Over the last two months, Apple has updated almost all of its core product lines, with the addition of a 13” model to the Retina MacBook Pro line and new silicon for the iPad and Mac mini to go with ground up redesigns for the iPhone, iMac, iPod touch, and iPod nano. But the biggest story from the “little more” event was definitely the introduction of the iPad mini, a 7.9” counterpart to the 9.7” tablet that started it all.

We’ve been hearing whispers of a 7” Apple-built tablet since even before the original iPad was shown off in January 2010. By late 2011, the speculative consensus seemed to center around a 7.85” iPad targeted at the then-new Kindle Fire, with a 1024x768 resolution that would give it the same pixel density as the iPhone 3GS and a resolution that matched the regular 9.7” iPad. We’ve basically been hearing about this new device every two weeks since then. Apple’s “veil of secrecy” is almost entirely gone at this point, something that is getting more obvious with every new product launch and a fact I think is worth mentioning because we’ve essentially known what the iPad mini was going to be, design and component-wise, since late summer.

The result is a healthy blend of parts-bin engineering, a device that shares features and components with many other iOS devices. The design language is nearly identical to that of the fifth generation iPod touch, as is the SoC (the 32nm shrink of A5, also shared with the iPad 2,4) and camera - a 5MP sensor with Apple’s five-element, f/2.4 optical system. With the same aspect ratio and screen resolution as the iPad 2, the iOS software stack is pretty straightforward too.

The Retina display technology is one that very prominently didn’t trickle down to the iPad mini; with seemingly the entire rest of Apple’s mobile lineup going Retina, from the iPod touch all the way up to the 15” MacBook Pro, the lack of a super-high resolution panel is noteworthy. We’re left with a 7.85” IPS panel (rounded to 7.9” in Apple’s marketing material) that runs a 1024x768 resolution and a pixel density of 163. That’s the same as the first generation iPhone (as the 3G/3GS), which was cutting edge back in 2007, and half that of the iPhone 4/4S/5. I’ll talk more about the display later on, but it’s safe to say that the Retina display is the single biggest omission from the iPad mini feature list.

iPad Specification Comparison
  Apple iPad mini Apple iPad 4 Apple iPad 3 Apple iPad 2 Apple iPad
Dimensions 200 x 134.7 x 7.2mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 9.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8mm 243.0 x 190.0 x 13.4mm
Display 7.85-inch 1024 x 768 IPS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS
Weight 308g (WiFi) 652g (WiFi) 652g (WiFi) 601g (WiFi) 680g (WiFi)
Processor 1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX543MP2)

Apple A6X (2 x Swift, PowerVR SGX 554MP4)

Apple A5X (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX 543MP4)

1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9, PowerVR SGX543MP2) 1GHz Apple A4 (1 x Cortex A8, PowerVR SGX 535)
Connectivity WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 4G LTE WiFi , Optional 3G WiFi , Optional 3G
Memory 512MB 1GB 1GB 512MB 256MB
Storage 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB 16GB—64GB
Battery 16.3Wh 42.5Wh 42.5Wh 25Wh 25Wh
Starting Price $329 $499 - $399 -

Unlike previous releases of the 9.7” iPad, which have all come with new SoCs or otherwise significant internal upgrades, there’s not much in the way of silicon-level innovation. Each iPad has come with a new SoC, with A4, A5, A5R2, A5X, and A6X all showing up first in the various iPads, and the only major Apple SoC release in that time to not ship first in an iPad was A6, which of course came alongside the iPhone 5 two months ago. The iPad mini, on the other hand, is on paper basically just an iPad 2,4 in miniature form, plus better cameras, optional LTE, and new industrial design.

The mini is available with the same color schemes as the iPhone 5, with the black or white bezels being joined by slate and silver anodized aluminum chassis, respectively. NAND options are the usual 16/32/64GB, with LTE-enabled models available through AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Pricing starts off at $329, with NAND going for $100 per step and $130 for LTE, as on the other iPads. This is a major point of contention with the mini, because the most obvious rivals in the Android world, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD 7”, start at $199 and charge less for NAND upgrades. A 32GB Nexus 7 will run you $249, same with the 32GB Kindle Fire HD, while a 32GB iPad mini goes for the rather princely sum of $429. You could buy two 16GB Nexus 7s and a bundle of paid apps for the same as a 32GB mini.

