The definitive iPad mini review roundup

ipad mini black3 The definitive iPad mini review roundup

The Verge:

There’s no tablet in this size range that’s as beautifully constructed, works as flawlessly, or has such an incredible software selection. Would I prefer a higher-res display? Certainly. Would I trade it for the app selection or hardware design? For the consistency and smoothness of its software, or reliability of its battery? Absolutely not. And as someone who’s been living with (and loving) Google’s Nexus 7 tablet for a few months, I don’t say that lightly.

Loop Insight:

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.

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.

Daring Fireball:

If the Mini had a retina display, I’d switch from the iPad 3 in a heartbeat. As it stands, I’m going to switch anyway. Going non-retina is a particularly bitter pill for me, but I like the iPad Mini’s size and weight so much that I’m going to swallow it.

Engadget:

This isn’t just an Apple tablet made to a budget. This isn’t just a shrunken-down iPad. This is, in many ways, Apple’s best tablet yet, an incredibly thin, remarkably light, obviously well-constructed device that offers phenomenal battery life. No, the performance doesn’t match Apple’s latest and yes, that display is a little lacking in resolution, but nothing else here will leave you wanting. At $329, this has a lot to offer over even Apple’s more expensive tablets.

TIME:

If your budget’s got more wiggle room, the iPad Mini is the best compact-sized tablet on the market. Apple didn’t build yet another bargain-basement special; it squeezed all of the big iPad’s industrial-design panache, software polish and third-party apps, and most of its technology, into a smaller thinner, lighter, lower-priced model. The result may be a product in a category of one — but I have a hunch it’s going to be an awfully popular category.

TechCrunch:

Apple has done a good job of making the case that the iPad mini is not just another 7-inch tablet — in fact, it’s not a 7-inch tablet at all. It’s a 7.9-inch tablet — a subtle, but important difference. As a result, it can utilize every iOS app already in existence. And it can access the entire iTunes ecosystem. And it will be sold in Apple Stores.

Apple isn’t looking at this as $329 versus $199. They’re looking at this as an impossibly small iPad 2 sold at the most affordable price for an iPad yet.

SlashGear:

In the end, it’s about an overall package, an experience which Apple is offering. Not the fastest tablet, nor the cheapest, nor the one that prioritizes the most pixel-dense display, but the one with the lion’s share of tablet applications, the integration with the iOS/iTunes ecosystem, the familiarity of usability and, yes, the brand cachet. That’s a compelling metric by which to judge a new product, and it’s a set of abilities that single the iPad mini out in the marketplace. If the iPad with Retina display is the flagship of Apple’s tablet range, then the iPad mini is the everyman model, and it’s one that will deservedly sell very well.

CNET:

I’m not sure who the iPad Mini is for. The budget-minded, perhaps, or kids, or those who want a second iPad. Businesses that want a more portable onsite iPad. People who want to mount an iPad in their vehicles. Actually, I guess I know exactly who the iPad Mini is for. With iOS having such reach, this is another use case, another form. It’s as simple as that. The iPad Mini probably isn’t for everyone, and that’s exactly the point. Like the iPod and Nano, it’s another style for another crowd. I will say this: when you see it, you’ll desire it. Just remind yourself you may not need it.

The Guardian:

Apple is going to sell a lot of these – quite possibly more than the “large” iPad – in this quarter. The only way Apple could improve on this product would be (as some people are already agitating) to give it a retina screen and somehow make it lighter. That might happen at some point. You can wait if you like; other people, in the meantime, will be buying this one.

Fox News:

After a few days I started to prefer the mini to my larger iPad despite its lack of a Retina screen. It even made my larger iPad look old fashioned. Awkwardly large. The mini is fast, impressively light — weighing in at just over 10 ounces — and easy to keep with me at all times. The only thing I don’t enjoy as much with the mini is watching videos. It seems the crystal-clear Retina display in the newer (and larger) iPads has spoiled me.

AllThingsD:

Even though the mini is thinner and lighter than the leading 7-inch tablets, its larger screen provides about 35 percent more room for viewing content like books and Web pages. I found it easy to see and read material on the screen and to tap and swipe. My only complaint was that the keyboard, in portrait mode, felt a bit cramped, though it was fine in landscape mode. (I found that, unlike with the big iPad, it was more common for me to hold the Mini in portrait mode.)

The New York Times:

[Compared to its 7-inch competition] the iPad Mini is a far classier, more attractive, thinner machine. It has two cameras instead of one. Its fit and finish are far more refined. And above all, it offers that colossal app catalog, which Android tablet owners can only dream about.

