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Apple iPad Mini Review: Our New Favorite Size, But...That Price?

Apple iPad Mini Review: Our New Favorite Size, But...That Price?
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Apple wants $329 for its base-level iPad mini. Should you pay that much for an almost-8" screen, or are the 7" Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD better options? We run system benchmarks, battery tests, and provide display analysis to help you make the call.

For a very long time, 10"+ tablet screens were considered the norm, wowing us with plenty of room to swipe and pinch our way around iOS and Android. But as with most things that start big (and expensive), it was only a matter of time before the tablet experience was distilled down into something less grandiose, but also more accessible and, in many ways, more practical. Call seven-inch-class tablets the Hummer H2s to the 10" H1s. Personally, when I pack for a business trip, I don't need another big piece of technology that's going to compete for space with my notebook. I either want a replacement or something small and complementary. And that's why the 7"-8" space is becoming more popular.

Tablet
Operating System (At Launch)
Screen Size
Resolution
Launch Price
iPad mini (16 GB)
iOS 6.0
7.9"
1024x768$330
iPad mini (32 GB)
iOS 6.07.9"
1024x768$430
iPad mini (64 GB)iOS 6.07.9"
1024x768$530
Kindle Fire (8 GB, Second-Gen)
Customized Android 4.0 (ICS)
7"
1024x600
$159
Kindle Fire HD (16 GB)
Customized Android 4.0 (ICS)7"
1280x800
$199
Nexus 7 (16 GB)
Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
7"
1280x800
$199
Nexus 7 (32 GB)
Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)7"1280x800$249


This time around, Apple isn't the incumbent, and that's a big deal. Its iPad mini goes up against the other smaller Android-based tablets out there, most notably Google's Nexus 7.

Deliberately ignoring the fact that the Nexus 7 sells for $199 with 16 GB of storage and Wi-Fi connectivity, Apple asks $330 for its iPad mini with similar storage and networking capabilities. As value seekers, we'd have a tough time getting over that premium, particularly since the mini is fairly accurately characterized as a scaled-down version of the iPad 2, which is almost two years old. They both employ Apple's A5 SoC and offer a similar 1024x768 resolution (which still doesn't qualify for Retina Display branding, even in a 7.9" form factor). Whether or not you consider the mini's Lightning connector an upgrade likely depends on how many accessories you own compatible with the old 30-pin interface.

We're not surprised, of course. "Apple tax" didn't become a thing because the company every made a conscious effort to compete based on pricing. But in this case, the difference is particular egregious. Most folks will probably agree that paying 65% more than a Nexus 7 is a tough sell...except for those who wear that "I overpaid" stigma as a badge of bourgeoisie ballerdom. Yes, the mini is thinner, lighter, and arguably appeals to an entirely different customer than the person shopping for a big iPad. But is that enough to justify $330?

Specifications
Length
Width
Height
Screen Size
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Weight
Amazon Kindle Fire HD
7.6"
5.4"
0.41"
7"
1280x800
16:10
0.87 lb.
Apple iPad 3 (3G)
9.5"7.31".37"9.7"
2048x1536
4:3
1.46 lb.
Apple iPad mini (4G)
7.9"
5.3"
0.28"
7.9"
1024x768
4:3
0.69 lb.
Google Nexus 7
7.8”4.7”0.41”7”1280x80016:100.75 lb.
Motorola Xoom
9.8
6.6"
.5"
10.1"
1280x80016:10
1.5 lb.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
10.1"
6.9"
0.34"
10.1"
1280x80016:10
1.3 lb.


Naturally, we know this isn't literally a miniaturized version of the iPad 2. The iPad mini actually shares a number of design cues with newer iOS-based devices. We're living in a post-iPhone 5 world, so the mini expectedly comes equipped with Apple's Lightning connector. This is considered a necessary evolution from the company's previous interface, but we have to admit preferring mini-USB for its ubiquity across the other tablets we use.

Like the 30-pin connector that preceded it, however, Lightning allows pass-through controls for automotive stereo systems and alarm clocks. And it's for that reason Apple's fans will continue tolerating a proprietary connector.

The anodized aluminum shell may be more of a shock to those who had grown accustomed to functional design decisions. The first-, second-, and third-gen iPads utilize bare aluminum enclosures that can be scratched if you don't take care of them, but do a stellar job of hiding fingerprints. This isn't the case any more. The smudges of oily fingers are blatant, and they're much more difficult to clean thoroughly.

Initial reports indicated that the mini was delayed due to yield issues with its anodized chassis, which could have been problematic. While it's common to cover the back of a phone, Apple's polyurethane mini Smart Cover leaves the larger rear surface exposed and vulnerable. Fortunately, we haven't had any issues with unsightly scratches in the month that we've been using our mini.

