The iPad mini: My first impressions

Apple iPad miniFor all the hoopla about the iPad mini in the weeks before its launch, I have seen precious little hands-on since the little beast actually arrived on the market. I finally got my hands on a mini this weekend … and here are my thoughts:

1. Form Factor

I have mixed feelings about the form factor. It’s only 40 grams heavier than my Google Nexus tablet, but it feels a lot lighter. However, it is much wider.

The Nexus is a little chunkier and taller; the mini is slimmer but longer across. I do like how light it feels in my hands—and holding it in landscape mode to read a two-page spread in iBooks was very nice. But its size is a bit of a turn-off for me. I can see my Beloved cringing at the glow that thing would put off if I brought it into bed.

2. Usability

Well … it’s a miniature iPad; it functions just like a regular one. Nobody I saw at the large Apple Store display when I visited had any trouble operating it, nor did I. Several spots at the table were taken up by kids just goofing off and playing Temple Run.

I’ll admit, I made a beeline for that game because, after a summer of wrist issues brought on by playing Temple Run on the full-size iPad, I wanted to see if the mini would be better for me. And for that purpose, it was. But of course, my iPod Touch is smaller still, so …

I tried the iBooks app too. And it confirms for me that for long-form reading, I still prefer E Ink. I do a lot of reading on my tablets, because I often have them with me when I’m out and about. But for curling up on the couch to read a novel for an hour or two, it just isn’t as comfortable. It’s for this very use that I can see those who became accustomed to the Retina screens really noticing the difference. The letters just aren’t as dark and clear. The refinement (in terms of look and feel) just isn’t as precise. If you care a lot about this, you’ll notice.

3. Usage Scenarios

Many customers in the fairly packed Apple Store I visited seemed confused as to what the intended market for the Mini was supposed to be. It’s fine to say that the entry-level model is cheaper than the full-sized, regular iPad, but once you get into 3G models and the higher-capacity minis, they can actually be more expensive than the full-sized version.

I saw several people look at the price chart and then say, “Well, for that price, I can get the full one and it’s better, right?” I also saw two Asian guys holding it up to their ears as if they were testing its form factor as a phone.

I could see this being a hit with the educational market for several reasons: The entry-level version is cheaper than a full-sized iPad, so you could get more of them, and because of their slightly smaller size, you’d need less space to store them. I also think that if you love Apple stuff and are already wedded to the App Store because you have an iPhone, this could be a good general-purpose media consumption tablet if you don’t have one already. All your apps will run without further modification, and the screen is plenty big enough for casual use.

My issue is that I use my iPad as a laptop replacement (with a keyboard) at work, and I also use it to display video and presentations. I feel like for those reasons, I need the full-size model for now. But things change so fast in the tech world.

By the time I’m ready for my next upgrade, I could be working somewhere different, and perhaps might not be using my mobile device in the same exact way. Or phones might have evolved to the point where they have overhead projector-type functionality built in. Or tablets might have evolved into something else by then. Who knows?

If it was just me and I was using my iPad as I do now, but minus the work functions, I think I’d be quite happy with the mini instead of the full-size version.

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The bottom line for me? I’m conflicted. The mini is cute and shiny and fun, but it’s about $100 too expensive for me to qualify it as an impulse buy. What’s more, I just don’t see a usage scenario for it right now.

I need my full-size iPad for work, and it has better specs anyway, so I’m not going to pay that much money for a downgrade. Yes, my full-size iPad is a little heavy to hold for long periods. But the keyboard mitigates that issue for when I’m working, and when I’m home, I have my E Ink reader and my phone if I want something light and tiny. So … where will this fit in?

I guess the real issue is that my ideal personal tablet is probably the mini, but slimmed down to Kindle Touch size and at the price point of the Google Nexus. And we don’t have that now. But in a year or two, we might.

So, I’ll be spending my holiday tech dollars on an iPhone and a new E Ink reader with the glow function. And I’ll be passing on the iPad mini for now.

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6 Comments on The iPad mini: My first impressions

  1. “I guess the real issue is that my ideal personal tablet is probably the mini, but slimmed down to Kindle Touch size and at the price point of the Google Nexus.”

    Actually, it does exist. If you’re willing to go used, you can pick up a Samsung Galaxy Note for $300-$350. If you want a new one, it’ll cost you about $400, only $50 more than the 16 GB than the 16 GB Nexus 4. The screen size is 5.3″ with a resolution of 1280×800, you get a MicroSDXC slot (which no mini tablet besides the Nook has), the hefty battery is user-replaceable, and the CPU isn’t too old. Heck, it even has GPS and NFC. Plus, the Jelly Bean update will be out any day now, and if you don’t like TouchWiz, just get CyanogenMod.

  2. The Samsung Galaxy Note is not a good choice at all. The battery drains so quickly you’ll want to throw the Note against the wall; or, bring a Mophie juice pack (or 2) everywhere you go. NOT recommended.

  3. >>Actually, it does exist. If you’re willing to go used, you can pick up a Samsung Galaxy Note for $300-$350. If you want a new one, it’ll cost you about $400, only $50 more than the 16 GB than the 16 GB Nexus 4.<<

    Yeah, but it runs Android. So no, it doesn't exist.

    (sabrelicious)

  4. @RockDaMan: Nowhere was it specified that Joanna requires iOS. Nor will the mini ever be shrunk to the size she wants. With that sort of reduction in size… for example, an icon on the home screen will be physically smaller than what is present on the iPhone. This is due in part to Apple being locked in to the multiples-of-1024×768-in-order-to-remain-compatible-with-currently-available-tablet-apps resolution. Is this usable? Personally, I believe so. But Phil Schiller was slamming the Nexus 7–excuse me, the “leading Android tablet”–for having a screen and UI elements too small for comfortable interaction. In the end, I will defer to Steve Jobs and merely suggest that Apple ought to consider buying Norton Abrasives should they decide to shrink the iPad mini any further.

    @devini: That is a function of the cellular modem. Contrary to popular belief, communicating with a close-by WiFi access point isn’t particularly more demanding on the battery than a 3G/LTE connection. It’s a matter of physics: the energy it takes to send a signal gets squared when the distance to the receiver is doubled. So if Joanna’s usage reflects most people’s tablet connectivity, battery life won’t be as big an issue as you make it out to be.

    If Joanna wants cellular access, she could also tether it to her new iPhone via Bluetooth, which is also much easier on the battery compared to a built-in cellular modem. Worst case scenario, since the battery on the Galaxy Note is (unlike most phones these days) user-removable, a slightly thicker extended battery can be used instead.

  5. ” Nowhere was it specified that Joanna requires iOS ”

    Her words:
    ‘the real issue is that my ideal personal tablet is probably the mini’

    …which runs iOS.

  6. I stand corrected. It’ll still never happen. The closest thing to what she wants is the Galaxy Note. And considering the physical size of the screen, the issue of Android lacking tablet-format apps is less of an issue.

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