Over all, the Mini gives you all the iPad goodness in a more manageable size, and it’s awesome. You could argue that the iPad Mini is what the iPad always wanted to be.

Bloomberg:

I can tell you the iPad mini is the best small tablet you can buy. The question you’ll have to answer for yourself is whether it’s [$130] better.

Analyzing Apple’s latest press event

In the wake of Tuesday’s Apple event, it occurred to me that the company is differentiating itself from the competition even more than in the past. And that’s a good thing. Apple’s product line has grown substantially without becoming convoluted. In the process, though, the company has reverted to some old (and slightly annoying) habits, like attaching premium prices to products that don’t necessarily have premium specs. I don’t think that will hurt the Mac maker’s bottom line, but it’s irksome from a consumer’s perspective.

Here are my thoughts on what we saw from Apple earlier in the week:

The new iMac

new slim imac Analyzing Apples latest press eventFirst impression: This thing looks gorgeous. I was dumbfounded when Phil Schiller showed it off. It looks super sleek, and Apple is offering a nice range of build options. The new Fusion Drive sounds promising, but this type of thing has been done before to mixed reviews. My guess is that it’ll be just fine, and it will undoubtedly get better with future versions. The price here seems quite aggressive. At $1299, you’re getting one of the best desktop computers on the market. Some will scoff, saying that you can build your own desktop with better specs at a cheaper price. But let’s be honest, your homemade computer won’t hold a candle to the iMac’s fantastic build quality. When you buy into Apple’s pricey ecosystem, you’re getting quality products. Period. The latest iMac is the perfect example of that, and I can’t wait to see it in person.

The fourth-generation iPad

retina ipad 4th gen Analyzing Apples latest press eventThis was a bit of a shock to me. On last week’s Hypercritical, Dan Benjamin speculated that Apple might use this opportunity to add a Lightning connector to the third-generation iPad. Dan was right, and Apple took it a step further.

Sporting souped-up internals, including an A6X processor, this model should see far fewer hiccups than its predecessor. It also has improved networking capabilities, which are welcome. The new iPad seems like a nice iterative update, and while iPad 3 owners might not be happy, the masses will gobble it up. The question among nerds is, what about March? I have a feeling that Apple’s March press event will either focus on another product or be dropped altogether. But we’ll see. I don’t think Apple is going to release new iPads every six months.

13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

13 retina mbp Analyzing Apples latest press eventHere’s where I got a little confused: The 15-inch version is a flagship-level laptop, but I feel like the 13-incher isn’t in the same class. Now, I’m no expert on chipsets, but it seems very odd to me that Apple chose to go with an Intel GPU. Maybe the company opted for integrated graphics because of the laptop’s limited space, or because it was satisfied with the improved performance of the Ivy Bridge chips, but I would’ve preferred a discrete GPU. Considering the current-generation MacBook Air chokes during GPU-intensive tasks, I worry that the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, with its massive amount of pixels, will have some serious performance issues when running demanding apps like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro X.

But maybe my concerns are completely unwarranted. I suspect they’re not, but regardless, I was immediately turned off by Apple’s GPU choice.

iPad mini

ipad mini black1 Analyzing Apples latest press eventThe iPad mini is everything we expected, with a bit more polish. Judging by the pictures and hands-on videos I’ve seen, it’s a beauty, and its design is in line with the iPhone 5. There was nothing really shocking here. Some are upset at the lack of a Retina screen, but Apple’s decision not to use one makes sense. The resolution should be sufficient as is at 1024×768. The iPad 2 has the same pixel count, but on the mini, those pixels are crammed into a smaller screen, making the pixel density higher. While the mini’s display is a far cry from those of the third- and fourth-gen iPads, it should suffice.

My main problem with the mini is its price. I’m not saying that Apple shouldn’t charge a premium — they always do. But they’ve decided on a very weird spot to enter the small-tablet market. At $329, the mini is arguably out of impulse-buy territory. I was certain that Apple would want to come crashing into the party now dominated by Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7. But Apple clearly has other ideas. By pricing the mini at $329, it seems Apple is both shying away from products like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, and attempting to start a new class.

I’m reminded of how they brought the MacBook Air to the market. The first iteration, while beautiful, was miserably overpriced. The trend at Apple seems to be to bring a new product in at a high price, gradually improve it, and drop the cost over time. The original Air came in at $1799 (if I’m remembering correctly), with grossly underwhelming specs. You were paying for the form factor, and I feel that that’s the case with the iPad mini, too.

Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, let me clarify: I don’t doubt that the mini will be successful. I think it’s going to sell in huge numbers, especially with the holiday season looming. But the mini would sell in even greater numbers if Apple had started it at even $299. I know, that’s only a $30 difference, but it looks and feels more substantial, especially to a family man like me. Products that retail for $249 to $299 feel like impulse buys, while those that sell for $300 or more feel like investments.

The iPad mini seems like a solid device, and I’m confident it will be a hit for Apple. But had the company lowered the asking price just a smidge, they’d surely sell even more units while putting a serious dent in the competition.

Tim Cook moves into the spotlight

tim cook ipad mini Analyzing Apples latest press eventAs far as I know, Tuesday’s press event was the first time Tim Cook actually introduced a product. He’s usually the one to deliver sales figures or to weigh in on the state of affairs at Apple, but on Tuesday Cook introduced iBooks 3.0. Assuming I’m not forgetting another time when he’s done a product intro, this seems like a big deal to me. As we all know, Steve Jobs was a consummate showman. Cook, on the other hand, clearly isn’t. That’s not a slight — Cook’s very competent, but his specialty is in operations, and he usually plays to his strengths. But Tuesday’s announcement was different. My guess is that the executive team plans  on pushing Cook into the spotlight more and more, and I definitely think it’s the right move.

Why I quit RSS

I’ve had Reeder on my iPhone since the day it was released, and I couldn’t have been happier with it. But something has become very wrong. Reading feeds has become a chore and something I no longer enjoy. Let me clarify: It isn’t the writing that I no longer enjoy, but rather the constant sifting through articles to find what I think is interesting. You often hear about professional writers’ RSS habits — subscribing to hundreds of feeds, and thumbing through thousands of articles a day. But there’s a difference for me — this is not my job. It was a hard decision, but I’m done with RSS. Yesterday I deleted all of my RSS apps from both my iPhone and Mac. The reaction on Twitter in a nutshell was “Good for you, but you’re crazy!” Let me explain my reasoning.


Time is precious

Time was a huge factor. It’s one thing to casually read things around the Web, but it’s another to feel like you have to in order to keep up with the news. “Why am I doing this?” is something that ran through my head lots of times over the past couple of years, but I was never willing to cut the cord. Two days ago it hit me.

I was sitting on my couch entrenched in Reeder while my 9-year-old son was busy on the floor assembling his new alto saxophone. “I made up a song, Dad,” he said. Half-listening, I asked him to play it. He did, and I told him he did a great job. Reality slapped me right in the face when it dawned on me that I hadn’t really listened to it. I asked him to play it one more time, and he did. This time I paid full attention, and as those shaky notes came out and I saw the proud look on his face, I knew my time was better spent with my head out of the headlines. Forever. How many times had I been reading RSS feeds and not paying attention to what’s actually important? I have no idea, but I know it’s going to stop now. Time is important and limited. I’m going to spend it the right way from here on out.


RSS’s replacement (kind of)

Of course, I’m not going to just ditch my favorite news sources and blogs. I’m just not going to put them in a position to dictate my time. A couple of years ago, I started compiling a Twitter list of apps that I was interested in. I didn’t want to follow all of these accounts and clog my timeline. A list is a perfect way to keep tabs on those. In fact, you can follow it as well if you like — provided Twitter doesn’t kill the feature. Anyway, I’ve now started a new list that has my favorite sites (that have dedicated Twitter accounts that tweet headlines and links). I’m sure this list will grow, but I do know that this will take up less of my time. I can take a gander at it and toss any interesting headlines into Pocket, my view-it-later service of choice.

That’s it in a nutshell. I wanted my time back, but I also wanted to stay in the loop. Will it work? I have no idea, but I do know I’ll never miss another original song from my son. I’ll never miss a question or comment from my wife. I’m plugging back in to what’s important. This won’t work for everyone, but I’m giving it a shot.

Surface RT vs. iPad: A comparison

On Tuesday, with the release of pricing and pre-orders for the new Surface RT tablets, Twitter exploded with comparisons to the iPad. So, I decided to put together a little comparison chart to contrast two equivalent models.

loader small Surface RT vs. iPad: A comparison

These are basic versions and do not come with any accessories.

Let’s add a keyboard and screen cover to the mix.

loader small Surface RT vs. iPad: A comparison

You can use either device to surf the Web, check email, and play some games, but what if you want to catch up on some work?

loader small Surface RT vs. iPad: A comparison

OK, so we’ve addressed costs of ownership. Surface is ahead by about $115 at this point. Now let’s look at the strengths of each device:

iPad

The number one differentiator for the iPad has to be its screen. The Retina display is without question the best screen on the market for any tablet, and it is certainly something that should be considered when you’re buying one. Some people will no doubt say that the Retina screen is worth the additional $115 you’re paying for an iPad, but I don’t think it will be the majority.

