First Look: iPad mini

The time for compromises is over. No longer do you have to choose between the iPad you may want and the iPad with the Retina display. The new iPad mini is just as powerful as the iPad Air, both have a Retina display, long battery life, and many other features that make the iPad the best-selling tablet on the market.

As much as I love the Air, I still find myself reaching for the iPad mini. The fact that it didn’t have a Retina display was a sacrifice I was willing to make for the diminutive device. Even when I landed in New York last night, I reached for the mini, even though I had the iPad Air in my bag. It was just more convenient at that particular time.

The device’s lightweight design makes it perfect for travelers like me. Like many people that purchased the mini, I went into it knowing the sacrifice–no Retina display. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone that hasn’t listed the lack of a Retina display as one of their main reservations about buying the iPad mini.

I spent some time with the iPad mini when Apple announced the device in October and I picked up the mini on Tuesday in a meeting with Apple.

The weight of the new iPad mini feels about the same to me. There certainly isn’t the huge difference that I felt when picking up the iPad Air and comparing it to the previous generation iPad. The width and height of both iPads are the same too. What is different is the thickness–the Retina display added a slight bit of thickness to the new iPad over the previous model. The change is minimal, but if you line them up, you can see it.

The two major differences in the new iPad mini are the display and the power behind the device with the A7 and M7 coprocessor.

It should come as no surprise that the Retina display is absolutely gorgeous. Just looking at the two iPad minis side-by-side, you can see the difference. Of course, images are beautiful and the detail is something you can easily see. With all Retina display devices, it’s not just images that are better–text is so much clearer to read, even from a distance like when you are writing while using an iPad keyboard like I am right now, doing this review.

The fact that Apple included the A7 and M7 chips in the iPad mini truly means there is no sacrifice with this device.

It seems that for years, Apple has released a faster chip and then developers would build apps that took advantage of all of that power and then some. Some of the more powerful apps would test the limits of the iPad.

The A7 looks like the chip that can withstand the demands of developers for some time. It’s a 64-bit chip that offers Apple some breathing room, but also gives developers the power and headroom they need to continue pushing the envelope without hitting the power ceiling.

I normally use the iPad to surf the Web, answer emails and do research for stories that I’ll post to the site. However, sometimes, I will record music using GarageBand, especially when I’m on the road.

Audio can be taxing on any system, so I was interested to see how the iPad mini would handle a large GarageBand project. I loaded up a new project with 32 audio tracks and began my tests. There was nothing that I could do to make the iPad mini falter when playing, recording, or even quickly starting and stopping. I didn’t expect it to choke completely, but I did think the quick stops and starts might give it a bit of trouble—it didn’t.

The other thing I should note is that there were no issues with heat in the iPad mini. If I was going to have any issues at all, I would think it would come when I’m using the processor the most, like playing audio in GarageBand. I looped a large section of the song and let it play for a while with no signs of any heat from the device.

Of course, the inclusion of the M7 gives developers the opportunity to use the data collected from the integrated accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses. It will be interesting to see how developers use this coprocessor over the year or so.

Battery life is another important issue with any device we use these days. I had the iPad mini turned on for about 31.5 hours before it ran out of juice. During that time, I easily used it for more than 10 hours—the majority of that time was doing work, not watching HD movies, playing games or other tasks that would wear down the battery abnormally. The most CPU intensive thing I did was using GarageBand and that was only for a small portion of that 31.5 hours.

There are more efficient ways to charge the iPad battery than using the computer, but when I’m home, that’s what I normally do. I plugged the iPad in when it was dead and it took about 4.5 hours to fully charge—that’s actually better than I expected. The next time, I’ll try the wall charger, which should be even faster.

If there’s one thing missing from the iPad line right now it’s Touch ID. I’m so used to using Touch ID with my iPhone these days, it’s habit to just rest my finger on the Home button, fully expecting the iPad to unlock.

Not having Touch ID doesn’t affect performance, but it is a convenience thing that’s becoming more important every day. I would have bet money that the iPad Air and iPad mini would have had the fingerprint sensor—clearly I would have been wrong.

The only issue I had using the iPad mini is that the orientation stopped working at one point. I picked it up and it would switch to landscape mode, no matter what I did. I checked to make sure the lock button wasn’t engaged; I wasn’t in an app that required landscape; and it wasn’t frozen. It was odd—I restarted and everything was fine. It only happened that one time.

The iPad mini can easily be your only iPad. The fact is, it always could, but you can do so now without feeling like you’re giving something up in return for the size. The iPad mini is small, it has a Retina display and it’s the most powerful iPad to date. With the small exception of Touch ID, there is just nothing bad to say about the iPad mini.

Update: Changed the headline to read “First Look” and added two paragraphs on Touch ID.

Update 2: I added some information about battery, using GarageBand to test the CPU and the orientation lock. 11/14/2013



  • stevemoser

    The M7 in the iPad isn’t as interesting as the M7 in the iPhone as the iPad won’t give developers access to step data.

    • rattyuk

      Would you care to elaborate, please?

      • stevemoser

        Just try the new Nike+ app that uses the M7 on an iPad. It pops up with an error screen. It’s not that Nike didn’t implement it for iPad, Apple just doesn’t give access.

        • Idon’t Know

          That has nothing to do with the M7, it’s how Nike chose to implant it. Developers get the same access to the M7 in the iPad that they do in the iPhone.

    • http://miralize.com Sean O’Grady

      Is it just that the m7 wont be as valueable for step data because it wont be on their person… or its not providing step data at all?

      • Kip Beatty

        The M7 in the iPad supplies the exact same data as the M7 in the iPhone. What the OP means is that since your unlikely to carry the iPad (even the mini) on you at all times throughout the day (especially working out, jogging, etc.) it will lack the step data necessary to be really beneficial.

