Apple unveiled its long-rumored iPad mini last week, along with a tweaked version of its full-sized tablet. The reaction from tech journalists and bloggers attending the event can be summed up thusly:
"Um, it's basically a smaller iPad, with a higher price and lower resolution. But hey, nice tablet!"
Pre-orders began last Friday, with shipments headed to millions of early adopters by this Friday. And to complete the cycle, Apple's embargo has lifted on initial reviews of the iPad mini. Not surprisingly, there's a consensus among reviewers:
"Yep, it's basically a smaller iPad, with a higher price and lower resolution. But hey, nice tablet!"
The iPad mini is a new design, with a 7.9-inch display, a smaller bezel on the side when held in portrait orientation and very thin and light. Packed inside, though, is some older technology. The mini has a 1,024-by-768 resolution, like the iPad 1 and 2 Apple opted not to go with a retina display, as in the third- and fourth-generation iPads. It also has the A5X chip found in the third-gen iPad, rather than the faster A6 processor in the newest iPad and the iPhone 5.
The reviews are generally positive older tech can be very tolerable if the overall experience is good, and it appears to be. But Apple's getting dinged for the relatively low-res screen on a device that would be otherwise perfect for reading, and for a price that's well above what others are charging for similar-sized tablets.
You can find a comprehensive list of reviews in today's Linkpost, but here are some highlights:
The iPad mini is an excellent tablet but it's not a very cheap one. Whether that's by design, or due to market forces beyond Apple's control, I can't say for sure. I can't think of another company that cares as much about how its products are designed and built or one that knows how to maximize a supply chain as skillfully so something tells me it's no accident that this tablet isn't selling for $200. It doesn't feel like Apple is racing to some lowest-price bottom rather it seems to be trying to raise the floor.
So why did Apple, whose large iPad and new Macs boast extremely high screen resolution, choose a lower resolution for the Mini? The company did so because it says there are only two resolutions that allow its tablet apps to run unmodified. One is the extremely high resolution on the current large iPad, which would have boosted the cost and lowered the battery life of the Mini. The other, the one Apple chose for the Mini, is the same resolution on iPad models consumers have snapped up: the original iPad and the iPad 2, which is still on the market at $399.
This makes sense, but it means that, unlike its closest competitors, the Mini can't play video in high definition. Apple insists the device does better than standard definition, if you are obtaining the video from its iTunes service, since iTunes scales the video for the device, so it will render somewhere between standard definition and HD. It says some other services will do the same. But the lack of true HD gives the Nexus and Fire HD an advantage for video fans. In my tests, video looked just fine, but not as good as on the regular iPad.
By pricing the Mini so high, Apple allows the $200 class of seven-inch Android tablets and readers to live (Google Nexus, Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD). Those tablets also, by the way, have high-definition screens (1,280 by 800 pixels), which the Mini doesn't.
But the iPad Mini is a far classier, more attractive, thinner machine. It has two cameras instead of one. Its fit and finish are far more refined. And above all, it offers that colossal app catalog, which Android tablet owners can only dream about.
From Harry McCracken at Time:
In retrospect, it's not the least bit startling that Apple chose not to take on the $199 7-inchers directly. They're all clad in plastic cases, and their makers price them at the break-even point or maybe even a bit below it in hopes of turning a profit on later sales of books, videos, apps and other content.
Apple, by contrast, has an aversion to plastic; nearly every gadget it makes has a unibody aluminum shell. It also prefers to make an up-front profit on its hardware, which is presumably more doable at $329 than at $199.
From Tim Stevens at Engadget:
This isn't just an Apple tablet made to a budget. This isn't just a shrunken-down iPad. This is, in many ways, Apple's best tablet yet, an incredibly thin, remarkably light, obviously well-constructed device that offers phenomenal battery life. No, the performance doesn't match Apple's latest and yes, that display is a little lacking in resolution, but nothing else here will leave you wanting. At $329, this has a lot to offer over even Apple's more expensive tablets.
Those comparing this to the Kindle Fire HD will have a hard time, as that's a tablet manufactured to a fixed cost and designed to sell you content. This is very much more. Similarly, the hardware here is much nicer than the Nexus 7 and it offers access to the comprehensively more tablet-friendly App Store, but whether that's worth the extra cost depends entirely on the size of your budget and your proclivity toward Android.
From Scott Stein at CNet:
But oh, that screen. It's not bad, not at all, but it's not Retina Display. It's not even as high-res as other 7-inch tablets. If you're an obsessive over crisp text, you'll notice the fuzziness. If you're comparing the Mini to a laptop, you won't. I wanted that display to be as good as the one on the iPhone 5, iPod Touch, and Retina iPad. It isn't, not now. It mars the product for me, because otherwise, the screen size and its aspect ratio is perfect for handling comics, magazines, and reading apps.
If you were on the fence about the iPad mini, do these reviews change your mind?