Another thing that gives the iPad a leg up is the application ecosystem that exists for iOS devices. When I hear about 600,000 apps, I’m just in awe. As I’ve said many times before, however, I don’t think it’s the right number for comparison. Nobody is using more than a couple dozen applications on their device. You might have many more than that installed, but you’re not using them. In fact, this summer a report was released that showed that 2/3 of the apps in Apple’s store had never been downloaded.

I believe it’s far more important to have the “right” apps, and with such a new ecosystem for Microsoft, Apple still wins this one hands down. Microsoft is making strides, but it’s going to take some time.

Finally, there’s the accessories market. Want to treat your iPad like a steering wheel? There’s a case for that. Want to mount it in a retro-gaming cabinet? You got it. Just about anything you can imagine already exists for the iPad. Since the Surface isn’t even available yet, you can guess how many accessories there are for it: none.

Surface

Despite the iPad’s strengths, Surface RT holds its own in several other categories.

First, there’s a full-size USB 2.0 port. This means you can connect your existing peripheral devices, including a mouse, printer, or phone, to your tablet. (Ever wish you could charge your phone with your iPad?) This also makes moving movies or other large files to and from your device super easy with a USB thumb drive.

Second, it accepts microSD cards. This means that you can expand your on-board memory up to an additional 64GB. You can’t add more memory to an iPad. The average 64GB microSD card costs about $60. Add to this that just about everything on your device will also be stored using SkyDrive, and you’re unlikely to ever run out of space on this thing.

Third, Windows 8 provides a true multi-user experience. (Thanks to @lmaung for the reminder.) Every member of my family can have their own credentials on the Surface RT, which includes their own apps, settings, Start-screen layout, files, levels, etc. In short, it allows each of us to treat the device as our own.

Finally, there’s the integrated screen cover/keyboard and kickstand. On either device, you don’t ever need a keyboard. The on-screen keyboard is perfectly sufficient to knock out a quick tweet or Facebook message, or even a short email. But any lengthy amount of typing is inconvenient. With Surface’s Touch or Type covers plus the kickstand, you’re able to turn your tablet into a laptop. Yes, the iPad’s Smart Cover can prop up your device, but you will still need to tote an additional Bluetooth keyboard around if you want this option. I think this is a big win for Surface RT, especially because it also includes an integrated trackpad.

Summary

With the Surface RT not even available for another eight days, there’s LOTS to prove yet. However, I truly believe that Microsoft has made a strong, bold move here with this set of devices, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on one soon. Having used Windows 8 for the past few months, I’m a convert.

It’s time for all of you, my faithful readers, to tell me why I’m wrong. If you were shopping for your first tablet today, which one would you buy?

The Windows Phone 8 launch is probably the most frustrating of all time

Microsoft is loving the “anticipation” among their potential customers. They’re loving the “excitement” surrounding Windows Phone 8. There’s lots of “buzz” out there. They’re loving the “suspense” they’ve created.

But there’s a problem. Yes, people are excited about Windows Phone 8, but most of them are getting frustrated at the lack of information or solid facts and are looking elsewhere for handsets. Seriously, some of the best phones ever released are available now, so why would you wait for Windows Phone 8?

windows phone 8X HTC The Windows Phone 8 launch is probably the most frustrating of all time

Microsoft seems to think that by putting consumers on a drip feeder about the OS and handsets that it’s generating excitement among that group. They were getting excited, but now that has passed. The lack of information about the OS is disturbing, and the fact that the information is out there about the hardware (we pretty much know everything about HTC’s and Nokia’s offerings) but you can’t go get it and nobody can tell you when it’ll even be available is even more disturbing.

Windows Phone looks great, but Microsoft seems to be following Apple’s strategy of not commenting on speculation or rumors. The problem with that is the cat is already out of the bag. Apple can get away with this because consumers are excited about a product that might not even exist yet. But Microsoft’s already laid their cards on the table, and so have their OEMs. People were excited, for a time, but now the vague attitude of Microsoft is becoming an issue.

It’s bad on the PR side of things, too. Microsoft seems to have Nokia and HTC in a deadlock. If you ask either company anything about Windows Phone 8, they’ll tell you “we can’t comment on that yet” or “we’ll have more information soon.”

