"What is your review? That it is an iPad, just smaller?" a colleague said to me when I first got the iPad Mini for review.
"Yeah, but the question is, is it better than the bigger iPad?" I told him.
My response may seem a bit odd since the $329 iPad Mini has some noticeable shortcomings in comparison to its larger, $499 sibling. It doesn't have the brand new and faster A6x processor or the insanely sharp Retina Display.
But don't underestimate the old cliché: size matters.
It's so cute! I'll admit that's what I thought for the first 24 hours I carried around the iPad Mini. The little tablet, with its 7.9-inch screen, is just undeniably adorable when you're accustomed to the larger version's 9.7-inch display.
Naturally, because of the smaller size, you get a lighter device; the .68-pound Mini is easier to hold for longer periods than the larger iPad. But Apple also changed the design of this .28-inch thick version and made it much thinner. (Apple's always been known to make its next generation products thinner, but it's hard to imagine how they'll achieve that with the next generation of the Mini – at least without shrinking the circumference of the headphone jack.)
However, while it is thinner and lighter than the competing 7-inch tablets out there, the 7.9-inch screen makes it wider and harder to hold in one hand. While it still fits in one hand, it doesn't sit as comfortably as the Nexus 7. That said, I prefer the aluminum build of the Mini to Android tablets with plastic or rubberlike finishes.
I also greatly prefer the smaller size of the Mini to the regular iPad. In fact, two years ago, when I reviewed one of the first 7-inch tablets – the Samsung Galaxy Tab – I said I preferred the size to the iPad for reading and even typing.
That still holds true for me. The small size of the tablet not only makes it easier to hold up when reading in bed or on a subway, but it fits better in a bag and takes up less room on the nightstand. They are small things, sure, but ones that make the tablet work better for me and don't require me to change for the tablet.
A Screen Without a Retina
But there was something I missed about the larger iPad in my testing. In fact, the only thing I missed about it in the past week has been the display. Your eyes start to become spoiled by the Retina display -- by the way it makes text, images, and video look so incredibly crisp. Reverting to another display, especially one that runs the same software, isn't easy and when you sacrifice visual clarity of text and images it can be frustrating.
That's not to say the 1024 x 768-resolution screen on the Mini isn't high quality -- you'll just notice the difference after using the Retina iPad.
And that's not my only complaint about the display. When I took the screen outside to read there was quite a bit of glare when the sun was out. After some repositioning I was able to make out text and images better on the display, though Amazon's Kindle Fire HD handled glare slightly better. Of course, this is a consistent issue with LCD screens and why E Ink Kindles and Nooks continue to be the best solution for reading books by the pool or beach. But, I'd argue that with the smaller iPad you start to want to replace your Kindle with it more and more, making the screen's shortcomings more pronounced.