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Apple iPad mini: hands-on

We take a closer look at what the new iPad mini is like to use

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

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