preview With its typical glamour and showmanship, global technology giant Apple last week finally revealed a smaller version of its dominant iPad tablet. But will the iPad mini maintain Cupertino’s reputation for quality? Read on to find out.
Note: This article represents an advanced look at the design, features and likely performance of this product, but we haven’t tested it yet. A follow-up full review will be published when we have.
At a basic level (and this may sound a little obvious), what the design of the iPad mini represents is first and foremost a downsizing of the classic iPad design that we’ve come to know and love. The same large touchscreen, dominating the iPad mini’s front, is there, the same front-facing camera above it and the same home button below it. On the bottom of the iPad mini sits Apple’s new ‘Lightning’ connector which debuted in the recently released iPhone 5, alongside the tablet’s speakers. On the top of the iPad mini sits a 3.5mm headphone jack, and what appears to be the usual on/off button, and on the right-hand side of the tablet sits a volume rocker in the normal position.
But there are also subtleties in the iPad mini’s design which appear to set it apart from previous iPad generations. First and most obviously, this is a tablet which is a lot smaller and lighter than any previous iPad. All of Apple’s previous iPads have had a 9.7” display, whereas the iPad mini’s display id dramatically smaller at 7.9”. This also translates into a much lighter weight, with the iPad mini weighing 308g – or about the weight of a heavy smartphone – compared with the recent iPads, which have weighed in at between 650g and 660g.
In addition, the iPad mini also appears to have taken some cues from Apple’s recently released iPhone 5. The tablet ships in the same black or white and silver colours as the iPhone 5, and it appears to feature the same finely etched edges which had people raving about the iPhone 5’s build quality. In addition, the iPad mini is, like the iPhone 5, very thin, at just 7.2mm. This is actually slightly thinner than the iPhone 5’s 7.6mm, and the 9.4mm of the last two iPad generations.
All of this adds up to a product which is one of the thinnest and lightest devices which Apple sells, but also a device which incorporates Apple’s latest small design touches found in its flagship iPhone 5 model. Given that reviewers have raved about the iPhone 5, and how strong the larger iPad line has been in terms of build quality, we can’t help but feel that all of this means the iPad mini is going to be a fantastically designed device.
The design of the iPad mini is also likely to put it out in front of the 7” tablet competition – which basically, at this stage, means Google’s Nexus 7 model and the Kindle Fire HD 7” (Amazon also makes a 8.9” Kindle Fire HD model). The Nexus 7 is a little thicker than the iPad mini, at 10.45mm, and a little heavier at 340g. And the Kindle Fire HD 7” is similarly slightly thicker at 10.3mm, as well as quite a bit heavier at 395. Note that the Kindle Fire models are not formally sold in Australia, although several companies do import them.
With the iPad mini sharing quite a few features with Apple’s existing iPad line, there are probably two main features which you should be interested in when it comes to the new smaller version.
The first is the screen. It’s a 7.9” model, which is substantially smaller than the 9.7” screen found on Apple’s traditional iPad line. As a consequence, the iPad mini also comes with a lesser screen resolution, at 1024×768. This translates into a pixels per inch rating of 163. Now, the important thing to realise here is that none of this is by chance. Apple only introduced a higher resolution screen to its iPads (its Retina display) earlier this year in its third-generation iPad. The previous iPads featured the same 1024×768 resolution as the iPad mini, meaning that the iPad’s existing app ecosystem will be well-suited to the iPad mini’s screen resolution. This is reassuring: You’re not going to get misshapen apps or ‘black bars’ on your iPad mini – you get a solid screen resolution and pixel density, coupled with strong existing app support.
Of course, with the third-generation iPad having a PPI rating of 264, and the iPhone 5 having a PPI rating of 326, the iPad mini’s screen doesn’t have the same level of pixel fidelity as the rest of Apple’s line. We’ll be interesting to see how this translates to screen quality in practice.
