) helps. Websites simply aren't designed for widescreen displays. But this is really where that extra .9 of an inch shines. Apple notes that the 7.9-inch display provides around 35% more screen space than a 7-inch tablet, and it shows. Most websites are easy to navigate in portrait mode, and while the text is very tiny, it can still be read. Of course, it is easy to zoom into the page, or simply flip the tablet over into landscape mode, which makes the page much easier to read.

The iPad Mini comes with the bells and whistles of its bigger brother

You also aren't shortchanged on features. As mentioned above, the iPad Mini has the same processor and screen resolution as the iPad 2 packed into a 7.9-inch size, but that is where the comparison stops. In almost every other aspect, the iPad Mini is on par with the iPad 4. This includes access to Siri, Apple's "intelligent assistant" that arrived with iOS 6.0. How to Use Siri on the iPad

The iPad Mini has the same dual-facing cameras as the iPad 4, which includes a 5 MP back-facing camera that is capable of taking 1080p video in addition to the 720p front-facing "FaceTime" camera. In fact, the cameras may be a little more functional than the iPad considering how much easier it is to shoot video holding the smaller iPad Mini.

It also has some moderately-good sounding stereo speakers located on the bottom of the device. They aren't great for listening to music or getting the most out of the latest Steven Seagal film, but they do outperform the iPhone 5's speakers and produce a slightly fuller sound than the iPad 4. While best listened to with headphones, you won't be disappointed when you aren't plugged in.

In addition to all the little things that make an iPad an iPad (gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, etc.), the iPad Mini also grants access to the one big thing that drives the iPad ecosystem: the App Store. Of the 700,000 apps in the App Store, over 250,000 are designed specifically for the iPad. And the iPad Mini should be able to handle every single one of them. While a few may support the iPad 4's higher resolution display, all of them should be backward compatible with the iPad Mini's display and should run fine on the A5 processor.

Not quite 5 stars...

The iPad Mini is surprisingly cool and could easily become a person's "go-to" iPad when lounging on the couch or laying in bed even if they also have the full-sized iPad. But it does miss enough of the mark to keep it from reaching 5-star status.

The missing Retina Display is easily the biggest reason why the iPad Mini falls short of 5 stars. I don't think customers will feel short-changed on the display immediately, but I do have a suspicion that the next iPad Mini will include a Retina Display. The $329 price tag leads me to believe Apple is leaving room to upgrade features for the next version.

The slower iPad 2 processor also makes the iPad Mini less-than-perfect. While the A6X found in the iPad 4 may have been overkill -- the iPad Mini doesn't need the supercharged graphics capability of its bigger brother -- a speed boost over the iPad 2 would have been nice.

Still a solid 4 stars...

But neither of those complaints should hold anyone back from buying this device. While the Retina Display is a nice bragging point, the 1,024 x 768 resolution actually holds up pretty well on a 9.7-inch tablet, and looks even better on the smaller 7.9-inch display. The slower processor would be a major concern if the iPad allowed true multitasking, but with its limited form of multitasking taking up fewer slices of the CPU pie, the A5 processor should perform fine for at least two-to-three years.

And don't mistake the iPad Mini for a smaller iPad 2. It may share the same processor and screen resolution, but this is just window dressing to the real iPad experience. You'll be able to do everything on an iPad Mini that you can on an iPad 4, including using Siri to book a table at your favorite restaurant or asking it to remind you to take out the trash in the morning.

iPad Mini: Worth it?

The iPad Mini isn't the iPad 4, but for those who want a cheaper alternative, the iPad Mini is far and away the best choice. Similar to the iPad 2, the iPad Mini actually beats it out on both features (superior dual-facing cameras, access to 4G LTE and Siri) and price ($329 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad Mini vs $399 for the iPad 2).

But the iPad Mini isn't just for those who want an iPad at a reduced price. Apple has managed to make the Mini its own device. If your idea of an iPad is a great device to use for lounging in bed, a great companion for the couch or something to do (even getting a little work done) on the train, the iPad Mini won't disappoint. It's more portable -- and more to the point -- more comfortable than its bigger brother, making it just right for those who want a little more of a casual experience from their tablet.