In many ways, the iPad Mini is an amazing device. If it were $200 or even $250, it would be a steal.
But at $330, not so much.
I briefly tested the new iPad Mini at Apples event here on Tuesday. I was blown away by the physical design of the device.
I really like the original iPad, but it can be unwieldy to hold for extended periods. Thats one of the reasons why Ive liked some of the smaller tablets that have hit the market in the past year theyre much more portable than the iPad and more comfortable for reading or watching movies.
But the design of the iPad Mini puts even the latest rival mini-tablets to shame. Despite having a larger screen than those of its nearest rivals, Googles Nexus 7 and Amazons Kindle Fire HD, the iPad is lighter and about half as thick as either one. Amazingly, its also narrower than the Kindle Fire HD.
Better yet, despite its lighter weight, it feels much more solid. The Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7 have plastic cases; the iPad Minis case is aluminum. You might worry about scuffing the iPad Minis case, but you wont worry about breaking it.
It feels great in the hand; I didnt want to put it down.
Another great feature of the iPad Mini is that it will run all of the same apps that are available for the larger iPad. Thats been one of the big advantages of Apples tablet over its rivals. Users can choose from some 275,000 apps that have been customized for the iPad, which is far more than are available for Android-based tablets such as the Nexus 7, not to mention the Kindle Fire.
The diversity of apps for the iPad also helps to set it apart from the Kindle Fire, in particular. One of the primary uses for a device of this size is as an e-reader. On the iPad Mini, youll be able to read e-books sold by Amazons Kindle store, Barnes & Nobles Nook store or Apples iBookstore. On the Kindle Fire, you can choose from Amazons e-books and thats about it, unless you want to go to the trouble to play with your settings to allow the device to install apps from places other than Amazons app store.
One other advantage of the iPad Mini compared with its main seven-inch rivals is that Apple is offering versions of it that will include 4G radios so you can access the Internet when you are away from home. Youll pay a cool $130 extra for the feature, but its better than not having that option.
Interestingly, Apple doesnt seem to have a killer app for the iPad Mini; theres nothing thats unique to it, compared with the companys other handheld devices.
Like the latest iPhones, iPod Touches and the bigger iPad, it has Siri, Apples speech command system. Like those devices, it has two cameras and the ability to make video calls. It runs the latest version of Apples iOS software and appears to include all the same apps as the larger iPad.
What actually distinguishes the iPad Mini from many of the latest Apple devices is a shortcoming: It doesnt have a high-resolution retina display screen. The Minis screen is lower-resolution than that of either the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire.
I didnt have either of those devices to compare with the Mini at Tuesdays event, but that difference in screen resolution will likely be noticeable when the devices are side-by-side. Text and video on the Minis screen is likely to be less sharp than on those of its rivals. If I were a betting man, I would put a lot of money on Apple upgrading the display of the Mini within two years so that its in line with its other devices.
One other difference is that the chip inside the iPad Mini is the same one that came with last years iPad 2, not the ultrafast next-generation processors that are in the bigger iPad or the iPhone. I didnt notice much of a difference, though. The game Real Racing HD ran smoothly on the iPad Mini, and the device seemed plenty responsive.
These shortcomings aside, the iPad Mini appears to be a better device overall than its rivals. But is it worth the price? I have my doubts.
If youve been itching to get an iPad, but couldnt swallow the $500 price, $330 for the Mini will look pretty tempting. But if what you really want is a mini tablet, and it doesnt have to be the iPad, that price looks mighty expensive compared with the $200 youd pay for the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HD. The Minis beautiful design aside, my first take is that its not worth that hefty premium over two very good, well-built and easy-to-use devices.
Which is too bad. I like the iPad Mini a lot. But I would have loved it at a better price.
APPLE IPAD MINI:
First take: 7.5 (out of 10)
Likes: Extraordinarily thin and light; solid aluminum case; less expensive than larger iPad; runs same wide range and number of tablet-customized apps as iPad
Dislikes: Pricey compared with other mini-tablet rivals; display is lower resolution than rivals and larger iPad; processor is same as used in last-years iPad 2
Specs: 7.9-inch 1024×768 display; dual-core Apple-designed A5 chip; 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras
Price: Depending on storage capacity, $330-$530 for Wi-Fi only models and $460-$660 for 4G models
Source: MCT Information Services