Apple’s latest iPad is a tiny charmer; a 7.85 inch tablet known as the iPad Mini. Oddly, it was known as the iPad Mini way before Apple actually formally announced it, or for that matter launched it. As I write this, it’s currently only available in 16, 32 or 64GB versions with Wi-Fi connectivity; by the end of November it’ll also be possible to pay extra for a version that includes 4G LTE mobile broadband connectivity. Pricing ranges from $329 for the baseline 16GB Wi-Fi model all the way up to $659 for the 64GB 4G LTE model. That top end pricing isn’t spectacular; for $70 more than the LTE model you could score the 64GB WiFi 10″ 4th generation iPad, a much faster model with a superior display. At the entry level, too, it’s not without its challenges.
As with much of Apple’s output, the iPad Mini is very well built indeed; it’s got a slender and attractive profile, a single “home” button and most of the same internal components found in the larger iPad 2 model. That includes the screen, and that’s one area where the iPad Mini does disappoint a little. Apple’s made so much noise about the quality of its “retina” displays — although “retina display” is little more than a marketing term rather than a standard — to find an iPad with a rather more regular 1024×768 163 pixel per inch display is a little surprising. Put it side by side with a 3rd or 4th generation iPad, and the differences are stark, although in day to day operation it’s not actually a bad screen — it’s just not as good as some others that Apple offers.
It’s all but impossible to discuss the iPad Mini and not mention its competition, although for the longest time there wasn’t much in serious competition to the original iPad itself. Unusually, though, Apple finds itself on the back foot with the Mini, as there’s already an established, powerful small tablet out there to buy; Google’s Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 has a faster processor, higher resolution screen, and it’s cheaper, which would make it seem like the absolute and obvious choice.
It’s not quite that clean-cut, however. Without a doubt, if you just wanted to dip your toes in the tablet waters for basic tasks like web surfing, social networking and the like, the Nexus 7 would be the tablet to buy; at $249 for the 16GB version it’s solidly cheaper than Apple’s alternative.
Where Apple’s still got something of an edge is in other applications and how well they work. This is something that Android — the underlying operating system on the Nexus 7 — still struggles with. Some apps work admirably, but others display odd stretched out behaviour, or just stay as ‘phone resolution’ apps with lots of black space around them. If you’re already heavily invested in the iOS ecosystem via an iPhone, you’ll find apps either natively scale, or can be expanded up to double size with ease.
It’s always been true that to make the most of an iPad you had to marry yourself to Apple’s controlled ecosystem, but the iPad Mini is the bleeding edge of that argument; you’d have to want a smaller iPad quite a lot for it to make a lot of sense compared to the larger (and faster) model. It’s certainly well built, and it runs well — but ponder the alternatives before plunking down your hard earned cash.