Wow, there were so many leaks that I thought I knew what I was getting into when I picked up the new iPad mini. It’s just a smaller iPad, right? Well, not really. Sure, it has a smaller 7.9-inch display, the same software and a similar look than its larger brethren. Until now, however, Apple had not entered the smaller tablet space. In fact, the late Steve Jobs even suggested it would never be on the company’s radar. Yet here we are, and the iPad mini is very much a reality.

So is it the best “mini” style tablet on the market? Is it a better buy than the Nexus 7, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD or the bevy of other 7-inch range tablets out there?

Grab your coat, let’s go.

Hardware and The Four Stages of the iPad Mini

The iPad mini starts at $329 and is available in several models: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB options. There are also LTE capable models of each size from Verizon, Sprint and AT&T in the United States. The device itself measures 7.87-inches x 5.3-inches x 0.28 inches and weighs just 0.68 pounds. I found the size was perfect for tossing inside my backpack next to my laptop, but it was even small enough that I didn’t feel awkward walking down the street carrying it in my hand to the local coffee shop. I was even able to fit it into the pocket of my hoodie or the larger, breast pocket inside my winter coat. I generally put the larger iPad in a bag when I took it out with me, but I still know plenty of people that carry it in a case without a bag, too.

Here’s the kicker, though, and it’s the first thing I noticed when I powered on the iPad mini. It has a relatively low 1024 x 768-pixel resolution (163 ppi). That means it’s not the sharper “Retina” display that Apple markets with its fourth generation iPad and iPhone 5. You can see the pixels, folks, and I found that the display both looked and felt cheap during my testing.

The iPad mini also packs a dual-core 1GHz A5 chip under the hood, which isn’t as powerful as the A6x processor in the fourth generation iPad. It also packs 512MB of RAM, a 5-megapixel iSight camera capable of recording 1080p video and a 1.2 megapixel 720p FaceTime camera. In our testing we found that it received a GeekBench score of 762.

Jon noticed RAM issues during his testing, however. One of his favorite applications for creating presentations often told him that he ran out of RAM when he was using it, which meant he had to close applications. I didn’t experience this in my testing, however.

Despite the relatively underwhelming specs of the iPad mini, I’m still in love with it. As Jon describes in his video, there are four stages to iPad mini ownership. The first stage is love. Neither of us could believe how thin and light it is. Then, there’s the glaringly low resolution display. It sucks for text and video, but generally photos and video are fine. Then, Jon and I agreed, there’s a third stage of acceptance. You begin to get used to the screen and take the iPad mini more for its portability over the larger iPad. Then there’s stage four: love.

Jon owns both the iPad mini and the fourth generation iPad and opted to use the iPad mini as his dedicated device. I myself used it more than any other tablet in my household. I ultimately ended up returning mine (I’ll get to that in a bit!) despite my deep love for it.

 Nexus 7
iPad mini
… there are four stages to iPad mini ownership.

 Software

I don’t think there’s a huge need to dive into iOS 6, since it’s been on the market for several months now and is available for several older iPhones and iPad devices. My guess is that most of our readers have already used it. I will say that I preferred the larger tablet app selection available for the iPad mini over the selection that’s available for competing Android tablets.

I’m a big fan of Android 4.1 and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, and I love Google Now and Google Search. Google’s Search option generally outperforms Siri in my experience, but the iPad interface is dead easy to use. I certainly wish there were widgets and other functions, but we won’t go too deep into that. iOS 6 is super stable and fluid, even with the slower A5 processor. If you’re a big Google product user, you may prefer Android to iOS 6, and really, it’s a matter of taste. I’m not going to start a big Android v iOS 6 war here.

While we’re on the topic of gaming, however, you might want to check out other tablets if you need the extra power for games. Several Android tablets are powered by NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 chipset which is great for gaming, and Apple’s larger fourth generation iPad has more capable hardware. We found that graphic intensive games, such as Grand Theft Auto III, didn’t run as well on the iPad mini.

 Battery Life

Apple claims that you’ll get 10 hours of battery life from the iPad mini. Neither Jon nor I think that’s an accurate claim. Even with brightness at 50% we both found that we would get about 7 hours of usage, and that’s on a good day. There’s a pro to that negative, however. The iPad mini charges really quickly, seemingly faster than any Android tablet I have in the house, and that made up for the shorter battery life.

 Camera

Look, you’re not getting a high-end camera on the iPad mini, but do you honestly need one? Using a tablet to take photos seems silly to me, especially when there are more capable shooters on our smartphones. The iPad mini’s shots were fine, but we had much better samples from the iPhone 5, which packs an 8-megapixel camera with a better sensor. The front-facing camera was satisfactory for FaceTime chats, and we appreciated the 720p video quality.

 Wrap-Up

 So who is the iPad mini for? Well, that brings me back to why I returned mine. Like I said, I loved it, but I couldn’t justify the $329 price tag when there are $199 Android tablets available that covered everything I need from a tablet.

Here’s my point: I use tablets to surf the web, read Reddit (using the app), check and respond to email and for other light tasks such as poking through my Pocket queue. That’s it. I found myself using the iPad mini for doing the daily The New York Times crossword puzzle, too, and I miss that on the Nexus 7, which is my current go-to tablet. By using a Nexus 7, I essentially save $129 and can use that money towards buying media or for other purchases.

If you need a lot of power for gaming or RAM intensive applications, Jon and I both recommend looking at more powerful Android tablets or the fourth generation iPad. This isn’t the device for anyone who wants to edit videos on a tablet, in other words.

We also think most consumers who can manage to wait should indeed stick it out until Apple releases the second generation iPad mini. It will likely pack more RAM, a faster processor and a much better Retina display.

But wait! It’s all so confusing, because ultimately we absolutely love the iPad mini for what it offers. If you appreciate the iOS app selection, the wonderful size and more, then the iPad mini is a no brainer. Its portability is super and, for most purposes, it performs as Apple advertises.

So, in summary: want a tablet for gaming, video editing or other intensive tasks? Stick with Android or the fourth generation iPad. Want something that’s great for browsing the web and checking email? Check out the iPad mini, just be aware that there are cheaper options available.

Rating

8.0

Editor’s Note: We purposely saved our iPad mini review for several reasons. Our primary reason for the delay on bringing you this, however, is that we wanted to show you how much better our reviews can look with all of the new features of TechnoBuffalo 3.0. Check out how the iPad mini stacks up against the Nexus 7 with our image comparison tool, note the new and cleaner formatting of the text, and check out our new way of presenting images. Enjoy!

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