But here’s the thing - I don’t consider the iPad mini a competitor to the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7, to me, is what I buy if I’m in the market for a $199 tablet or I want a 7” Android device. It’s a completely different experience than the iPad mini. In my mind, the closest competitors for the iPad mini are, in order, the iPad 2, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, and the Nook Tablet HD+. The iPad 2 is obvious because these are the two lowest priced iOS tablets right now, and with similar underlying hardware, they’re actually pretty closely matched. I think the latter two are especially interesting comparisons to make, because all three exist in the ~$300 “small premium tablet” niche that has suddenly appeared.

Consider it like the Mini Cooper equivalent in the tablet world - a premium experience offered at a very attainable (if not particularly value-oriented) price point. Obviously, that game plan has worked very well for BMW in the automotive world, and certainly if any company could use it successfully in consumer electronics, it would be Apple. The business case for it almost writes itself, but does it result in a truly stand-out product or a half-hearted me-too attempt by Apple to grab a share of the budget tablet market? With relatively little in the way of new hardware to talk about, a lot of this review will center around the user experience, and that’s really what will determine how successful it is. Let’s start with the major differentiating factor brought by the iPad mini, the new form factor.

Ergonomics
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  • Calista - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    ^+1

    I bought the original iPad and as many was amazed by the build-quality (stupid sharp edges excluded) and how fluid surfing the web felt considering the hardware. But I also within 15 minutes realised that it was badly memory-starved. Apple is an amazing company taking great pride in the user-experience of its products, but back then they goofed up badly.

    I feel the same about the Mini. The CPU may be old but it's still fairly competent, the GPU still among the best, and the screen size may be close to perfect. But only 512 MB of RAM just ain't sufficient for today, even less for tomorrow.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Being slow to increase RAM and VRAM is consistently an issue with Apple. That's the case with Macs as well.

    For the iPad 1, it wasn't just that 256MB of RAM was small. Rapid drop-off in app support for the iPad 1, especially in games, is due to the resolution being so high in comparison to the RAM. The GPU was also underpowered compared to the resolution. 3rd gen devices have 480x320 screens and 256MB of RAM while the iPad 1 has 5.1x the pixels with the same 256MB of RAM. The 4th gen iPod Touch is affected by this too having a 960x640 screen with 256MB, but the iPad 1 is even worse with 1.3x the pixels of the 4th gen Touch. Support for the 4th gen iPod Touch in games isn't perfect, but is better than the iPad 1, which indicates that 256MB in itself isn't the limitation, but the drop in support for the iPad 1 is a combination of 256MB RAM with the higher 1024x768 resolution and the iPad 1 no longer being sold after 2011. The iPad 1 received 2 major OS updates (iOS 4.x and 5.x) post launch like other iOS devices so its OS support wasn't prematurely terminated.

    I think the situation will be different for the iPad Mini 1. The iPad 2/Mini doubles the RAM to 512MB while keeping the resolution the same, which alleviates the poor resolution-RAM ratio of the iPad 1. 512MB of RAM represents the majority of iOS devices including the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPad Mini 1, and 5th gen iPod Touch, of which given historical patterns, the iPhone 4S and 5th gen iPod Touch and perhaps even the iPad Mini 1 itself will sell into 2014. Given historical patterns, OS support for the iPhone 4S, 5th gen iPod Touch, and iPad Mini 1 should continue into 2015. Seeing it's only in 2012 that developers are really beginning to require 512MB of RAM, I don't see them already upping the minimum requirement to 1GB in 2013. Especially not when that eliminates the majority of their potential customer base, when those devices are still being actively sold into 2014, and receiving OS support into 2015. I think 2014 is a more realistic date for when apps will begin to stop supporting 512MB devices.

