Gadling Gear Review: iPad Mini

Over the past couple of years the demand for tablet computers has gone from nonexistent to one of the hottest segments of the entire consumer electronics market. At the forefront of that demand is the iPad, which not only launched the tablet revolution but has continued to push it forward since its introduction in 2010. The iPad’s dominance has been so complete that competitors have been forced to attempt to carve out a niche with smaller and cheaper tablets, sometimes with solid success. Not one to let a market slip away, Apple released a smaller tablet of their own a few months back, bringing an excellent entry to the growing 7-inch tablet segment.

The iPad Mini was released this past fall and garners its name from the fact that it features a 7.9-inch display as opposed to the 9.7-inch screen found on the full size version. But the size of the screen isn’t the only part of Apple’s tablet that has gotten smaller. The Mini is also considerably thinner and lighter than its larger counterpart, which is probably the thing that is most striking when you first hold one in your hands. The fact that it slims down so nicely and still manages to maintain Apple’s legendary build quality is just icing on the cake. Put simply, the iPad Mini feels great in your hands and makes you think that this is what the iPad should have been the whole time.

Despite its smaller screen, the iPad Mini still runs all of the iPad Apps without a problem. That means that buyers get access to the best tablet apps on the market, while Android owners continue to wait for many of their apps to be optimized for larger screens. Apps look fantastic on the Mini’s bright and vibrant screen as well, although it doesn’t feature the amazing Retina display that is found on the larger, more expensive iPad. It seems logical that the first update to the Mini will be adding some form of the Retina display in a future update, but hopefully not at the expense of added weight or thickness.The Mini provides fast and smooth performance, running Apple’s iOS mobile operating system very well. In fact, I didn’t notice any appreciable difference in how the tablet responded or ran apps when compared to my third generation iPad, which features a much more powerful processor. The device also features two built-in cameras, one on the front and one on the back, which take passable photos and are great for video conferencing.

Travelers will absolutely fall in love with the Mini. Its smaller size and weight makes it a great travel companion, easily slipping inside a carry-on bag or purse without adding any kind of noticeable bulk. Its ten-hour battery life keeps it running for a long time and its vast library of apps provides games, movies, television shows, magazines, music and plenty more diversions for long flights or layovers in the airport. The fact that it is also considerably cheaper (the Mini starts at $329 for a 16GB model) than the regular iPad will make it attractive to new buyers as well.

In a lot of ways the Mini is the best iPad yet and as an owner of the full-size model, I am looking forward to Apple bringing some of the design elements over to the larger tablet. But as someone who actually does work on his iPad, the smaller screen is a compromise that I’m not ready to make just yet. I once wrote a 1000-word story on my iPad while on a flight home from Jordan with no real issues, but I can’t imagine doing the same thing on the smaller screen of the Mini. The smaller tablet is a fantastic option for those who consume media on their mobile devices, but it isn’t the best option for those that want to create content as well.

But the Mini’s competition isn’t just the full-size iPad, as both Google and Amazon have competing products that stack-up well with Apple’s device. Those tablets are smaller and lighter, yet feature higher definition screens and come in at a lower price tag. They also feel less solid in your hands and have a build quality that can best be described as “cheap” when compared to the Mini. Couple that outstanding construction with a larger display and an app store that is unmatched in the number of options designed for tablets and I believe the Mini provides an outstanding bang for the buck.

Just like the larger iPad, Apple offers the Mini with 16, 32 and 64 GB of storage and with options to connect to 4G data networks for Internet access on the go. No other small tablet offers such a wide variety of options in storage and connectivity, albeit at an increased cost as well. And that versatility is appreciated by consumers, particularly in an increasingly connected world. My third generation iPad is a 64GB model with LTE access and I find that to be incredibly useful for staying connected while on the road.

As far as I’m concerned, the iPad Mini is the best tablet on the market for travelers. Its small size and compact shape make it easy to carry with you whether you’re heading across town or across the globe. It is impressively built, powerful and versatile, and it comes with the best app store available for any tablet on the market. If you’ve been reluctant to invest in one of these devices in the past, then you really should take a look at the Mini. It is a fantastic product that will convince many first-time buyers to finally bite the bullet and add a tablet to their travel gear. And if you’re an owner of an older iPad who has been considering an upgrade, you’ll want to take a look too. You may find the Mini’s more svelte design too enticing to pass up, even though you’ll be reducing the size of your screen.

Make no mistake; Apple has more competitors in the tablet market than they have ever had in the past. But they also continue to stay two or three steps ahead of that competition, delivering the best devices in the category at competitive prices. The Mini not only continues that legacy but extends it.

[Photo Credit: Apple]