Camera Comparison
Rear-Facing
Front-Facing
iPad
-
-
iPad 2
0.7 MP
0.3 MP
iPad mini
5 MP
1.2 MP
Third-Generation iPad
5 MP
0.3 MP
Fourth-Generation iPad
5 MP
1.2 MP


The 7.9" iPad also boasts upgraded cameras. Similar to the third-generation iPad, the mini employs a rear-facing 5 MP sensor. This is one feature that gives Apple's solution an advantage over the Android-based Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD, both of which lack rear-facing cameras. Is it enough to sway our initial impression? No. The folks we've seen taking pictures out in public with tablets look ridiculous. Chances are, if you're savvy and spendy enough to own a $330 iPad mini, you're probably on the iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 bandwagon as well. Pull out the smaller device and use its 8 MP camera. We have no problem with Google's decision to skip right over that feature, keeping costs down in the process. 

Apple's front-facing 1.2 MP camera is a more noticeable upgrade. Using the Skype client, a 1.2 MP sensor is a solid step up from even the third-gen iPad's .3 MP camera.

Display 49 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 30 Hide
    Hellbound , December 17, 2012 3:27 AM
    The iPad mini is overpriced.
  • 24 Hide
    Darkerson , December 17, 2012 4:08 AM
    Overpriced, but thats not really a surprise, since its an apple product. Sadly, people are eating them up regardless.
  • 22 Hide
    azathoth , December 17, 2012 3:38 AM
    While the device is certainly nice, I don't like the fact that it has no support for MicroSD, and I would be unable to tinker around with it as I can for an Android based device.

    ...And the price. I'm not going to give a second thought when I see a $200 tablet with removable storage versus $330 for 16GB of internal storage and no expansion options.

    If the device was closer to say $260 for the 32GB version, or just included an option for removable storage... Then I would certainly see the iPad mini as being a viable option even for someone used to Android.

    The main factors (in my opinion) for a great device are,
    1: A good quality screen, it needs to have vibrant, accurate colours.
    2: Even if during benchmarks the device is slow, if it FEELS snappy and quick, that's all that counts.
    3: Removable storage for god sake, I know by practice apple enjoys their closed system, but COME ON!
    4: It doesn't need to have some amazing 15 hour battery life, but I certainly don't want it to die on a full charge after a movie and a few youtube videos.
Other Comments
  • 30 Hide
    Hellbound , December 17, 2012 3:27 AM
    The iPad mini is overpriced.
  • 22 Hide
    azathoth , December 17, 2012 3:38 AM
    While the device is certainly nice, I don't like the fact that it has no support for MicroSD, and I would be unable to tinker around with it as I can for an Android based device.

    ...And the price. I'm not going to give a second thought when I see a $200 tablet with removable storage versus $330 for 16GB of internal storage and no expansion options.

    If the device was closer to say $260 for the 32GB version, or just included an option for removable storage... Then I would certainly see the iPad mini as being a viable option even for someone used to Android.

    The main factors (in my opinion) for a great device are,
    1: A good quality screen, it needs to have vibrant, accurate colours.
    2: Even if during benchmarks the device is slow, if it FEELS snappy and quick, that's all that counts.
    3: Removable storage for god sake, I know by practice apple enjoys their closed system, but COME ON!
    4: It doesn't need to have some amazing 15 hour battery life, but I certainly don't want it to die on a full charge after a movie and a few youtube videos.
  • 3 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , December 17, 2012 3:51 AM
    I'm waiting for a 7 inch version of surface. It is the only productive tablet out there.
  • 0 Hide
    _Pez_ , December 17, 2012 3:59 AM
    Those devices are a JOKE !
  • 10 Hide
    mikenygmail , December 17, 2012 4:06 AM
    iPricey
  • 24 Hide
    Darkerson , December 17, 2012 4:08 AM
    Overpriced, but thats not really a surprise, since its an apple product. Sadly, people are eating them up regardless.
  • 6 Hide
    shikamaru31789 , December 17, 2012 7:44 AM
    It's definitely overpriced, but I've come to expect that with Apple, you're mostly paying for a name and some unique styling with them. It has some features going for it, but I wouldn't buy one, not when there are several cheaper options in the mini tablet lineup. That's not stopping the legions of Apple sheep from buying it though.
  • 3 Hide
    Tomtompiper , December 17, 2012 8:05 AM
    This is a blatant rip off of the Samsung Tab, I hope Samsung sue their ass off :kaola: 
  • 5 Hide
    Jigo , December 17, 2012 8:41 AM
    AzathothWhile the device is certainly nice, I don't like the fact that it has no support for MicroSD, and I would be unable to tinker around with it as I can for an Android based device....And the price. I'm not going to give a second thought when I see a $200 tablet with removable storage versus $330 for 16GB of internal storage and no expansion options.If the device was closer to say $260 for the 32GB version, or just included an option for removable storage... Then I would certainly see the iPad mini as being a viable option even for someone used to Android.The main factors (in my opinion) for a great device are, 1: A good quality screen, it needs to have vibrant, accurate colours.2: Even if during benchmarks the device is slow, if it FEELS snappy and quick, that's all that counts.3: Removable storage for god sake, I know by practice apple enjoys their closed system, but COME ON!4: It doesn't need to have some amazing 15 hour battery life, but I certainly don't want it to die on a full charge after a movie and a few youtube videos.


