iPad Mini First Impressions

I wanted to write this post up yesterday, but things didn't really go according to plan. I had to go into the office for most of the day, and when I finally made it to the mall where our local Apple Store is, the entire place was so packed that I couldn't find parking, and the baby was screaming anyway so it just wasn't in the cards.

A little later in the evening, while on a dinner run for my wife and I, there was just enough time to stop at a Best Buy on the way (where the parking lot was practically empty, *snicker*).

I found that this clearly wasn't the ideal way to check out the iPad mini, because their display table keeps the devices tethered in such a way that it requires actual effort to keep the thing in your hands without it snapping back to the table like a bungee cord. I wanted to see if the thing was as light as everyone keeps saying, but it was nearly impossible to tell. Oh well, at least I got to overhear a Best Buy associate refer to another customer as a "moron" so the trip was still worth it.

I was determined to make it to the Apple Store today to check this thing out properly, and managed to do so just before the mall closed. I just returned from there, and here are my thoughts.

First of all, the iPad mini truly is amazingly light. I was blown away at how easy and comfortable it was to hold one-handed. Reading in iBooks and across the web felt very natural, and since reading is likely to be one of my primary uses for the device, I was pretty excited that they nailed the experience so perfectly. Now I see why people are being so forgiving of the lack of Retina display.

Even without Retina, the screen is actually quite crisp to my eyes (the disclaimer being that I have appalling eyesight without my glasses, of course) and I had to put the screen up to my nose to really make out any pixels. I managed to find a demo area where an iPad 4 and mini were sitting right next to one another, and it was only when comparing the two side-by-side that I noticed the difference.

Many companies have tried releasing "iPad killers" over the last few years, but I think the only real threat to the standard iPad would be an iPad mini with Retina. That product will absolutely dominate the market when—not if—it releases.

While I had the 4 and the mini side-by-side, I decided to try some basic speed tests, such as opening the same apps simultaneously, visiting web pages, that sort of thing. Overall, the lack of an A6X processor doesn't seem to hurt the mini in the slightest. In fact, there were certain apps that opened even faster on the mini than on the 4, although I admit that could also be chalked up to whatever the 4 was running in the background at the time.

Typing in portrait was way more comfortable than I expected, and landscape wasn't too terrible but I did have to stretch my thumbs a bit when accessing the middle of the keyboard. Not uncomfortable, but it dampened my typing speed somewhat.

A few smaller observations:

  • The mini was quite cool to the touch, while the 4 was bordering on hot. This may be an instance where not having a Retina display is actually a benefit rather than a drawback.
  • Due to the slimmer lengthwise bezel of the mini, picking it up off a flat surface while the screen is on can be somewhat awkward, and may still require two hands if you don't want to accidentally tap something on-screen in the process. I don't personally feel negatively about this, but felt I should mention it.
  • On-screen elements on the mini were noticeably smaller than they were on the iPad 4. It's a bit odd holding something the size of a tablet and having to tap things that are sized equivalently to what you'd see on an iPhone screen, but again, this wasn't something that bothered me personally. Your mileage may vary.

After getting to see the device in person, I now realize that my concerns about a lack of Retina display were unfounded. The iPad mini is definitely the one I'm going to purchase, and I would recommend the same to anyone that doesn't require an iPad for professional purposes. If you're a web designer or professional photographer, or even a cafe owner using it as a Square register, I'd say stick with the larger iPad.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the iPad mini simply becomes the standard iPad one day, while the larger device becomes the "iPad Pro," in the same vein as MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

I'm truly impressed with the iPad mini and can't wait to pick one up soon.