iPad mini hands-on screen

On its launch day of 2nd November 2012, we spent just a brief time handling the Apple iPad mini. You can also read our review, which includes our lab tests and more extensive subjective handling.

The iPad mini could just prove to be Apple’s most popular portable device yet. By bringing the size, and the price, down below the usual entry point set by the 9.7in iPad, many stockings are likely to be filled this christmas by this little sliver of powerful tablet computing.

It has competition from the maker-subsidised tablets from Amazon and Google, but Apple has carefully positioned its new mini away from these budget Android-based devices.

And thin it most certainly is, at just 7.4mm. Combine that with the 135mm width, and this is a tablet that you can – with a little stretch – support between the fingers and thumb of one hand.

At 307g in weight,  it has wafer-like lightness. This puts it in excellent stead as an eBook reader, since it must weigh less than most paperbacks.

It’s about the same size, fractionally smaller in fact, than an A5 sheet of paper.

Apple iPad mini: Build and finish

Build quality is outstanding. Perhaps because it’s like a scaled down iPad, the attention to manufacturing quality is even more evident around its diminuitive frame. For a start, it feels absolutely rigid – that all aluminium backplate and frame melds into the front glass to make an unyielding featherlight slice.

iPad mini build quality

The back presents as smooth satin aluminium, Apple logo centred, and with a few essential buttons on one rounded edge, two for volume and a power key on top. Unlike some buttons we see on phones and tablets, these are positive and assured to the touch.

There’s a headset jack on top, and a new tiny Lightning port at the bottom. Either side of that new baby port are perforations for two speakers. Yes, the Apple iPad mini is the company’s first stereo speaker tablet.

In other respects the iPad mini can clearly trace its lineage to the iPad 2 - using the same Apple A5 processor as last year’s Apple tablet, and with the same 1024 x 768-pixel screen specification.

But those 1024 x 768 pixels are condensed into a smaller space than the 9.7in of the iPad 2. So where both the original iPad and iPad 2 had a resolution of 132 pixels per inch (ppi), the iPad mini raises its pixel density to 163ppi. No amount of marketing spin is going to allow that to be called ‘Retina’; and sure enough the display is not as sharp as the swelling catalogue of hardware that Apple now sells with a Retina specification.

In our limited use of the iPad mini, we did find on-screen text at small font sizes was a little furry. On a few popular websites we visited and viewed in Safari, it was still possible to read any of the smallest default type. But not as effortless as Retina-type screens make the experience for tired eyes.

The display is still IPS, with all the rich colours and spectacularly wide viewing angles we’ve come to expect from the screen technology, once the preserve of high-end graphic design monitors. 

With its 4:3 aspect ratio, the iPad mini also looks more ‘right’, closer to the golden ratio that is so much more pleasing to the eye than the stretched 16:9 used by almost every other tablet maker.

Apple iPad mini: Connectivity

Like all recent Apple iPads, the iPad mini has dual-band Wi-Fi, allowing it to roam across the less crowded 5GHz radio band. Apple also lists channel bonding in its spec, where two adjacent 20MHz channels are combined to make a 40Hz channel for potentially greater throughput. We haven’t been able to test what real-world difference this may bring, especially in the 2.4GHz band where such bonding is very difficult to achieve due to crowded airwaves.

The cellular option for the iPad mini should allow it to use EE’s 1800MHz LTE ‘4G’ service, but this variant of iPad mini with 3G/4G modem will not be available in the UK for about two weeks.

Given the iPad mini’s more pocketable form factor, we’d expect this version to prove even more popular than it was with the full-size iPad.

Apple iPad mini Smart Cover

Next page: our reactions to the iPad mini on the night it launched

These were our thoughts and reactions on the night the iPad mini launched. Our colleagues Jason Snell and Dan Moren at MacWorld in the US attended the Apple launch and able to get some hands-on time with the iPad mini.

Exactly as the world expected, Apple has introduced a smaller version of the iPad. It's called, unsurprisingly, the iPad Mini and we've gone hands-on.

iPad mini price

For starters, price was one of the only unknown elements of the tablet before the launch event. Would Apple drop as low as the likes of Google and Amazon or not? Was the killer question. Well, the answer is no, and we're not very surprised. Although the price isn't a low as a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire, at £269 it's still very tempting. Of course, if you want more storage and the addition of 4G cellar data then you'll need to pay up to £529.

iPad mini size

The iPad Mini is mini in a number of ways. For starters the screen is, as rumoured 7.9in compared to 9.7in of all previous iPads. Apple says this means you can old it in one hand. It's also considerably thinner and lighter than its bigger brother. At 7.2mm and 308g for the Wi-Fi only model its 23 thinner and 50 percent lighter. This means that anyone who has avoided the iPad because of its size has no excuse any more.

