iPad Mini 16GB Wi-Fi Review - Week One

This is my 2nd review of the iPad mini after my unboxing post, and a week of heavy use. I have managed to get it mostly configured and working with Wi-Fi and my Bluetooth devices, but I feel like I have barely begun. iCloud is not really what I consider an integrated cloud service though I can't blame Apple. The various service ecosystems do not help matters, and thus I still have not configured all my apps and services (i.e. gmail exchange service for calendars, contacts, etc.), but am getting there slowly but surely. In this post, I focus on the screen, camera and related apps...

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In these reviews, I will not rehash iPad or iOS capabilities covered by other more worthy reviewers here and elsewhere--instead conduct more of a comparative review of specific mini aspects that are unique to it. You would think that a 7-inch screen would feel limited or somehow scrunched compared to iPad. For many apps, the size difference is not as noticeable as you might think, though for drawing and super high-res games or video, I would opt for the bigger tablet. The smaller screen is not something that will bother most casual users, in my opinion, as the pixel density count is still a respectable 163ppi.

Text and images are certainly rendered on a smaller scale, but the sharp 1024X768 rez IPS LCD screen is clear from just about any angle, as with any Apple screen. The full iPad experience (i.e. propped-up full text entry and browsing) is certainly better. The somewhat flip-floppy base of the Smart Cover makes propped-up browsing on the iPad mini somewhat dicey due to the lighter weight. It seems easy to knock it completely off or to collapse the base while tapping or touching the screen, but in truth it would take a pretty forceful tap to knock it over. I found that using a stylus definitely helped to minimize the risk.

For gaming, the 7-inch screen in my opinion is the sweet spot. I often felt the larger iPad was a somewhat unwieldy size for gaming, though many games look gorgeous on the large Retina display (or at least those designed for it). The smaller mini could probably benefit from a gaming case with grips (a worthy mini accessory), as there isn't as much real estate to hold onto, though it hasn't seemed to affected my scoring. Games that rely on accelerometer or positioning of the unit especially benefit from the iPad mini's lighter/thinner package, which is easier to tilt.

I found that all my previous games played really well on mini, and in fact games not made for iPad look less pixilated in the 2x view mode than on a bigger iPad. I tested my small suction-cup JOYSTICK-IT game controller and that also worked decently for many games that would have had larger control layouts on the full iPad (and not worked as well). What I really wish is that someone would develop a decent mobile game controller that can be programmed to work with all games. Game Center progress transferred for my favorite games (Trigger Fist, Dinosaur Hunter and Galaxy on Fire 2), and have picked up exactly where I left off on the old iPad.

Typing on the screen is the easiest of any iOS device, in my opinion. I would rather have a bigger sized screen for long sessions, but this works well for response to email or other simple text entry, even one-handed. I think if you're using iPad for more productivity reasons and less for entertainment, then you might consider keeping your bigger iPad, and bypassing mini (unless you just want to be a Greedy Gus and have both). Gamers and casual users, will probably gravitate toward the smaller mini (or probably a Retina "mini 2"). The screen on mini is very responsive to gestures and other forms of input. Of course, I was able to quickly get my Bluetooth keyboard paired up with mini, so didn't have to resort to as much screen tapping after that.


iPad mini Front/Rear Camera

The camera (and the camera app) are somewhat useful to me, though not a driving reason for me wanting a mini. This blogging thing might cause me to use it once in a while--the mini rear-side camera is decent enough for situations where I don't have my dedicated P-n-S Canon. iPad is not great at image stabilization, and though it only features a 5-megapixel resolution, macro shots looked sufficiently clean provided you hold it firmly. It would do in a pinch, I would say. iPhone 5 is the best option for camera integration if you really want that in a single portable device.

For the kind of close pix I need, the smart cover works pretty well for stabilizing the iPad mini. The shot above was taken with mini (right) and my P-n-S (left). At higher magnification, you would certainly see a marked quality difference, though my camera tends to overdo some shading and color (which often makes for better blog shots), the depth is certainly much better with my Canon. You may not win any awards with the rear-camera on mini, but you can certainly take decent pix, however you will need at least some ambient light to do so. There is no flash on the unit, so really low light images are not worth the effort. The front facing pin-hole camera is a 1.2 megapixel which provides enough optical prowess for FaceTime sessions, or Photo Booth type quick snaps. 

The Camera and Photo Booth apps are both worth mentioning, if only from the standpoint of being simple and no-nonsense ways to take interesting photos, tweak and share them on your mini. I think the key difference from a full iPad being that mini might be slim-line enough to work as a second still/vid camera. The camera app itself is the same app you expect, allowing you to capture mostly-stable images and 1080p vids. Also easier to perform with mini is the pinch-zooming of views, though it worked best using 2 thumbs when holding the unit with both hands. You can apply instant quirky effects to live views from either camera using Photo Booth, and it similarly makes it easy to snap unique pix to share with your friends. I'll cover video shooting and playback in the next segment...

So, enough for this post, as I've blathered on too long already... All-in-all, am still really loving the thing called mini, and have not once thought, "Oh wow! I really miss this whatever-it-is on my bigger iPad!" Games play better than the dinosaur iPad 1 for sure, and the camera is passable. Quick text typing is one of mini's best assets so far. If you waited to jump like I did, I don't think you can go wrong with the iPad mini.

Make sure to tune in for next week's installment where I'll dive into more of my iPad mini experience, especially some of my favorite apps. Hopefully I should have everything updated and working by then!!

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Nate Adcock is a system and integration engineer with experience managing and administering a variety of computing environments. He has worked extensively with mobile gadgets of all shapes and sizes for many years. He is also a former military weather forecaster. Nate is a regular contributor for the iphonelife.com and smartphonemag.com blogs and helps manage both websites. Read more from Nate at natestera.tumblr.com or e-mail him at nate@iphonelife.com.