By Nate Adcock on Mon, 11/05/2012
Finally have exactly the iPad that I want. The mini... I need something small and light, but with a decent screen for games, ebooks, email and web. I don't carry a lot of pix or music around (except maybe to the gym and have a nano for that). I likely won't use the rear camera that much, though that might come in handy for quick product shots or quick videos in a review or something (though have a much better P-n-S camera for that). So, if you have similar requirements, you should consider getting one. The technical specs are not great compared to other tablets this size. Slower CPU, less RAM, no GPS... So why spend the considerable price then? Hopefully I will answer that question in one of what will be several review posts on the new mini in the coming weeks. But first let's put that aside, and simply enjoy the unboxing and basic configuration of this trim new iPad! Love it or hate it, you have to admit it looks pretty cool, and why not? It is after all an iPad...
What's in the box?...basically an iPad, a lightning-USB cable, power charger, Apple logo stickers, a quickstart and warranty info..
First to describe yes even the box. Apple doesn't seem to deviate much from the tried and true. Hmm, must be something to that... Other vendors may tend toward trying to create ever more complicated packaging and flashy wrappers for their gadgets, but Apple has pretty much stuck with the same formula. I have done many unboxings over the years, and in this regard, Apple could be considered predictable and yes, even boring. That is, however, if the packaging wasn't so pleasing itself. You see, the devil is really in the details when it comes to Apple hardware. The difference in that experience is not to be underestimated or downplayed...You pay for not just a great and reliable tablet, but a great tablet-buying experience as well. The boxing of Apple products is so finely done, you can't bring yourself to ever get rid of them (those of us who appreciate that sort of thing). Simple white packaging with the Apple logo, the product name and an image, but the box top fits so precisely, that a satisfying suction will make getting it off a lesson in sublime patience. One must savor an Apple unboxing. Inside, the simple magic continues, so let us begin, but first a warning--I don't intend to cover every aspect of the mini in this unbox post. Mainly just the highlights and setup. The follow-up posts will be much more in-depth.
Apple lays the device right on top, covered (except at the corners) in a clear plastic that is suitable to function as a slim protective cover (until you actually buy a real one that is), so it's the first thing you see once getting that tricky top off. After pulling the iPad mini out, you notice it's thin, light yet solid feel, and the ease with which one can heft it single-handedly. Removing the wrapper, you next relish the gun-metal texture of the unit's back. Apple has done a magnificent job building in the same excellent design concerns into iPad mini of mini's bigger brother, the iPad. Not only is the front glass superb and smooth to the touch, it provides durable scratch resistance (well, we shall see how well, as I have been using it sans screen protector so far...).
The mini is almost the perfect size for my desk or walking around the office (see some pix posted later in the review)... It really feels so much more comfortable when carrying it around, and as with other Apple products, the quality of the product is obvious. Sorry to digress there a bit into total fanboy-land, which I ordinarily try not to do, so back to the unbox. The back of the mini sports an original look for Apple devices: a slate colored aluminum back cover that looks better I think than the previous models, but then that is a matter of personal taste. You may choose to get the White/Silver version featuring the more traditional Apple look, however...
The front LED screen glass has what looks to be a thin bevelled edge that wraps around from the back and meets it perfectly flush. A tiny scratch or ding marred my unit just below the home button (you can just make it out in the pix above north of the lightning port), but it's so small as to be almost beneath whining about. You can see it more clearly at different angles, and it's so tiny, I can't tell if it's on the edge of the glass itself, or the cover. This is unusual for any Apple product I have owned. I cannot remember to date ever noting any perceptible damage to anything I have purchased from Apple coming out of the box. The mini's speaker grills are located in the bottom on either side of the new lightning connector (see pix above). Early ad-hoc music/game playback testing was surprisingly bright and clear sounding at all levels.
