In 2010, Steve Jobs veraciously denounced the batch of 7-inch tablets being created by Apple’s competitors to fend off the iPad, bemoaning the sacrifice in usability that had to be made to cram it into the smaller chassis. Two years later, incumbent Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to unveil the more diminutive iPad – the iPad Mini – that Jobs said should never happen. Was he right all along or has Cook found the formula to condense the iPad without compromise?
Strictly speaking, the iPad Mini rocks a 7.9-inch display, nearly a full inch larger than its competition: Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. The Mini is thinner and lighter than both rivals though bigger in other dimensions to accommodate the larger screen, home button and 1.2 megapixel camera on the front face. The 5 megapixel rear-camera is embedded in an aluminium aft which, while alluring, will probably show some battle scars before long.
Atop the Mini you’ll find the 3.5mm headphone jack and standby button, whilst the edges are clear of all but the volume rocker and lock switch. Between the dual speaker-grilles along the bottom sits the new proprietary “lightning” port that have been on all Apple devices since the iPhone 5. Other than being considerably smaller, the main benefit of this new connector is the ability to be plugged in either side-up, if you ever had trouble with that before.
Conspicuous is the lack of retina display, which may be a way to save cost, battery life or simply as an incentive to put into the next generation Mini. Nevertheless, its absence may be disappointing for those looking to use it to watch videos on the move and gives the Mini an overall underwhelming display than its less wallet-draining competitors.
Under the hood is Apple’s A5 chip clocked at 1GHz: notably less powerful than the A6 and A6X CPUs powering the latest generation iPhone and larger iPads. This may be another concession to bring down the cost or power consumption of the device. However, the Nexus 7 carries a faster quad-core NVidia chip and boasts the same 10-hour battery life, so this seems unnecessary.
Moving away from the hardware, the Mini runs iOS but with one crucial difference: thumb detection, which lets you use the multi-touch display when your thumb is resting on the screen without causing interference. Given the tiny bezel on either side of the display, this is a welcome feature and shows that Apple are putting real thought into the limitations of a smaller form factor. In terms of usability, it was surprisingly easy to type for prolonged periods, likely due to the slightly larger screen allowing the onscreen keyboard to be more spacious.
The iPad Mini is available directly from Apple, priced at £269 for the 16GB model and scaling up to £429 for the 64GB storage. Tack another £100 if you want it to come with a 3G receiver. Like its commodious counterpart, the Mini can be decked out with a Smart Case cover (£35), though with only three folding segments on this version it doesn’t feel nearly as sturdy.
Apple seems to have taken pains to minimise compromising usability or design – two of Apple’s core principles – when coming up with the iPad Mini. Unfortunately, either a desire to reduce cost or to not show their hand too early means that unnecessary sacrifices have been made elsewhere. Time will tell if Apple has enough clout to sell the Mini despite its limitations, or if people will be drawn to the cheaper, more powerful Nexus 7.