The second major thing you’ll be interested in when it comes to the iPad mini is what degree of processing power it has. Does Apple’s downsizing of the iPad come with a corresponding downsized processor? The easy answer to this is: No. The iPad mini ships with a dual-core Apple A5 CPU which appears to be a similar model to the one used in Apple’s second- and third-generation iPad tablets, as well as the iPhone 4S and fifth-generation iPod Touch. The A5 has since been superceded by the A6 and A6X chips, which are used in the iPhone 5 and fourth-generation iPad (this model launched with the iPad mini), but it is still likely to have more than enough power to drive the iPad mini.
Other major features of note included with the iPad mini, or at least the version to launch in Australia, include support for the 4G mobile broadband networks of Telstra and Optus (using the 1800Mhz spectrum band), dual-band Wi-Fi support, including 802.11n and the usual built-in speakers and microphones. The battery included with the iPad mini is a 16.3 watt-hour model, and its main camera is a five megapixel model supporting 1080p HD video recording. The front-facing camera, for video-conferencing, supports 720p HD video and is a 1.2 megapixel model.
The iPad mini will come in three storage sizes – 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, and in two models, one supporting 3G/4G mobile broadband and one only supporting Wi-Fi network access.
We have generally found with a wide range of iPad models over the past few years – including the original, the iPad 2 and the third-generation iPad – that the tablet line has stellar performance across a range of areas, from stellar software support to a very solid user interface and excellent battery capability that can literally last for weeks of use. In general, we very much expect the iPad mini to continue this trend.
Having said that, when we eventually source a review model, we will be looking to test two key aspects of the new tablet.
The first is the screen. The iPad mini’s screen size on paper would appear to be ideal – it’s a good size to hold in one hand, which has long been one of our main complaints about the larger 9.7” iPad (it is a little heavy for one-handed us), and the 1024×768 resolution appears well-suited to maintaining application compatibility. However, the pixels per inch rating on the iPad mini appears to be well below current Apple standards, and there’s also the matter of whether existing iPad apps will actually display well on a much smaller screen. We use a few magazine apps, for example, with smaller font sizes. How visible will this kind of material be on the iPad mini’s dramatically reduced screen? We’re not sure yet.
Another factor we’ll be testing for is how well the iPad mini’s battery will hold up when faced with the power-draining ability of Australia’s 4G networks. Most 4G smartphones we’ve tested so far, such as the HTC One XL, for example, such battery much faster due to their 4G support, and although Apple’s iPhone 5 appears to deal with the issue relatively well, there’s no guarantees yet as to how the 4G iPad mini will hold up if used constantly on the road. Bear in mind as well that a smaller iPad also means a much smaller battery.
However, even though we’ll be closely examining these two factors, one has to suspect that the iPad mini will hold up well. It’s Apple, after all, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a product with significant problems emanate from Cupertino’s direction. We expect the iPad mini to perform solidly; and we’ll be surprised if it doesn’t.
One final aspect which we’ll be looking at is the iPad’s price, in terms of its return on investment. We absolutely loved the Google Nexus 7 tablet which was released in Australia several months ago, and you can pick the 8GB model up for as little as $248 (including shipping) from retailers like Kogan. When you consider that the cheapest iPad mini is substantially more expensive at $369 for the cheapest model, you have to ask yourself whether that extra $120-odd is worth it, to be part of the Apple ecosystem.
At the moment, bearing in mind that we haven’t been able to test aspects of its performance such as screen quality and battery life, Apple’s iPad mini is looking like a winner. Merging aspects of the traditional iPad and the iPhone 5 in a smaller, lighter and 4G-capable form factor, we can’t help but feel that this is one product which is going to sell like hotcakes in Australia, and we’re looking forward to getting our hands on it pronto. It launches this Friday 2 November in the Wi-Fi model, with the 3G/4G model coming a little later (Apple hasn’t said when just yet). We’ll be waiting with bated breath to see if this little beauty performs as well in the hand as it does on paper.
Also check out this video published by The Verge for a first hands-on video look at the iPad mini.
Image credit: Apple