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November 5, 2012

Apple's iPad Mini: The review roundup

Reviewers have published their first thoughts on the iPad mini ahead of its Friday debut in stores. And while nearly every reviewer said they would have liked a better screen on the tablet the device still got high marks.

The build quality of the device seems to be its biggest differentiator as it competes against $199 tablets such as the Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7.

"It's bedroom-cozy," wrote CNET's Scott Stein. "Other full-fledged 7-inch tablets feel heavier and bulging by comparison. This is a new standard for little-tablet design."

Reviewers had no trouble holding the iPad mini in one hand, and even found its screen large enough in landscape orientation to churn out an email or two.

App scaling wasn't a problem either, reviewers said, with programs from the iPad working quite well on the iPad mini's screen. Few had screen input misfires when holding the device in one hand - even when using applications that are sensitive to inputs from the edges of the screens. Reviewers didn't complain about sudden page turns or unplanned turns in racing games because their thumb hit the edge of the screen by accident.

The size, overall, seems to be good for one thing you really can't do with an iPad - read for long periods of time. That means that the iPad mini has the basic weight and convenience of an e-reader, but with far more capabilities. Several reviewers also revisited Apple's assertion that the iPad mini's 8.75-inch display gives it 35 percent more screen than its competitors. In general, they said, that's a good thing but more than one reviewer noted that it's just a tad too wide for some jacket pockets.

"It is just wide enough that I was not able to stash it in one inside sport jacket pocket but was able to slip it into another," wrote Edward Baig of USA Today. Still, the smaller size makes it very purse- and travel-friendly.

Reviewers said that the battery life was the same or better than the 10 hours users get from the iPad and that sound quality on the device's single stereo speaker was fairly good.

With this design, Apple's addressed some core complaints about the iPad's portability and, in some ways, realized the tablet's potential as an "everywhere" device, reviewers said.

"You could argue that the iPad Mini is what the iPad always wanted to be," wrote the New York Times' David Pogue.

But it's not better in all ways.

For one, the iPad mini has the same display as the iPad 2, meaning that while it's a fine display it doesn't match up to the latest iPads or even the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7. This wasn't a huge problem, reviewers said, but it was worth comment in every review.

"In my tests, video looked just fine, but not as good as on the regular iPad," wrote the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg.

But the difference in quality was noticeable, and reviewers warned that those who expect a very high-quality display for video may want to give the iPad mini a pass.

And then there's the price. While the build quality and Apple ecosystem seemed to justify the price for many reviewers, they acknowledged that the price difference between this device and its competitors is considerable.

How much is Apple's superiority in software and content worth to you?" asked Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg. "How about $130?"

Consumers will have to weigh content and screen quality carefully as they decide on the right tablet for them. If what you want is an iPad - meaning, an Apple device that hooks into the ecosystem of iTunes, iBooks, iCloud, etc. - than it seems pretty clear that you should give this device a serious look. If you just want a tablet that's cheaper than the iPad however, the lines aren't so clear. And there's no doubt that there is a trade-off, no matter how much you like Apple's smaller tablet.

"Going non-retina is a particularly bitter pill for me, but I like the iPad Mini's size and weight so much that I'm going to swallow it," John Gruber, of Daring Fireball, wrote.

One concern analysts had when Apple announced the iPad mini was that there wouldn't really be a use case for it that wasn't covered by the iPad. But in reviews, it seemed that folks found themselves using it more often than they expected. The iPad mini seemed, in many cases, to bridge the gap between e-reader and computer quite ably. In fact, Apple may have to worry that its iPad mini will take away sales from its full-sized iPad, if the reviews are any indication.

"I actually used the iPad mini more than my iPad," wrote The Loop's Jim Dalrymple.

So, the iPad mini comes out of its review sessions to high praise overall - with a couple of reviewers noting that it bodes well for the future of Apple's tablet line.

"This is, in many ways, Apple's best tablet yet, an incredibly thin, remarkably light, obviously well-constructed device that offers phenomenal battery life," wrote Engadget's Tim Stevens.

The iPad mini starts at $329 for 16 GB of storage and WiFi connectivity. Versions of the iPad mini that connect to cellular networks are due in the next couple of weeks. Those versions will cost $459 and up. The tablet comes in white or black; covers for the iPad mini are sold separately and cost $39.

 

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