Why I purchased an iPad mini
When the “new iPad” (aka, iPad 3) came out, I replaced my first generation iPad with a top of the line model – 64GB, WiFi+3G, and have loved it. When the iPad mini came out, I wasn’t all that inclined to buy one, for a couple of basic reasons:
- It wasn’t retina (something I strongly suspect iPad Mini II will be), and,
- From a functionality perspective, it’s the same as the regular sized iPad.
That being said, I found myself speculating that when an iPad Mini+Retina model came out, I’d end up replacing my iPad with such a beast.
Fast forward a couple of months, and my situation had changed. My left arm is under severe strain at the moment – if it’s not actually tendinitis, it’s about one stretch away from it, RSI has been increasing as well, and the weight of the conventional iPad was becoming a real strain for me to hold. Sure, I could try to hold it right-handed instead, but that could start to trigger RSI in the right-hand, and leave my left hand being used to interface with the device – not really all that restful.
Therefore the iPad mini seemed like a worthwhile solution, and mid-way through the week I waddled off to the nearest Apple store and purchased the basic, 16GB WiFi only model. I’ve kept the other iPad for more rigorous activities, but for the purpose of reading books and playing word-games (the two activities I’m most likely to do for 1-3 hours before bed, or the middle of the night), the WiFi-only 16GB was going to be more than ample.
First comment about the iPad mini, something I know most people say when they pick one up even in stores is – it’s light. In fact, on a simple hand/balance test it doesn’t feel significantly heavier than an iPhone 5, even though the weights aren’t that close. But more importantly, it’s a lot lighter than the full sized iPad:
- iPhone 5 + Cover weight: 135gm
- iPad mini + Cover weight: 375gm
- iPad 3 + Front/Back cover weight: 875gm
The actual official weights are obviously lower – but I use the devices with those covers and so it makes sense to take them into account. The iPad mini is 2.7x heavier than my iPhone 5, but the iPad 3 is only 2.3x heavier than the iPad mini. That being said, it’s a tangible difference. The additional grams in the iPad 3 make it significantly more challenging to hold one-handed when you’re suffering hand/arm problems, and while the iPhone 5 is obviously lighter again than the iPad mini, it’s not always completely practical either.
Overall the build quality of the iPad mini is of a high standard, though the back of the black one at least seems highly prone to picking up marks from handling – more so than just fingerprints, the marks don’t seem readily removable with just a simple rub. Having said that, I’ve picked up a bunch of assorted 7″ to 10″ non-iOS tablets in stores, and generally speaking they’ve fallen into one or more of the following categories:
- Cheap and plastic feeling
There’s undoubtedly some good alternate 7″ tablets out there, but if I were to take an average of those tablets, the iPad mini definitely has a much higher build quality.
Looking past just the iPad mini itself though, I’ve got to say that having only had a leather smart cover for the iPad 3, I’ve found the vinyl smart cover for the iPad mini to look and feel pretty average.
While the full sized iPad smart covers feature 4 folds, the iPad mini’s smart cover only has 3 folds, and I’ve found it very prone to collapsing unless its been positioned exactly. The full size iPad smart cover, having an additional fold, allows for a much more cavalier approach to using it as a stand. In short, the iPad mini smart cover for me is now only a cover – if I need it propped up I put something else under it that won’t collapse at the slightest touch.
Keeping our minds out of the gutter, it’s amazing the difference a few inches can make. The regular iPad is something I rarely, if ever use in portrait mode. Landscape mode not only feels more useful, but also more natural (e.g., with iBooks on the iPad, I automatically go for a 2-page per screen landscape mode). On the other hand, when I’m using the iPad mini, I automatically use it in portrait mode and find landscape mode quite peculiar. (I will note though that iBooks in landscape mode on the iPad mini remains entirely fine for reading, it just doesn’t seem as natural to me.)
From a comfort perspective, it’s certainly easier to hold the iPad mini in portrait mode than it is the iPad, effectively based on where the larger proportion of the weight ends up:
As you can see, my thumb reaches well past the half-way point on the iPad mini – yet, by comparison:
With the full size iPad, my thumb doesn’t quite come to the half-way point in portrait mode, making it feel clumsy, uncomfortable and likely to be dropped.
The verdict: for someone with RSI/tendinitis, the iPad mini is an absolute blessing to hold.
A lot has been said about the resolution of the iPad mini – it’s the same as the resolution of the iPad 1 and iPad 2. If you’ve previously only used an iPad 1 or 2, I anticipate it would be entirely acceptable, but having come from a retina iPad model, it did take a bit of getting used to again. (I’d surmise given Apple’s shortening development cycle that it’s entirely feasible the iPad mini 2 will indeed be retina, and that would be a big improvement.)
So the screen isn’t anything to write home about, yet it’s adequate for reading at a regular font size, and adequate for showing grandma your photos:
(The moiré pattern in the above photo comes from the camera capturing a screen with a slower refresh cycle, not something directly observable when looking at the screen itself.) By comparison, the original photo:
Overall, colour is pretty good, and while clearly not the same as viewing photos on a retina display, for casual photo browsing, no-one is going to bat an eyelid at the mini’s screen.
