iPad Mini Review: the Experience

As with my iPhone 5 review, I’d like to focus on the experience of using an iPad Mini, and I may be updating this post later as I find more interesting things to report. This time around, I’ll start with the negatives.

First and foremost: the screen. Having an iPhone 5 and a MacBook Pro with Retina Display (rMBP) (and an iPad 3 until a month ago), I spend all of my computer time with amazing displays. So when I unboxed the Mini, I was taken aback by the display, particularly when browsing. Is it bad? No. It’s just not excellent. On the Mini, you’ll have to zoom in on web pages that have a lot of text/columns because, frankly, small fonts look fuzzy. Books (which have good zoom level) look much better, and the OS itself (home screens, Settings, etc.) actually looks good. Games look terrific, as do movies.  After a few days, I did get used to the non-Retina display even when browsing, albeit I still notice it easily. Is it a problem? Not really. I notice it, I wish it was Retina-crisp, but I don’t think, “Ok, it’s bad, I’m returning this thing.” Not at all. I love this thing. I’m just used to more. So there’s that.

Next, the device is hard to hold in one hand without a case – it slips (unless you hold it Phil Schiller-style where you stretch your fingers to the width of the whole device and bend your finger tips around it). While it feels and looks amazing, your palm will have no traction on it. Smart Cover helps a lot, but the glass front means you’ll still have some trouble. What you really want is a non-slip case for it. Believe me, it will improve your experience with the device greatly.

Other than the two above, I have no complaints. The device is great, I love it. It’s a perfect everywhere-you-go companion. Well, near-perfect. Once it has a Retina display, it will be perfect, hands down. For now, it’s just great.

Should you buy it if you own an Android phone? Hell yeah. Mini is for you because it has nothing to do with a phone; it’s a media consumption/light creation device. You won’t regret it. Nexus 7 feels terrible compared to this – a crisper screen is all it has going for it. With Mini, though, there are so many apps, games, movies, etc. that I’m literally unable to find the time to play/use all the apps I want to. And if you hate iTunes, you can use Dropbox, etc. to sync movies and files to it.

Verdict: iPad Mini is way better than I expected, and everyone should own one; it’s just a ton of fun. It’s also a serious threat to the larger-size iPad. To stay competitive, the 9.7-inch iPad needs to lose some weight, fast.

Miscellaneous notes:

– The size is perfect. Call me fanboy all you want; this is a much better experience than a Nexus 7, which felt too small after just a few minutes of use. Portrait or Landscape, there’s enough room to run iPad apps without compromises.

– If you aren’t needy, you will become needy. You’ll want this thing next to you everywhere you go. It will become intimate very fast. Consider yourself warned.

– The back feels a bit different than on iPhone 5. It feels smoother and more reflective, which is a matter of taste (I prefer iPhone 5’s back), but it also feels more resistant to scratching.

– The software is smooth and fast and apps look great. Whoever calls the A5 “2 gens too old” and 512RAM “not enough” simply doesn’t know that A5 was 2 gens ahead of its time and that iOS isn’t hungry for RAM. There’s no lag, no stutters, and app load times are very acceptable (within 2 seconds for most apps; larger games take longer). Wild Blood looks like an Xbox 360 game from 5 years ago, and that’s quite something for a mini tablet like this. Once iPad Mini and Apple TV have A6, my bet is that Nintendo will have to put more than its headquarters up for sale. Overall, the Mini is a great mini-console.

– Palm/thumb rejection works great in portrait mode. I think it’s disabled in landscape mode, which makes sense.

– The home button gets in the way sometimes when you’re in landscape mode and holding the iPad with both hands – an annoyance, although a minor one. Why am I holding with both hands, you ask? Because it’s more comfortable that way (I can hold it like that for hours before getting tired). Plus, without a case, that’s really the only way to keep this thing from slipping (again, do get an anti-slip case).

– *Some* touch targets feel slightly small (the “x” in Notification Center, etc.), but the vast majority pose no problems.

– Speakers are great given the size.

– The keyboard can split in both landscape and portrait modes, just like on the larger iPad, and that’s a good thing for people with average (like my own) or smaller hands. Note that split keyboard in Landscape mode takes up one row of text less screen real estate.

– Despite Amazon’s “no HD movies” attack, trust me, movies look great.

– Everything you’ve read about the fantastic build quality is true. This thing screams “luxury” without any hint of “cheap.”

– The black version rocks; after having a white iPad 3 for 6 months, I’m not ever buying a white iPad again. Movies/games/etc. just blend in so much better with the black bezel. With a white iPad, I never stopped noticing the bezel. There’s a reason all TVs come in dark colors. Plus, the black finish on the Mini is beautiful, just like it is on the iPhone 5.

– If you choose to go with a Smart Cover, you won’t regret buying the red one. Plus you’ll feel good knowing that portion of the proceeds goes to project (Red) to help AIDS research/fight.