Apple iPad Mini review
7.9 in 1,024x768 display, 308g, 1GHz Apple A5, 512MB RAM, 16GB disk, Apple iOS 6
The iPad created the modern tablet market, so had a huge head start. Early Android-powered tablets just couldn’t compete with the already-established iOS App store or Apple’s extensive iTunes content library. However, Google has now caught up, with a whole host of 7in devices running newer versions of Android providing fantastic value for money and eating into iPad sales. Apple hasn’t taken this lying down, so has fought back with the iPad Mini. With its 7.9in screen it breaks from the 7in tablet norm and is Apple’s cheapest iPad yet, but it will need to impress to outperform the Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD.
The Mini is made from the same high-quality materials as its bigger brother and is available in the same colours, storage capacities and with the option of Wi-Fi or 4G, and is every bit the premium product you would expect from Apple. It’s 7mm thick and weighs just 308g – around 30g lighter than the Nexus 7, or half the weight of a regular iPad. This is mainly thanks to the lightweight aluminium rear panel and glass front, which looks gorgeous in both black and white.
Despite the iPad's slim profile, Apple has still made room for the usual selection of buttons and ports. The mute switch and volume buttons are found on the upper right side, just as they are on the full-size iPad, except Apple has opted for separate buttons for increasing and decreasing volume rather than use the old rocker switch design. The power button is at the top of the tablet, along with a small slit for the microphone and a 3.5mm headphone port. Stereo speaker grilles and Apple’s new Lightning port are situated at the bottom and the left side is kept bare, reserved to attach one of Apple’s magnetised Smart Covers. The lens for the 5-megapixel camera is the only item of note on the rear and there's the standard single button on the front, as on every iOS device.
It’s not just the tablet itself that’s thin – the screen bezel is less than 7mm wide. It’s almost impossible to hold the tablet without one of your fingers touching the screen, so Apple has developed “resting thumb recognition” to avoid any accidents. The system worked well when we were reading eBooks on the move, letting us turn the page with one thumb while the tablet ignored the other.
The screen itself is a major departure for the tablet market. To avoid any problems with existing apps, the iPad Mini has a 4:3, 7.9in display with the same 1,024x768 resolution as the iPad 2. It has roughly 35% more screen surface area than a 7in Android tablet, but there are significantly fewer pixels filling that space. The 1,280x800 Google Nexus 7 has a pixel density of 216ppi – a lot higher than the 163ppi of the iPad Mini's screen.
In side-by-side comparisons with higher-resolution tablets like the Nexus, the iPad Mini loses out on sharpness, but in practice we preferred the extra screen space on the iPad for web browsing. The browser tabs take up a lot more room in landscape view on the Nexus, meaning you get almost 60% more viewable space on the iPad. You can’t spot any signs of pixilation unless you look very closely and most websites were designed with 768 horizontal pixels in mind, so you rarely have to scroll left or right.
However, the 16:9 Nexus 7 is far better suited to video playback than the iPad, as the Mini's 4:3 ratio gives films huge black bars on either side. On the plus side, the iPad Mini's IPS panel reproduces colours accurately and has fantastic viewing angles, even if the glossy display is incredibly reflective.
As the iPad Mini's speakers are both on the bottom of the tablet, you don’t get proper stereo sound like on the Kindle Fire HD with its side-mounted speakers. The Mini's sound quality overall is impressive, though, and perfect for listening to internet radio with the Mini on its side.
The Mini is powered by the same 1GHz dual-Core A5 processor as the iPad 2, and it's no slouch. Apps admittedly load slightly more slowly than on the 3rd or 4th generation iPad, or even an iPhone 5, but they rarely take more than a second or two and in general use it felt just as snappy and responsive as any other iOS device. The Mini completed the SunSpider benchmark in 1514ms, which is a step behind the iPad 3 and far slower than the iPad 4, but this is still significantly faster than the Tegra 3-powered Google Nexus 7. The Mini also finished the cross-platform GLBench with an average 24fps. Even though the Mini has two graphics cores rather than the four of the iPad 3, it has fewer pixels to shift around so managed a similar score.
As with the full-size iPad, Apple promises ten hours of battery on the iPad Mini. In our standard handheld test, which plays a looping video at half brightness with Wi-Fi disabled, it managed over eleven and a half hours – an incredible result for such a small tablet.