It's been two and a half years since Steve Jobs unveiled Apple's idea of what a tablet should be -- the now iconic iPad. Since then, more than 100 million iPads have been sold. They're seemingly everywhere: Doctors use them to organize patient records; football teams use them as playbook replacements; musicians use them to create music, and artists, art; companies are adopting them by the thousands for a variety of purposes and school students use them for study.
To compete with the iPad juggernaut, competitors offered up tablets in various sizes, with the more successful ones built around a 7-in. screen and often carrying a price tag half that of the Retina iPad's $499 entry-level price. Samsung has the Galaxy Tab 7, Amazon has the Kindle Fire HD, and Google has the Nexus 7, to name a few.
Unwilling to cede the 7-in. tablet market to anyone, Apple on Oct. 23 introduced the iPad Mini (along with a number of other important updates, including a fourth-generation iPad with a faster processor and a 13-in. MacBook Pro with a Retina display). Pre-orders for the iPad Mini started two days later and the first ones arrived Friday -- including the one I bought for myself (a black 32GB Wi-Fi-only model). Prices start at $329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model and climb past $600 if you want more storage and cellular wireless capabilities, Including LTE where available.
The iPad Mini is pretty much a shrunken iPad 2. At 7.87-in. high, 5.3-in. wide, it's about two-thirds the size of the full-size, 9.7-in. iPad and weighs just 0.68 of a pound. And it's just over a quarter-inch thick.
Therein lies its main appeal: You get pretty much the full iPad experience in a smaller, thinner and lighter package. After extended time using the Mini, my wrists never felt the fatigue inherent in using the heavier 9.7-in. iPads, which weigh just under 1.5 pounds.
The Mini's LED-lit 7.9-in. screen offers the same resolution as non-Retina iPads: 1024 X 768 pixels (though those pixels are packed closer together in the smaller iPad, making the screen a little sharper than on the iPad 2). The screen is encased in a sleek, minimalist black/slate or white/silver aluminum-and-glass housing. If you've seen the new iPhone 5, you have an idea of what the iPad Mini case looks like.
The Mini uses a dual-core Apple-designed A5 processor, a battery designed for up to 10 hours of use on the Wi-Fi model or nine hours with cellular use, and front and back cameras for photos and video. The front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera can shoot 720p HD video for high quality video chats, while the rear-facing 5MP camera can take 1080p HD video.
Like other iPads, the on/off switch is located on top toward the right, while on the upper right side is a user-configurable mute/rotate-lock switch, as well as volume up and down keys. The round home button remains the single physical part on the iPad's front face.
All models feature 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (with 802.11n in 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies), as well as Bluetooth 4.0; the new, thinner, reversible Lightning connector; a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, built-in stereo speakers, a microphone, a digital compass, three-axis gyro, an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, and support for Apple's digital assistant, Siri.