The iPad mini

I’m totally sold on the iPad mini. Such a great form factor. Using it, it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t absolutely obvious that it would be a much better device than the fat iPad (I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, I loved the fat nano).

When the mini was introduced, I wasn’t particularly excited about it. I mean, in typical fashion I watched the keynote and everything, but perceived it exactly as I would the new retina MacBooks. Maybe a nice product, but nothing I’d personally be interested in.
And then, I happened to walk in an Apple Store and picked one up. It’s fun to pick up an iPad mini. The idea of selling my iPad 2 and getting a mini wasn’t quite definite yet, but it was there.

Old Hardware?

What almost held me back was the fact that the mini and the iPad 2 are the same hardware, essentially (except for the cameras, but who cares?). So its long-term future might be somewhat limited. It is working fine and all, but for a brand-new piece of technology, I’d expect more than 512 Mb of RAM. I know, the innovation regarding the mini isn’t about performance specs, but having Mobile Safari losing its tabs’ contents almost immediately is annoying. More RAM wouldn’t jeopardize the mini’s dimensions and weight like a retina display would.
But on the other hand: The mini might age better than the iPad 3 with its (pixel-wise) four times larger display.

The Screen

It is fine. It is a very nice display, and it has a higher pixel density (that’s sharper) than the iPad 1 and 2. It just isn’t retina. And while that is obvious when looking at text elements, I really don’t want the trade-offs of a retina display in that form factor right now. I have to linkt to Marco’s excellent post on the cost of retina here. Looking at the gain in weight and thickness from iPad 2 to 3 that would cut right in all of the mini’s advantages, I also don’t think we’re gonna see a retina mini later this year. (And if I’m right with that, I bet people will certainly see the beginning demise of Apple in that. But again: Who cares?)

The reduction of distance between the glass and the screen has an amazing effect. Especially on bright backgrounds, it feels as if you’re touching the pixels themselves. Because of the bigger screen, it comes across even more dramatic than on the iPhone 5. Recommended.

Smart Cover

I was eager to check out how the Smart Covers work on the mini. I was eager to check out the red one, cause I thought it looked good. It didn’t, and it also sucked on nearly every other level.
To be fair: The plastic Smart Covers for the mini aren’t all grey on the inside as the big ones are, and that certainly looks better. But that’s about the only good thing about them.

It’s amazing how the Smart Cover concept itself just doesn’t apply to the mini. You just don’t find yourself propping the iPad up to watch a video or to type on it. If the surface isn’t perfectly plane, the light mini and its tiny Smart Cover don’t have a very stable stand on it anyway. And for typing… maybe. But the rubber makes it feel weird.
It also makes the whole thing feel a third thicker. And with the mini, that’s just not cool. The rubber-y surface also prevents it from sliding into any kind of pocket.
So holding the mini, or propping it up on something else, be it your legs, works just fine and doesn’t come with all the drawbacks of the Smart Cover. I’m giving Apple a big minus on ham-fistedly transferring that concept from the big iPad to the mini when it so clearly doesn’t fit.

After returning my Smart Cover, I went with a simple felt sleeve, this one. It could be a tad tighter for my taste, but it works fine. When I use the iPad, I do that as-is. When I carry it around, it’s in the sleeve, and I can throw it in any kind of bag. Also noteworthy: That combination fits into the front pocket of this MacBook Air 13” sleeve I also use.

The Experience

In a draft of this post, I began listing all the possible ways to hold and type on an iPad mini. There’s a shorter way of putting it: You can hold and use it in every way imaginable. One-handed, two-handed, in portrait or landscape, it doesn’t matter. Even typing two-handed works in landscape as well as in portrait. Of course, if you have very large hands, that’s gonna be a problem. Or, if you have relatively small hands, the Apple-advertised one-handed grip around the back could be problematic. For me, honestly, that’s a very good way of holding the mini while reading on it, and my hands certainly don’t count as ‘huge’.

The speakers (stereo! two speakers for higher volume!) are very good, considering the body volume of the device. Almost MacBook Air-like, but With different characteristics, but imo better than the MacBook Air speakers. (Update April 30, 2013)

It just feels very good. Like I said, it is fun to pick it up. So thin. So light. Such good build quality. Check out Andrew Kim’s review for some nice pictures.

And the Wifi is blazingly fast. Wow. The Internet connection at my parents’ house is very slow, but somehow websites load quite fast. It’s the same stuff in there as in the iPhone 5, and it shows.

Regarding the missed touches Mr. Topolsky and others mentioned: Yes, at first I experienced the same. But not anymore, after a few weeks. So, whether it was a good idea of Apple to tweak iOS in that regard or not (I don’t think it was), you’ll get used to it.

Since I got my MacBook, I had found myself using my old iPad less and less. The mini’s right in the middle between the MacBook and the iPhone again. I wonder, not if, but how fast the mini’s gonna outsell the bigger iPad. It may not be the better iPad for everyone and every purpose, but for most people, it seems to be.