    Personally, seeing the CPU was unchanged and the GPU is only 2x faster despite the 4x increase in resolution making it slower at native resolution than the iPad Mini 1 and iPad 2, I wouldn't be surprised if the iPad 3 loses app support before the iPad Mini and iPad 2.

    Of course, just because apps continue to support 512MB devices doesn't mean the usage experience won't be degraded or sub-par. I can see that becoming an issue faster than app support.
    Reply
  • Klug4Pres - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I guess you reviews the Wifi-only version, but I'd like to see some analysis of the cellular connectivity options, especially what LTE bands are supported in the available SKUs. Reply
  • HighTech4US - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    The mini lacks a GPS on the base model making it useless for using any map software with turn-by-turn prompts.

    The Nexus 7 has a built in GPS chip (and a very effective one and way better pin pointing location than a TomTom) and Google Maps works great on the Nexus 7 (you can download maps for offline use).

    The lack of GPS on any tablet is a deal breaker for me.

    Adding in the omission GPS with the other short comings along with its sky high price makes the mini just an overpriced iToy. The Nexus 7 is a much much better deal.
    Reply
  • Calista - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I think we have all forgot what gave us forgot what gave us 7" tablets. A "tablet" - i.e a tablet PC running Windows was normally in the 12-14" range. The JooJoo was a 12" tablet as well. Apple brought it down to 10" and sold a ton of those.

    At the same time a large number of more or less obscure manufacturers brought out 7" tablets *not* because 7" was considered the best compromise but because those panels could be bought dirt-cheap. But this also gave us this idea that a small tablet was supposed to be 7" while a large tablet was to be 10". I would say this is an anomaly, tablets have for the last ten years been larger than 10".

    Maybe the "correct" size for a small tablet is in the 8-8.5" range? I was playing with my friends Motorola Xoom 2 (8.2", 1280x800) and while a bit heavier than my 7" tablet it seemed to hit the perfect size. Not so big or heavy as to be cumbersome, while still packing almost 40" more screen area.

    Too much focus is being put on the device being pocket-able, how many really bring a tablet in their coat or pants? Just the idea of asking for a device to be pocket-able while still lacking a 3G/4G connection is just plain silly. Instead focus should be put on how it feels in hand but also how much space it occupies on a table. The 10" iPad was always too big to fit comfortable on my table while still having space for a cup of tea, a notebook, a plain book or the remotes for the TV and receiver.
    Reply
  • Quad5Ny - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    There is a Pop-over interactive banner ad running that opens when you try to hit the x, please take a look. Thanks.

    http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?p=34271...
    Reply
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    "but in terms of repsonsiveness" In the conclusion. Reply
  • BSMonitor - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Incredibly too much... By the 4th generation of these, 32GB should be standard and 64GB a $100 upgrade...

    The BOM on 32GB NAND in this fashion is what? $15? Even if it's $20($10 x 2 16GB), they are getting a 1000% profit margin on that upgrade from 16 to 32 GB??

    But they know we all have huge iTunes libraries we'd want on it...

    Unfortunately there will never be a do-it-yourself tablet similar to the PC market. I stopped paying Dell and Gateway and HP a LONG time ago for their ridiculous profit methods.
    Reply
  • TouchPadKing - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Not sure if this has already been rehashed, but the pixel size is what kills the ipad mini for me. I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, and I can SEE the pixels and it drives me nuts. The ipad mini has an even bigger screen with about the same number of pixels... Also, samsung fits in pocket, mini doesn't. I like the ipad mini's form factor, but again if it won't fit in my pocket it'll probably never leave the house... Reply
  • Rising - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I bought Nexus 7 when it was released. This is what i can tell you after few months of usage..
    "Its a good hardware in a crappy software". Iwould say the higher price premium on ipad mini is justified for software.

    Most of the apps are zoomed over apps for Nexus 7. I hate that part of it. For example i use this app called apex launcher in my samsung s 3 and when i try using it on Nexus 7 all the icons are so small that they are hardly recognizable.

    I donot understand why Google cannot optimize the apps to their own Nexus tablets.
    Anand do you know whats stopping them from doing this?
    Reply

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