Apple has never been known to abide by industry trends; instead, they have always been known to be trend setters more than followers. The iPhone, iPad and iPod touch are three very good examples of products that have sparked innovation in their respective segment. However, last month, it seemed as if Apple was finally playing catch up when they launched the iPad mini. The 7-inch tablet segment received a big boost after Google launched the Nexus 7 at a very aggressive price. On the surface, the iPad mini seems like a shrunken down version of the iPad and in a way, it is just that. However, in order to keep the pricing competitive, Apple has had to cut some corners which you may or may not like.

Video Review

 

Apple iPad mini caught on video

Design and Build
The iPad mini measures about 7.9-inches diagonally and features an LED-backlit IPS panel. The aspect remains the same as its big brother so apps don’t need any changing. Apple has chosen to go with a very slim bezel for the sides so they could squeeze in a larger display in a chassis that’s similar to a 7-inch tablet. This makes the screen appear a lot bigger but it does make it a bit tricky to use in portrait mode as the sides of your thumb invariably tend to hit the screen. This is not much of a problem when you’re holding the tablet with one hand. The home button takes its rightful place at the bottom while the front facing camera sits stark center on the top.

Smaller and sleeker

Smaller and sleeker

The mini is incredibly thin at just 7.2mm in depth and light as well at just 308g. It’s possibly one of the lightest tablets out there like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 310 and the Google Nexus 7. Because of this aspect alone, the iPad mini feels wonderful in your hand. This also makes it a very good option as an eReader, as those who have the habit of reading books while sleeping will not experience too much fatigue even for extended periods of time. The sides house the volume toggle switch along with the switch to toggle silent mode. The power and 3.5-mm headphone jack sit on the top while on the bottom, we have the mic, speaker and the new Lightning Connector.

iSight camera captures really good detail for a tablet

iSight camera captures really good detail for a tablet

The aluminium back has a powder coating that’s unfortunately very prone to scratches. In fact, just days after taking it out of the box, it already looks a month old. Fingerprints are a challenge to remove off the matte surface by simply using dry cloth and the logo at the back scuffs pretty easily as well. The coating also chips easily if you drop it but thankfully it doesn’t dent easily and the glass can survive the knocks of everyday use. The build quality is very good, something we’ve come to expect from an Apple product. However, there’s not much detailing along the edges so it lacks the premium feel of the iPhone 5.

Interface and Media
The Apple iPad mini runs iOS 6.0.1 and the look and feel is just like you’d find on a standard iPad. We’ve covered the important features in detail in the past along with a comparison with other mobile OS' so we won’t delve too much into those today. Suffice to say the UI is quick and fluid and this time around and like the Retina iPad, you also get Siri as part of the package. Another advantage of the mini is that all the HD apps that are designed for the iPad are fully compatible with this one. Also, since it uses the same 1024 x 768 resolution of the iPad 2 on a smaller screen, the ppi count is also higher. It’s not Retina-grade of course, but it’s still a lot better than it was on the iPad 2. This is one area where we felt Apple could have done better. A higher resolution screen would have probably upped the cost a bit but the experience would have been better. Those who have a Retina iPad will immediately be able to notice pixels around icons but for most, it shouldn’t be a big issue.

Decent multimedia performance

Decent multimedia performance

Beating underneath all this glass and aluminium is the same A5 SoC we’ve seen in the iPad 2. This consists of dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip along with a PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics chip. The SoC still manages to pack a punch for most apps but newer ones that are designed for the faster Retina iPad and above tend to frame a lot, especially games. For example, DesertZombie looks really good but every now and then, you’ll notice some lag as the frame rate drops quite a bit. This hint of lag is also sometimes noticeable in the UI.

Media playback is good with a good pair of headphones. The new music player is quite nice although we do feel that in their quest for a minimalistic look, the player controls and other menu options are a little too small, especially on such a large screen. Audio through the rear speaker is also nice and loud should you feel the need to entertain some of your friends. 

Connectivity
Here, we have dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a bunch of sensors. There is no GPS present onboard so you’ll have to rely on your Wi-Fi router for that. If you’re on the move and wish to use Maps then pairing the mini with an iPhone through Bluetooth will grant it access to not only packet data but also the GPS of your phone. The iPad mini comes with the new Lightning Connector, which looks like a microUSB port, except that it isn’t. This means the mini is incompatible with most accessories that were created for the iPad. Apple will happily sell you an adaptor for it though for an absurd amount. All data transfers are still done using iTunes from your PC and the iPad mini and we don’t see that changing any time soon. Microsoft did change their ways with Windows Phone 8 so I guess we can still hope.

The new lightning connector

The new lightning connector

Camera
Apple has thankfully not skimped on the camera and you get the same iSight 5MP shooter from the Retina iPad. We were quite impressed with it on the iPad and it’s no different on the mini. It’s actually ergonomically a lot easier to snap a pic from the mini as it’s lighter and more maneuverable. Plus, you look less of a douche snapping a pic with it than you do with an iPad. The camera manages to capture good amount of detail along with accurate colours, just as long as there’s adequate lighting. The mini does one better and offers a FaceTime HD front facing camera capable of 720p video. 

Captures good detail

Captures good detail

Good depth of field

Good depth of field

Battery life
The 16.3WHr battery promises around 10 hrs of watching videos, which it easily manages to deliver. In fact, we managed to get this even after a bit of gaming thrown in as well. This is easily the best battery life we’ve come across so far for a sub-10-inch tablet.

Verdict and Price in India 
While Apple hasn’t officially pulled the wraps off the pricing yet, the latest rumors suggest a starting price of Rs 21,900 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version. If this actually turns out to be true then it actually makes it a very good buy and inadvertently, makes the iPod touch and the iPad 2 a bit redundant. If this price indeed sticks, then the iPad 2 would soon be phased out since the mini offers the same SoC, a better camera and pixel count for the screen in a smaller and lighter form factor. If you’re looking for a larger iPad, then it’s only logical to pay a bit more and get the newer iPad 4 instead of the iPad 2. There are a couple of things we wish could have been better like a Retina-grade screen or a more powerful SoC. Perhaps the ‘new’ iPad mini will address all these concerns.

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