        • stevemoser

          @kipbeatty:disqus @miralize:disqus The M7 in both the iPhone and iPad probably provides the same data that Apple can access for help with detecting if you are in a car and should connect to a wifi access point. However the step data is not available to devs on the iPad. If step data would be useful on an iPad is a different debate.

          • Idon’t Know

            No you are completely wrong about this.

      • dicklacara

        I suspect that step data was added to the API for much more than just fitness apps. Consider Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM to allow indoor navigation and tracking. With step data (in addition to the other M7 data) the WiFiSLAM process can pinpoint a users exact location, speed, direction to a much more precise and granular degree that WiFi and BLE trilateration, alone. Much of this done in the background with low power.

        So, yes, it makes sense to have M7 capabilities (including step data) in the iPads. Consider people walking around a store, restaurant or shop taking inventory — most likely, they would be using an iPad. The iPad would know exactly where they are, and could anticipate where they are going.

        Same use for doctors on their rounds in a hospital… Visitors touring a museum…

    • Herding_sheep

      The real benefit to the M7 isn’t just in fitness apps, its also with the new CoreMotion APIs in iOS 7. Developers can let their imagination run wild using CoreMotion in iOS 7 without having to worry about battery-life implications.

      I suspect one of the real reasons Apple created the M7 was precisely for the effects using CoreMotion in iOS 7. The parallax effect is the most obvious thing, it now no longer has any tangible effect on battery life. They’ve made CoreMotion significantly more powerful and accurate in iOS 7, and the sensors are always running 24/7 without draining the battery. There’s some real potential there beyond just a simple step counter, even on the iPad.

    • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

      Devs have and will come up with many ways to use the M7 that don’t include step data.

    • dicklacara

      According to the docs:

      Overview

      The CMStepCounter class provides access to the number of steps the user has taken with the device. Step information is gathered on devices with the appropriate built-in hardware and stored so that you can run queries to determine the user’s recent physical activity. You use this class to gather both current step data and any historical data.

    • moofer

      You jog with your iPad?

  • Mark Thomson

    I won a mini and shortly after sold my 3rd gen. I’ve loved the size, but lamented the lack of retina. Even at some times, telling my self to just hold it a little further away and i wont notice! It’s not true. We’ve recent gotten some Airs in the office and I find it a bit big after only a few months with the mini (I had a 1st gen then a third from launch). If apple extend their trade in program, switching to a Mini-r for Christmas may just happen.

  • http://www.sk1wbw.wordpress.com/ Wayne Williams

    Jim, I’ll gladly write the review of a lifetime if you buy me one. :) Oh, and a few cases of Heineken to boot.

  • Moeskido

    I have yet to test a mini for typing, which is something I suspect I’d rather do on the full-size iPad.

    • David Dykstal

      I find that I use the one finger or two thumb method on a full size iPad rather than touch typing. I used a bluetooth keyboard if I needed the speed. Given that, the decision to move to the retina iPad mini was easy.

    • dvdphn

      I got my mini in January, and have yet to type in landscape with it, (heck, I just tested it right now, and it’s a cramped keyboard like on a netbook).

      If you’re a fast two-thumb typer, (iPhone landscape), then you should enjoy typing on the iPad mini in portrait.

      • Moeskido

        I have yet to get good enough at thumb-typing on my iPod touch. I’ll probably get there, but I’m not enjoying the process right now and tend to avoid it.

        • dvdphn

          4-inch screen or 3.5? Guess it doesn’t matter, the tap targets are small anyways.

          Actually, if you have an iPad, the keyboard in portrait is similar to the mini in landscape.

  • http://hsouris.com/ Harry Souris

    Jim, does it get hot like iPad 3 did?

    • http://www.laugh-eat.com/ mdelvecchio

      that was really a non-issue imo. i have the 3 and it gets slightly warm when playing Infinity Blade 3…during normal use I’ve never thought about it.

    • deasys

      The iPad 3 does not get “hot,” even after extended play of graphics-intensive games, e.g. Real Racing HD 3.

      • http://hsouris.com/ Harry Souris

        We either clearly talking about different devices or have a very contrasting definition of hot. My iPad 3 gets warm where the processor is even while browsing with Safari.

        • deasys

          “Warm,” Harry? Is it warm or is it “hot?”

          • http://hsouris.com/ Harry Souris

            I’m not talking about it in any discomforting way. ‘Warm’ is perhaps the better word, okay. But it bothered me personally.

      • Domicinator

        I loved my iPad 3 but it did get hot. I remember the day I finished Infinity Blade II on the train on the way home from work–I had played for about a straight hour and a half, and while it wasn’t so hot I couldn’t touch it, it was hot enough that I was nervous that I had damaged it somehow.

    • dvdphn

      Oh lexical semantics. Unsettlingly warm would be how I’d describe it, (iPhone 4 doing something processor intensive, or out in the sun). Still hold-able though.

      Hot is more like how my aluminum MacBook gets when running video or Flash. You don’t want to have that touching your skin.

  • Neil Gilroy

    Wow what an appalling “review”. This is a “hands on initial thoughts” at best and definelty NOT a review. Very sloppy and really not what I would expect from this site.

    • Stefan

      Fixed.

  • Stefan

    After reading the article I’m not sure if this comes with a retina display or not? ;-)

  • ignobilitor

    As a musician who frequently uses the virtual piano keyboard on my iPad, I maintain that the iPad mini cannot now (and never could) easily be one’s only iPad if one wishes to compose on one’s iPad.

  • Space Gorilla

    Jim, for a keyboard case, try ZAGG, the key thing about their folio case is you can open and close it (and prop the iPad up) with one hand.