    you're right
    I'm glad that i bought the Nexus7. 16GB is enough, and rootet i can plug in external device. And as for all my techy stuff, i doubt i've to send it in before the 2y warranty expires
  • -6 Hide
    godnodog , December 17, 2012 9:03 AM
    The screen in tablets are too big, i want something with 1 or 2"!!!
  • 5 Hide
    house70 , December 17, 2012 10:43 AM
    TomtompiperThis is a blatant rip off of the Samsung Tab, I hope Samsung sue their ass off

    You mean, the Galaxy Tab 7.7. But yes, they should sue Apple fir design infringement.
  • 3 Hide
    Star72 , December 17, 2012 12:12 PM
    I'm sure it is a nice piece of tech, but it is more than I would want to pay for a small tablet from any maker.
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , December 17, 2012 12:25 PM
    I think that the price of the iPad Mini is justified with how amazingly it runs! The iPad Mini is a great option with an incredible processor speed, as my coworker at DISH likes to tell me about, and it deserves the price it has. With how great it works, it is also very light and smaller and makes it incredibly easy to watch TV streamed to the DISH Remote Access app with the Sling Adapter hooked up to my receiver. I really don’t mind the price, especially for these great features!
  • 3 Hide
    Augray37 , December 17, 2012 12:29 PM
    i believe you mean "micro-usb" in the sentence "...but we have to admit preferring mini-USB for its ubiquity across the other tablets we use." sorry, i work at radioshack :) 
  • 4 Hide
    cirdecus , December 17, 2012 12:53 PM
    I think the attractive thing about the iPad is the form factor. The dimensions, large screen and weight are absolutely perfect compared to the Nexus 7 and Kindle. Other clever software features, like being able to notice when your palm is holding the side of the screen, vs actually trying to use touch input is the perfect thing for a tablet of this size to keep the screen real estate large.

    The apps are phenomenal and far more abundant than any competitor as well.

    But as I've said, the problems are:

    1) Price is way to high
    2) Screen quality (Would NOT be an issue if the price wasn't stupidly high. If we're paying $130 more for a tablet, we atl east want retinta.)
    3) No storage expansion. I understand that storage is being used to "tier" these things like consoles are doing, but its pretty silly not to all for a simple SD expansion.

    Unlike a lot of younger techies, I don't feel that the closed environment or the lack of "customization" is really a flaw. Most individuals don't want to spend a lot of time tinkering around with their tablet. They just want to use it or accomplish a task with it. To most adults, its more of a tool to get a job done that a toy to be tinkered with constantly. I'm ok with leaving the device alone and simply reading, listening to music or watching movies on a plane.
  • 0 Hide
    bustapr , December 17, 2012 1:05 PM
    no love for the nook hd :( 

    its got almost the same specs as the kindle, an sd card slot, and a better screen(1440x900). similar price too.
  • -5 Hide
    calcappone , December 17, 2012 1:09 PM
    The one thing everyone has to realize is that, yeah it is overpriced but not compared to the iPad. Android is my OS of choice but Android lacks the support that Apple products has. iDevices have better apps and better games. I love Android but until it get the support level iDevices have then it will always play "second fiddle"
  • -3 Hide
    engrcat , December 17, 2012 1:21 PM
    I think the target market for this flavor of iPad are women, who can still have a fashionable Apple device that fits in their purses (yes they all have more than one). Also the Apple accessory market is very strong with fashion labels supplying attractive and functional cases for them. I did a one sample study in my household to obtain that information and I am $429 poorer because of it lol. Good thing she got a chinese case from newegg.
  • 0 Hide
    Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer , December 17, 2012 1:24 PM
    Pssht everyone knows the Archos GamePad is where it's at. :p 
  • 2 Hide
    traumadisaster , December 17, 2012 1:58 PM
    Just purchased our first tablet for my wife (i have a galaxy note phablet). Ipad 1 for $200 on ebay and the screen is fine for me, im surprised from reviews the screen didnt look like sd tv. especially my wife would never know hd. I found it to be heavy and unweildly. I think you just have to say thats what they cost and get over it, im not fighting android os anymore. And im not asking my wife to learn a new os to save $130. Granted she doesnt need extra storage or want to root. Me on the other hand i will get a note3 next year that way i wont need a tablet too.
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