"Apple made a trade-off when it designed the original iPad with a 10-inch display: that big screen (and its weight) made the original too bulky to be held in one hand. It was and is a great two-handed device (or a one-hand-and-propped-on-your-lap device), but it isn't palmable," our colleagues opined.

"The iPad mini most definitely is. If you’ve got small hands and want to hold it in landscape orientation, you may find it a bit of a stretch. In portrait mode, it’s easy to grip the bottom bezel between thumb and finger, the way you might hold a book. The iPad mini is so light that holding it this way feels perfectly natural. It’s so small and light that we think kids will love it."

 iPad mini portrait Facebook

"Unlike previous iPads, the iPad mini’s bezel isn’t the same size all the way around: In portrait orientation, the left and right bezels are substantially thinner, as on an iPhone. Putting your thumb on it means touching the touchscreen. We suspect that Apple felt slimming down the bezel was an acceptable option, given that the iPad mini is light enough to hold in one hand."

"In landscape orientation, the larger bezels are on the sides, giving you plenty of room to grab on with those opposable thumbs of yours."

"The iPad mini is narrow enough that it’s easy to thumb-type on its software keyboard in portrait orientation—it’s kind of like a giant iPhone. Thumb typing on the full-sized iPad is a lot less comfortable unless you have the hands of an NBA player. We didn’t have much chance to test ten-finger typing, but given the smaller size of the iPad mini's screen, we’d imagine it’s going to be a little harder to touch-type on this device than on the full-sized iPad. Even if you’ve already mastered iPad typing, you may have trouble doing it on the iPad mini."

Colour options are the classic Apple black or white. However, this time the iPad Mini matches the iPhone 5 styling so the white version has a silver trim while the black has slate trim.

iPad mini screen

There's not much dazzling going on with the screen since it's not a Retina display like the most recent iPad. Instead it uses the same 1024 x768 resolution as the original iPad and iPad 2. This means it has the same 4:3 aspect ratio, ensuring apps and other content fits correctly.

According to Macworld: "Anyone accustomed to using an iOS device with a Retina display will immediately notice that the iPad mini doesn’t have one: Pixels are clearly visible. It’s very much like looking at an iPhone 3GS. It’s a good, bright screen, but if you’re a Retina convert, you will not be pleased."

 iPad mini against iPad Retina

"We looked at photos and text on the screen, and both looked good. By keeping the same number of pixels as found in the iPad 2 while decreasing the physical size of the screen, the result is a higher-resolution display; as a result, everything looks a bit better than on the iPad 2. We tried a variety of apps and didn’t have any trouble hitting what we wanted to tap on, despite the fact that every interface element on the iPad mini is slightly smaller than on a full-sized iPad."

"What’s really amazing about the iPad mini—perhaps its most surprising trait—is that while it has a much larger screen than its 7-inch Android-based competitors, it’s lighter than they are. That’s a big deal, because it means this device wins in two dimensions: It’s somehow managed to pack a bigger screen that can fit powerful tablet apps into a package that weighs less."

iPad mini hardware

Under the covers is the same Apple A5 processor which the iPad 2 runs on. It's a dual-core chip and perfectly capable of running iOS. Storage options match the iPad with Retina display at 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. Needless to say, there's no option to add to this with something like a microSD card.

Other specifications are well-rounded with a 5Mp iSight rear facing camera, a 1.2Mp FaceTime HD  webcam, Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11a/b/g/n with 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Those opting for the Wi-Fi and cellular data model will be able to access 4G LTE in the UK. As expected, the iPad Mini uses the same Lightning connector found on the iPhone 5.

iPad mini software

Of course, the iPad Mini runs on iOS 6 and some users will be pleased to hear that this includes Siri. Apple claims the battery will last for up to 10 hours. Come back for our full review and we'll up date you on whether we found this to be the case or not.

iPad mini Smart Cover

Our colleagues had plenty to say about the iPad mini's bespoke cover and stand: "The iPad mini we tried came with an additional product: an iPad mini Smart Cover. In general, this accessory worked more or less like the full-sized iPad Smart Cover. Its metal hinge has been replaced by one that’s covered in the same material as the cover, so the design is a bit more cohesive. It was easy to snap on and off, and is so small that it adds very little bulk or weight to the already-small iPad mini."

"In general, we’re somewhat skeptical about cases for devices as small and light as the iPad mini, but the Smart Cover seems to be a good match for its device. Paired together, it feels like you’re carrying a small paper notebook in your hand. A bulkier case would mask the thinness and lightness of the device."

 Apple iPad mini Smart Cover

iPad mini conclusion

"If you think the iPad mini is just a small iPad, well, you’d be right. But it really needs to be seen to be understood. It’s tiny, light, and has great fit and finish. Its screen is good, but most definitely not of Retina quality. When you see one, and hold one, you’ll know if you want one. We’d direct you to your nearest Apple Store to check one out for yourself...but until November 2, you won’t be able to."

Chris Martin