Along the top and upper right side of the mini, Apple preserves the same basic power and volume button layout and functionality of other devices, but the difference from the bigger iPad is apparent in the look of the buttons, which actually closely resemble those of iPod touch more than a bigger iPad. In fact the buttons on my iPod touch are very close to the same size and Gen 5 looks identical, though someone with a unit to compare with would have to confirm that.
In many regards, mini really is much closer to a sized-up iPod touch than a shrunk down iPad, in my opinion. But this doesn't just include buttons. Mainly it comes in the form of usability. I noticed typing in basic text strings in the Notes application that I could very easily (and in stable fashion), type rapidly for an extended period without setting the unit down on a table or desktop. I have always been amazed how fast I can thumb type on my iPod touch, and one-handed typing on the mini is similarly easy.
Setting Up mini...not that easy
Now comes the time in the review where I give Apple a few bruises (you knew it was coming sooner or later). Not everything is going to be all chocolates and candy kisses in these reviews, I assure you. I have plenty of gripes about iOS stored up, but let's start with just the initial setup.
Please Apple, make this easier. First, let me get into the home screen without DOING ANYTHING! Quickly bypass every screen prompt and just start using the darn thing. Yes, I know it's essentially a fancy, back-lighted brick until it connects to a network and I sync it up with iCloud, get all my apps and settings configured...but so what? Say I want to show off my new toy...maybe at least the darn home screen! Maybe take a few pictures with it, huh? Had the device delivered to my work, so I could do just that. The setup screens all up in your grill until you either connect to iTunes or a Wi-Fi network. Also, please Apple, show me my MAC address before setup (every Wi-Fi device vendor, listen up) please! I can't connect my Wi-Fi mini to my Wi-Fi network because my net is both hidden and uses MAC authentication, so that left the not really easier option of using iTunes to start the configuration... You will start by connecting the mini's Lightning port to your computer if you go this route, but get ready for more hassle.
Big Gripe number 2...iTunes setup still weird and confusing. No I DO NOT WANT TO RESTORE ANOTHER IPAD's backup to my excellent new mini! Does anyone do this that often? You get a new device (probably a newer model and maybe new iOS version), and you restore from an old one? Everything in iCloud and iTunes is available to be synced to your new iPad mini. Why would you need to restore from a backup to the new one? I'm not saying there shouldn't be a way to do this. Of course there should (a replacement device, etc.), but present maybe a prompt or pop-up later, as this is just another annoyance to most new device owners. I may not want all the junk I had on the old one, for cripes sake! I'm sure users will argue this both ways, but personally I have set up a lot of devices and never used this option.
All-in-all, I estimate the configuration time mess took me a few hours to get the stuff I wanted from iTunes transferred and working on the new mini, as well as my Wi-Fi working and my accounts configured (including transfer of some 100+ apps). Cleaning up all my icons took another 25 minutes (this should be a config item that can be synced across devices as well). Instead of post up shots of every one of these screens, I figure it's easier to just tell you my important or recommended settings:
1. Manually manage songs and photos-If you get a 16GB mini, and enjoy a lot of games like me, you probably won't have space for all that stuff anyway. You can still drag songs or playlists over later.
2. Turn on location services-No GPS on Wi-Fi mini...but other apps and services you may want to use will need them to function, and you can always tweak them on a per app basis later under the Privacy tab. The free service Apple provides that allows you to find your iPad will require location services, for example...
3. Turn on Siri-Even if you think you will not ever use this, turn it on, as this is one of the cool things mini can do, so even just to try it for a minute! You can turn it off in Settings >> Privacy later if you like.
So, enough blathering about the unboxing and griping about the setup. I have actually started to use some apps now (2 days after I got it), so should hopefully have more in-depth analysis to report by late week. My early feeling is that the screen is great (even without the Retina quality), the unit is the perfect size, and I am going to really love this device. I played a few of my fav games (of course Trigger Fist being notably one), and was frankly impressed on all counts (visuals, game performance, sound, etc.). I'll post back up with part 2 very soon, so stay tuned!