The on-screen keyboard
I’m a big fan of the on-screen keyboard on the iPad in landscape mode, but not so much in portrait mode. When it comes to the iPad mini, this is exacerbated – someone slender may find the iPad mini’s portrait keyboard OK to use, but I find I’m more prone to make mistakes (and ones that autocorrect has real problems picking up/fixing). Then again, I will admit that this is my standard keyboard:
As you can see, for conventional typing, I’m used to having a lot more space around a keyboard, so a 7″ tablet, in portrait mode, is never going to be particularly “fun” to use. (In comparison, the iPhone’s keyboard is small enough to encourage you to take a two-thumbs approach. The iPad mini keyboard is large enough that as a touch-typist I still try to touch type each time, fail, then drop back to multi-finger pecking.)
I am noticing a stronger tendency in the iPad mini to have the on-screen keyboard clash with multi-line text input fields, which is somewhat annoying. Usually it’s solved by one or two screen rotations, but it really shouldn’t be happening at all. I’m hoping this is just an iOS 6.0.x bug – but if not, well, I’ll be glad that I didn’t buy the iPad mini for content creation.
[EDIT: Turns out this is the infamous keyboard-moving problem. Easy enough to fix.]
It’s zippy – highly responsive given the dual-core 1GHz A5 ARM processor and 512MB of RAM. I’ve not installed a “big” game on the mini, but games such as Riptide GP, which features beautiful water graphics still look and feel fantastic to play, and scrolling shoot-em-up games such as Air Attack HD showed no lag in responsiveness, either. Equally, the iBooks page-turning animation (something people invariably seem to be polarised on) is crisp and responsive.
My surmise when the iPad mini was first released was that this would be directly aimed at being a competitor to the mobile gaming platform. Using it even for a few days has reinforced that for me. Apple may not be directly marketing it along those lines, but it’s undoubtedly going to make an impact there. Indeed, regardless of actual operating system, I’d expect that the 7″ tablet range is going to substantially reduce the profitability of the mobile gaming platform market. It’s a “feels perfect” size to hold, and if a tablet is as light as the iPad mini, the weight will lend itself well to extended gameplay. That the tablets can do so much more than play games will of course remain a compelling incentive (as anyone who has tried to use a web browser on a Sony console – portable or otherwise – would attest to). Not only that, give a kid a $100 iTunes voucher and he or she will get potentially dozens of high quality games for their iPad mini; a $100 voucher at a games store will maybe get one new release title and a couple of second hand games at best.
From a budget perspective, it’s a clear winner as a gaming platform.
The cameras, both rear and forward in the iPad mini are perfectly serviceable for tablet cameras. While some people will undoubtedly want perfection and seriously consider taking photos with a tablet camera, it should be noted that anyone walking around doing that looks like a complete tool, so in reality we’re talking about functionality that exists primarily for video chat and an occasional snap. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you at the time.
That being said, the 5MP rear camera does a good enough job:
The front facing camera is primarily designed for video chat, with a lower resolution, and as such is going to take grainier photos:
The summary – the cameras are adequate for what they promise, and serve their purpose. If you want to judge them against a real camera though, you don’t really understand their purpose.
The speakers in the iPad mini aren’t powerhouses, but they’re more than adequate for watching video or listening to audio, and the fidelity remains acceptable even at maximum volume, so long as the source audio encoding is sufficient.
One last thing: why no other tablets?
Obviously a key consideration for me was weight. So, on that front, you’d be right to ask whether I considered any other tablets. The answer to that is a simple ‘no’. I’ve got a lot of money invested in iOS apps, and they’re portable across the various devices I have, so buying any other tablet was pointless for me, since it would also mean starting afresh with a whole new round of apps for a single device (not to mention potentially needing virus scanning as well).
The iPad mini is a very polished iOS tablet, and my gut feel is that once the mini gets a retina display, it will become the absolute stand-out Apple tablet in terms of sales numbers. The price is perfectly acceptable for the size, and while that may be more than a lot of other 7″ tablets, it comes with a great build quality and the backing of the iOS stable.
The iPad mini is already proving quite popular amongst buyers, but with a retina display, it’s going to leap ahead of its bigger brother. In fact, my gut feel is that once it goes retina, it’ll quickly outstrip regular iPad sales by at least a factor of 2 to 1.
More importantly for me, it’s light. Given how little strength I currently have in my left arm in particular, this is the real blessing of the iPad mini – it’s allowing me to stay mobile. I can easily pick it up, carry it and use it one handed, even left-handed, without feeling an iota of pain. When I purchased the iPad mini, I posted on Facebook, “medicinal iPad acquired”, and I stand by that statement – it’s not just about the overall comfort, it’s about the long-term benefits of reducing the amount of weight I’m holding while I’m recovering from my current problems.