Review: Apple's iPad Mini 'tailor made' for those who think light

If size and weight matter, this tablet's for you

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Look and feel

After using a variety of 7-in. tablets in recent months, I can safely say the iPad Mini is unmatched in build quality by any of its competitors. But the best thing is that this model has remedied the biggest problem with the iPad line-up: weight. I never got tired of holding the Mini the way I have when using a regular iPad. Like the iPhone 5, the iPad Mini feels like a sci-fi movie prop; it's hard to imagine it will actually function until you turn it on.

iPad and iPad Mini
A full-size iPad (rear) with the new iPad Mini in front. (Image: Michael deAgonia).

When I pulled the Mini out of the box and pressed the power button, the battery was almost fully charged, at 98%. I was able to set up the iPad using an iCloud restore, which automatically brought over all of my information, including user data such as app and system settings, text messages, calendars, email and contacts, camera roll pictures, photo streams, and apps and assorted media from iTunes.

I was immediately impressed by the design: the anodized aluminum and thinner/smaller/lighter package feels great in the hand. I wasn't the only one to notice. Coworkers flocked to see the device, and even the most hardened IT guys admitted a soft spot for Jonny Ive's design.

I really can't emphasize how great the iPad Mini feels in hand. It's very light while still feeling solid, not at all flimsy for a device so thin. The front borders surrounding the screen are so thin, placing a thumb on the screen will be unavoidable for many users; but that's okay. Apple engineers have updated iOS to compensate, and in my testing, I never accidentally shifted the screen contents due to thumb contact.

I found battery life to be excellent, running all day and into much of the night while downloading more than 20GB of data via WiFi in an afternoon. The iPad Mini was still going strong into the next afternoon before I decided to recharge it when battery indicator dropped to 10%.

Good product design is one thing, but these days, that alone isn't enough to guarantee success. A robust app and content ecosystem, reliability, interoperability with current devices and longevity are what count. The good news is that the iPad slips right into Apple's digital ecosystem. With more than 700,000 iPhone and iPad apps (275,000 specifically designed for the iPad), the largest collection of music available in one place, 1.5 million iBooks, and iCloud for data syncing and backups, all of Apple's digital wares and services work just as well on the iPad Mini as on any other Apple device. So if you're already invested in Apple's ecosystem, this device won't let you down.

The only caveat is the new Lightning dock connector, which is not backwards compatible with the old 30-pin dock connectors Apple and third-party accessory makers have been using for the past decade. Apple sells adapters, but be sure to check compatibility before purchasing.

The screen

When it comes to the iPad Mini's screen, whether you're impressed by it or not depends on your own experience. The office visitors who arrived just to gawk at the new tablet had one of two reactions: the screen was either gorgeous or lackluster. Accounting for the difference of opinion: whether they'd already seen one of Apple's Retina-class displays. Those who were used to a Retina display on an iPhone, iPad or the MacBook Pro released last summer quickly noticed the lack of it here. Those who haven't used an Apple product with such densely packed pixels found the iPad Mini's display impressive.

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