iPad Mini: First Impressions

iPad Mini homescreen

After spending considerable time (read: two days) with Apple’s new iPad Mini, my experience can be summed up with one sentence: It’s a great product, but it’s not for everyone.

I woke up on a chilly Friday morning at 7:30, eagerly excited with what was going to be landing in my possession. The line at the Apple Store in Newport Beach was practically non-existent (confirmed when I asked what the body count was at launch: a measly 20 or so). A quick impression of the device on display was of the screen and only the screen. Coming from the retina-equipped iPhone 4S, needless to say I was initially disappointed. The text was blurry and the images were not considerably crisp (relative to the iPad 4 and the iPhone). I disregarded the screen while I waiting for the store associate with my new toy to play with.

Fast forward to today: I love my new iPad. Let’s break down section by section.

The screen

Letterpress on iPad Mini

Letterpress on the iPad Mini.

Ah the screen. The initial announcement of the iPad Mini’s screen resolution was distaste. I thought, “a PPI of less than 200? At that price? I don’t even know anymore.” I spent a considerable amount of time contemplating whether or not to purchase the iPad Mini since I already own a Nexus 7 with its beautiful screen.

iPad Mini Screen 2

I’ll be frank: the screen is not that bad. At an average viewing distance of 5-9 inches, the pixel density is negligible. Unless you’re on to glue your eyeballs to the screen with a distance of less than an inch, you’re not going to notice the “non-retina-ness” of the screen resolution. I spent a night on Friday reading a book through iBook (since I had leftover iTunes credit), and I was constantly reading at a viewing distance of 5-7 inches and could barely notice the blurry text that I would have if I was reading eyes glued to the screen. The display resolution has been greatly exaggerated.

The Hardware:

iPhone 4S with Nexus 7 with iPad Mini

The obligatory iPhone 4S on top of the Nexus 7 on top of the iPad Mini shot.

The iPad Mini is fast, responsive, and felt like a solid product. The anodized aluminum feels great in your hand, and the iPhone 5-esque border shows the amount of fine detail and precision Apple has put into the manufacturing process. Apps boot up relatively quickly, and home screen navigation is quick and snappy. It’s not trailblazer like the A6X-equipped iPad 4, but that device costs considerably more and is much heavier/larger. It weighs at a measly 308 grams, slightly less than the Nexus 7, but when you compare them with both hands, the difference in weight is stark. Since I have small hands, I could barely reenact the one-handed grip on the iPad Mini. For people with small hands like me, it’s easier to hold the iPad Mini on one side than it is to grip from one edge to the other.

The camera on the iPad Mini is much like the iPhone 5 so no differences there. I haven’t used the camera much since taking pictures with an iPad is considered socially unacceptable.

The volume buttons are similar to that on the iPad, but instead if a rocker switch its two separate buttons. I have used an iPad before and the rocker switch has always been a mixed bag for me. A separation of buttons is a good addition as it helps you discern where the buttons are.

The Software

Punch Quest on the iPad Mini

Punch Quest on the iPad Mini

The iPad Mini runs on iOS 6, with the newest version (6.0.1) released on the day of release. The software selection destroys Android by far. I was disappointed by the lack of proper Android tablet apps and was blown away by the vast selection and visuals of the iPad apps in the App Store. The Verge was correct in giving significant review points based on Apple’s iOS ecosystem. It simply has more.

Bottom Line

iPhone 4S on the Nexus 7 on the iPad Mini

iPhone 4S on the Nexus 7 on the iPad Mini

Apple’s answer to the growing 7-inch market is one of mixed feelings, shattered expectations, and of utter appreciation. On one hand, the new device is beautiful: both in the hardware and software aspect. The software ecosystem is fantastic and given a choice between Google’s Play store and iOS’ App Store, I’ll happily take the App Store.

The display is certainly a disappointment. Apple has been pushing “retina” displays so aggressively for the last few product launches and for them to release a $329 product that doesn’t have a retina display is certainly a disappointment. However, for most users, the lack of a retina display is hardly a deal-breaker.

This device is definitely not for those looking for the best and the brightest of gadgets. Apple is definitely not targeting that demographic (at least, with this iteration). This device is intended for this looking for an in-between between the smartphone and the laptop. While not directly competing with Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD and their race to the bottom, Apple is instead creating a niche market with surprising ramifications this holiday season, and Android better watch out.