I’ve also talked to a number of major companies whose access to the SDK has been blocked, even though they offer very promising opportunities for the platform (like integrating NFC-based payments across an existing network). They’re being told “just wait for us to go public” or “we’ll have more information soon,” and that’s it.

It’s great seeing your executives wave around Windows Phone 8 and brag online about it, but it’s more frustrating than good.

Microsoft is acting like everything is going swimmingly with Windows Phone 8, but there seems to be some sort of deeper issue. There’s still no complete SDK. Still no solid details about what to expect. Still no pricing. Still no dates.

I can’t see consumers getting excited for the platform by Christmas, especially if developers who actually want to make great software for the platform are being pushed away.

The buzz is wearing off among consumers and developers. I have one piece of advice for Microsoft: be transparent. Fast. You have too much to lose, and it may be too late already.

Advice for startups: Never stop learning

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts describing the lessons I’ve learned from founding a failed startup and meeting with different people across Silicon Valley.

starup Advice for startups: Never stop learning

After leaving Fancite, I spent a month reevaluating what I wanted to do and planning my next move.  I met with some really interesting and passionate people.  I also met with entrepreneurs who were having a tough time getting their projects off the ground.

Founder to founder

I met with a friend who has been working on his own startup for almost two years.  We met so I could share with him what I learned from Fancite and why I decided to leave.  About halfway through the conversation, we started talking about his own experience and his inability to get solid traction.  The number one reason he felt he was struggling was that he didn’t have a solid and steady technical co-founder.  The discussion morphed into him attempting to recruit me to fill the void at his company.

He was able to build a solid prototype of his product through contractors and flaky engineers but needed a technical co-founder to iterate on it, which made sense.  I then asked, “Have you considered learning to build your own product?”  To my shock, he told me he never truly considered it.  He told me he was busting his ass getting investor meetings  and partnerships lined up.  He was focused on marketing and business development, he said, and just needed the damn thing to be built.  He was so passionate and determined to make it work, but I guess not enough to learn how to build his product and iterate on it himself.

Invest in yourself

A rule for getting rich is getting smart. Investing your time in yourself and becoming knowledgeable about the business of something you really love to do.

– Mark Cuban

In a startup, you should never stop learning.  The moment you stop learning, you and your fledgling business are in trouble.  Starting your own company means being pushed beyond your natural comfort zone, and that requires confidence in your potential.  Part of the reason there is so much excitement surrounding startups is because the people involved in them tend to do incredible things that they believed in but truly didn’t know were possible.

My friend had the wrong mindset for execution.  He refused to believe that he could learn how to build his dream by himself.  He never even considered it.  Instead, he believed he needed someone else to make it a reality.  With the vast amount of resources and support at his disposal, not to mention all the stories of non-techies who had achieved their dreams without a technical co-founder, he should have gone outside of his own comfort zone and learned what it takes to implement and iterate on his product.  Even if engineering isn’t right for you (and it isn’t for everyone), trying and learning that it isn’t for you still gives you a better grasp of what you want to build and how to do it.  If you’re leading a company, you need to know the technical nitty-gritty of what you do.  And yes, Steve Jobs was technical.

The same is true for technical co-founders.  They need to be pushed past their limits, and while they generally are technically, it’s incredibly important to stay hungry on the non-technical side, too.  Everything from business development to marketing and distribution to operations to execution is critical and will make or break a startup.  A technical co-founder only concerned about his or her own layer of abstraction is a huge red flag.

Hacker + hustler + designer ≠ success

The whole notion that a successful team consists of a hacker, a hustler, and a designer is flawed (we had those people at Fancite).  In my short time dealing with startups, I’ve learned there is a higher chance of success when co-founders’ roles are blurred.  Of course, it’s important to focus on what you’re good at (engineering, marketing, design, etc.), but co-founders shouldn’t be afraid to branch out and enter a team member’s domain, either.  I’ve know how easy it is to stay in your comfort zone as a co-founder.  But this has a negative impact on communication between team members and can impede how fast your company moves.  It takes a conscious effort to be a perfect team.

My plea: Never stop learning

Going back to the conversation I had with my friend, the reason I never considered joining his startup as a technical co-founder is because he set his company creed (inadvertently, no doubt) to something I don’t agree with.  The number one thing I look for in a startup is a culture of learning and curiosity. I’m put off by boxed-in environments where roles are strictly defined.

I truly believe that a company creed is something that evolves over time and can be changed with a conscious effort. I would have been more interested in my friend’s startup had he simply told me he was willing to learn how to code.  That would have told me that he’s willing to take any step necessary to make his vision a reality.  Still, I wish him all the best, and I hope my perspective helps him and others on their journey.