By Todd Bernhard on Mon, 11/05/2012
Usually, when a new iOS gadget is introduced, I preorder it, receive it on the first day of shipments, and promptly write about it for iPhone Life. With the iPad mini, I did all of the above except I took a few days to write this article. Why? Because I'm using the mini too much for other purposes! Or my kids have grabbed it from me! So, it's 4am Monday and I've finally got a chance to reflect on this marvel of engineering.
The mini will be my new companion, if not 24x7, certainly 9 to 5, as a work device. Although as an independent app developer, work hours are more like 24x7 than 9 to 5! But the point is, for work use, the mini is hard to beat. Technically, my full size 'new iPad' beats it in specifications, screen size and performance, but it is so pleasant to have such a light, thin and capable device with the mini.
Sure, the iPad mini doesn't match the latest features of even other iPads let alone Android or Windows tablets, but that's not the point. This remarkable addition to the Apple product line isn't about specifications. The iPad mini is about form factor, fit, and finish, and it is fantastic in all of those areas. Indeed, fantasy is the right term, as the iPad mini is straight out of science fiction. You could easily picture the mini in the next Star Trek movie.
So, what is so great about the form factor? The mini is the right size to carry in most coat pockets, purses, and more. My full size iPad doesn't go with me all the time, but the mini could. As to fit and finish, it feels much more solid than plasticky Android tablets, which do their utmost to earn the $199 price tag. My daughter's nook feels like a price point was established first, and the product was built to meet that requirement. Most phones did as well, before Apple revolutionized the market. My Nokia e62, Palm Treo, and Compaq iPaq all had too much plastic and not enough quality materials.
Apple doesn't operate this way. As the saying goes, Apple products have rounded edges because they don't cut corners! When creating a new product line, they build the best gadgets they can fit into a form factor, and price it accordingly, often higher than I'd like. For example, there is no reason going from 16GB to 32GB should add $100 given today's memory pricing, but Apple doesn't care. True, when the next generation is introduced, they keep the same price points but they have created enough margin to allow for future enhancements and still make a nice profit. This formula has led to Apple becoming the most valuable company in America so who am I to argue?
Still, there are some drawbacks. The mini's screen is not Retina but it has a higher pixel density than the iPad 2 or original iPad. It is noticeable but not a problem for me. Still others have shied away from the mini because of this. I'm sure that a future mini will have a Retina display. I have adjusted the font sizes in Settings -> Accessibility to make the text easier to read in apps like mail, so that helps. The mini's smaller size leads to a smaller on screen keyboard. As I type this, on my mini, I am making frequent typos. But I am learning to leverage autocorrect and, with Siri built in, I may resort to dictation more often. I could also use an external keyboard but that detracts from the portability advantage.
My kids like the mini better, too. It could be because it is the 'new thing' but I think the fact that is lighter and fits in their hands better is the real reason. Even I found the full size iPad to be a bit too heavy for extended use, but as others have noted, the iPad mini is almost too light! That's a hard thing to complain about! But I expect to use the mini in a case, which will make it more substantial.
I thought I'd have buyer's remorse, since I already have a full size iPad, and that one has 4G LTE service. Perhaps I should have waited and gotten the 4G LTE mini, and sold my larger iPad, but I think there will be times I will want the bigger model and those are likely to be the times I will want 4G service too. I am reminded of the lesson 'be careful what you wish for...' Apple has given us everything we've asked for, except perhaps lower prices, so I shouldn't complain about all of the choices!