You’d find yourself hard-pressed to say the word without most people knowing exactly what you’re talking about.
It’s a device that made its debut less than 3 years ago, yet it’s had a profound impact on computing. A 9.7-inch multi-touch glass display capable of displaying anything your heart desires. A device that Apple has sold more than 100 million units of in just a few years. And now, there’s a smaller one.
The iPad mini is Apple’s attempt to create a tablet that is both more portable and more affordable. At first glance, it may seem like a shrunken-down version of the iPad 2, but after using it for more than a week, it’s clear that the iPad mini is not just a smaller iPad. It’s the iPad that was meant to be.
A brief look at Apple’s history tells us a lot about how the company loves to condense its products. Starting with the iPod, the Classic laid the foundation of Apple’s iconic music player in 2001. Three years later, Apple miniaturized the popular music player and called it the iPod mini. But it didn’t stop there. Just one year later, Apple further miniaturized its iPod mini with the iPod Nano – the iPod that went on to be the most popular music player on earth.
I can’t help but think that the same concepts are at work here with the iPad mini. When Steve Jobs took the stage in 2009, he called the iPad “magical.” Many brushed it off, and some even made fun of such a description, but it didn’t take long for people to get on board. You simply had to hold and use the device to know exactly what he meant. Now that the iPad mini has arrived, I believe it deserves the term “magical” even more.
The device has 7.9-inch, 1024 x 768 resolution display. Do the math and it comes to 163 pixels per inch (ppi) – a far cry from Apple’s retina display on the larger iPad (264 ppi). When I first picked up the mini, it was glaringly obvious how non-retina it was. Text is not as sharp and images are not as crisp. However, after a few days, my eyes adjusted and it wasn’t much of a problem.
Another immediate observation I had when first picking up the mini was the incredible build quality and weight. The iPad mini feels like it was cut from the same cloth as the iPhone 5. It has all of the little design touches that the iPhone 5 has, including the chamfered edge and anodized aluminum back. At .68 lbs, it’s also dramatically lighter than its big brother, yet somehow it feels even more solid.
It’s also super thin. Apple is known to be somewhat obsessed with making its products as thin as possible, and the iPad mini exemplifies that ideal. At 7.2mm, the device is thinner than the iPhone 5.
Then comes software. If you’ve used an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, you’ll welcome the iPad mini. It runs iOS 6 perfectly with no hiccups, and all of the 275,000+ apps tailored for the iPad, work perfectly on the iPad mini. This seamless operation, in my opinion, sets the mini apart from its competition.
When using the iPad mini, I often compared the device to the Nexus 7 (Google’s flagship Android tablet). On the surface, you may think there isn’t much of a difference, since both displays fall within 7-inch territory. But in real-world use, the differences are huge.
The 7-inch display has been popular with Google, Amazon, and others. Apple chose a 7.9-inch display, mainly because it would allow them to easily run all the iPad-tailored applications without any modifications. There is another benefit to the 7.9-inch display, though. As crazy as it sounds, that .9 inches makes a difference. Apple claims that you get about 35 percent more viewing due to that difference, and they’re absolutely right. When using the iPad mini, I could see much more content without having to scroll. The .9 inch display bump does come at a cost, though. I found the device a little bit harder to hold in one hand. Not a deal breaker, but definitely not as comfortable (for me) as the Nexus 7.
But there’s a much bigger difference between devices like the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini, and it doesn’t take much time to figure it out: Apps.
While the iPad mini really does feel like a concentrated iPad, the Nexus 7 feels more like an un-concentrated smartphone. Apps that were built for the larger iPad run seamlessly on the iPad mini, while apps for Android phones run well on the Nexus 7.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a huge problem for the Nexus 7. You don’t want to run larger smartphone apps on a display of that size. You want to run full-blown tablet apps. The popular app Flipboard, for example, is a better experience on the iPad than it is on the iPhone. However, on the Nexus 7, the experience is actually worse than it would be on an Android smartphone. Why? Because most apps on the Nexus 7 are simply stretched smartphone apps. On the iPad, the experience is optimized for the larger real estate.
There is one thing that iPad mini has received a lot of criticism for, and that’s its price. At $329, the mini is $129 more than its two nearest competitors – the Nexus 7 and the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD. But I think it’s a mistake to compare these devices. Sure, if you lay them all on a table with their displays off, it’s hard to understand why one would be $129 more. But pick them up, feel them, use them, and it becomes obvious why the iPad mini is truly in a class of its own. It’s a combination of refined hardware and robust software; to me, those criteria encapsulate the difference between Apple and the rest of the tablet makers.
In the end, you have to make a choice between what you want a tablet for. Is it to just browse the web and check your email? If so, the Nexus 7 is a great device for that. But if you’d like to do those things as well as play a game here and there, read a book, and do a whole bunch more due to the availability of of nearly 300,000 apps, then the mini is the clear winner. It’s not that these other tablets are bad – it’s just that the iPad mini is so good.