Review: iPad mini

I was wrong. I have wondered publicly whether or not a smaller tablet would fit into my workflow and even suggested the larger iPad would be better. I was wrong.

I picked up my iPad mini and iPad 4 from Apple just after the special event ended last week in San Jose and have been using them ever since. I haven’t used the mini to the exclusion of my iPad, but I wanted to see where this new device would fit into my lifestyle without being forced.

What I found was surprising to me. I actually used the iPad mini more than my iPad.

It’s important to understand how I use my iPad. My iPad is the device I use at the end of the day when I put my computer down, but still have a few things to do. I’m winding down at that point in the day.

I answer emails, check the site and basically get things ready for the next day. Since all of my information is kept in iCloud or services like Instapaper, I have access to everything I need on all my devices. For instance, any links I save using Instapaper are also on my Mac, so I don’t need to worry about where I work or what device I use.

Of course, things are a little different when I travel — the iPad gets more use than normal in airplanes, hotels, airports and meetings.

In addition to using the iPad mini in my normal daily tasks, I also found that I would pick up the mini and use it where I normally wouldn’t use the iPad. For instance, if I’m on a phone call, I would typically use my iPhone to look things up while I walk around or type notes, look at Web sites and things like that. Now, I’m using the iPad mini because it’s compact enough to carry around, but not so large that it’s cumbersome.

The iPad mini has technologies that help you use the device too. For instance, when you hold the mini with one hand your thumb naturally touches the screen on the side of the device. There is no way to stop that from happening — it’s going to happen.

Now, when you’re reading a book and you touch the side of the screen, the book will think you want to change pages. And it would do that, if the iPad weren’t smart. But it is smart, so it recognizes that you are resting your thumb on the device and don’t actually want that touch to do anything. So it doesn’t. Smart.

If you tap your thumb on the screen, it will immediately change the page for you. Smart. Apple worked out how people were going to use and even hold the device and made sure iOS and the iPad didn’t interfere with what you want to do. Those are the types of details we expect to see from Apple.

This isn’t even something I noticed on the larger iPad because I didn’t walk around holding it with one hand. I didn’t have to worry about accidental taps on the screen. However, it’s something I do quite a bit with the mini.

Unlike my iPad 4 that I typically use in landscape mode, I find myself in portrait almost all the time with iPad mini, even when I’m not on the move. It just feels more natural to be in that orientation than holding it in landscape.

Perhaps part of that comes from typing. With the iPad mini in portrait, I can type with two thumbs, much the same way I do with my iPhone. I don’t know if everyone will be able to do this as comfortably as I can, but I suspect they will. My hands are not abnormally large, so it should work fine.

I use my iPad mini for tasks rather than watching videos or playing games, but I use it a lot. This is a Wi-Fi model, which was on all the time and I have yet to see anything cause a significant drain on the battery. The battery is lasting days for me and it is on 24/7.

If there was one thing I was surprised with, it would be that the iPad mini doesn’t have a Retina display. It surely gives Apple some room to upgrade the device if they want to next year, but that’s the only thing I would really add to the mini.

I suppose the decision makes sense if it keeps the cost down. It’s not like you are shocked looking at the existing screen, it is very nice.

About those other tablets

I’d like to get back to the very beginning for a minute. I said that I didn’t know if I would like the smaller form factor tablet and it bothered me a bit when I did. I wondered how I had missed the mark so badly.

I wanted to find out.

I went to a local big box retailer and used every tablet they had in the store, including the Asus Windows 8 tablet. The difference was immediately clear. The quality of these other tablets is so inferior to what Apple manufactures that they felt like plastic toys in your hands.

All of the tablets, all of them, bend when you hold them. They are made of cheap plastic parts and the casing felt like it would snap. Until now, these were the only mid-sized tablets I have ever used and they were awful. That’s what I was basing my opinion on.

I tapped on a link four times on the Asus before it would do anything. After it finally went to the page, I only had to tap the back arrow three times to get back.

I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for.” The iPad mini is a perfect example of that. If you want to save $50 and buy a cheap-ass tablet, go ahead. If you want quality the iPad mini will be waiting for you when you come to your senses.

iPad 4

There’s not really much to say about the iPad 4. It’s really fast in both processor speed and graphics, but we knew that. For me, the iPad 4 gives developers more headroom to continue pushing the envelope of what they can produce. That in turn, gives us better products to buy for the iPad. It’s good anytime that happens.

Bottom Line

I was really surprised with how much I used the iPad mini in my daily routine — more than the 10-inch iPad. There are a couple of things you have to remember with the iPad mini. First, it isn’t just a smaller iPad, but rather it feels like its own device.

Anything that is simply shrunk down or scaled up feels amateurish. The iPad mini feels like an iPad, it’s something you can have fun with and accomplish tasks on.

The second thing is that what seems like a little bit of extra screen real estate on the iPad mini makes a huge difference. Everything just works on the mini — all of your old apps, iCloud, everything. It works.

The iPad mini is a well thought out device and it’s exactly what you would expect from Apple.

Update: I mistakenly said that I used the Microsoft Surface tablet. In fact, it was an Asus Windows 8 tablet. The review has been changed to reflect.