Apple iPad mini full review

Apple iPad Mini against iPad with Retina display

Smaller than an iPad, but quite a bit bigger than an iPod touch, the iPad mini is a tablet that will fit in your handbag, but lets you do pretty much everything the 9.7-inch iPad can do.

It launched back in November 2012, but how does it fare almost eight months down the road? As is Apple's way, the price remains constant while competitors have arrived at lower prices. The Nook HD and Nook HD+ are worthy rivals, both having higher resolution screens and straddling the iPad mini's screen size at 7 and 9 inches respectively.

Amazon's pair of Kindle Fire HD tablets also give you the option of 7- and 9-inch screens, but lock you into Amazon's world. The Nooks, meanwhile, give you full access to Google Play. See also Amazon Kindle Fire HD review.

The iPad mini, of course, locks you into Apple's world, but it's arguably the best one. The real question, if you've already decided you don't want to save money and get an Android tablet, is whether to wait for the rumoured iPad mini 2, which is likely to arrive with iOS 7 in a few months, and may well have a much higher resolution screen.

The iPad mini will also be updatable to iOS 7, so if you're desperate to buy now, and you don't mind living with the relatively low resolution screen, then read on...

iPad mini review: Screen

Although it's the same physical size as its seven-inch rivals, it packs a bigger 7.9in screen. You wouldn't think it, but this extra not-quite-an-inch gives the iPad mini around 35 percent more screen real-estate than a 7in tablet, and the difference is noticeable. See also  iPad 4 review.

We like the 4:3 form factor, which is only really a disadvantage when it comes to watching videos, since 16:9 content has to be shown with black bars at the top and bottom, or the sides cropped so it fills the screen. See also Apple iPad Mini vs Google Nexus 7 tablet comparison review.

To keep things simple, and likely to keep costs down, the screen has the same 1024 x 768 resolution as the iPad 2. This means it can run the existing - and extensive - catalogue of iPad-specific apps. Most Android tablet owners have to put up with the phone versions of apps.

The iPad mini's display has a higher pixel density than the original iPad and iPad 2 because it's around 2in smaller, but it's obvious that it's not as crisp as the iPhone or bigger iPad's Retina displays. Fortunately, it's still an IPS panel, so colours are vibrant and viewing angles excellent. 

iPad mini against iPad Retina

iPad mini review: Build quality

What strikes you as you pick up the iPad mini is how light it is. It's less than half the weight of a third- or fourth-generation iPad, and 23 percent thinner. Despite this, build quality is spectacular and the mini feels as solid as a rock. The mini is also noticeably thinner and lighter than most of its 7in rivals, including the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. Take a look at our iPhone 5 review.

As you'd expect, it has the new Lightning connector, so you'll need an adaptor to use 30-pin accessories - not all of which will work.

UPDATE: Apple has now released a wide selection of Lightning cables and adapters, including the extremely expensive £39 Digital AV Adapter (read HDMI output). Beware that some apps (particularly catch-up TV) do not support HDMI output, so don't invest in the adapter thinking you can get around the AirPlay restrictions this way.

The button layout is identical to a 9.7in iPad.

Like all recent Apple iPads, the iPad mini has dual-band Wi-Fi, allowing it to roam across the less crowded 5GHz radio band. Apple also lists channel bonding in its spec, where two adjacent 20MHz channels are combined to make a 40Hz channel for potentially greater throughput. Most people won't get this benefit, though, as few have a router with a 5GHz radio, or one that can operate on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously.

Apple iPad mini in hand

iPad mini review: Front and rear cameras

Both cameras on the iPad mini are brilliant, the rear one especially so. It takes sharp photos in dingy conditions (the photo below was taken with just a table lamp lighting the room) and great-looking images with accurate colours in good light.

iPad mini rear camera low light photo

It's great for videos too (it has stabilisation as well), and you'll feel more at home using this smaller iPad rather than the big version for capturing what's going on. Plus, there's face recognition on both cameras for photos and videos.

iPad mini review: Performance

Another similarity with the iPad 2 is the processor. The A5 chip is getting a bit old, but our benchmark results show it can still rub shoulders with the current crop of 7in tablets. Importantly - and this is something benchmarks often fail to reflect - the iPad mini feels snappy in use, whether loading apps, scrolling around maps or browsing the web.

In the SunSpider JavaScript test, the iPad mini scored 1442ms, which puts it towards the head of the pack, but in the synthetic Geekbench 2, it managed only 752 - not a great score compared to the Nexus 7 (1452) and even the Kindle Fire HD (1124). For gaming, it's still pretty good, managing 24fps in GLBenchmark 2.5.1. The Kindle Fire HD could muster only 8.2fps here, and the Nexus 7 just 14fps. It shows that, when it comes to more demanding games, the iPad mini leads the way.

In terms of battery life, we found the mini didn't quite live up to Apple's 10-hour claim. Running our usual video-looping test, we recorded just 7 hours and 21 minutes with Wi-Fi turned on. That was at maximum screen brightness, however, so at a lower brightness, you might just reach 10 hours.

iPad mini review: Software

A slight surprise is the presence of Siri - Apple's voice assistant - as it was previously thought the processor was the reason for not including it on the iPad 2. The mini has most of the other headline iOS 6 features as well, including flyover maps and VIP mail, but doesn't get a panorama mode in the Camera app. You can, of course, download any number of apps which will automatically stitch photos together for you. Try Microsoft's Photosynth for great 360-degree vistas.

One neat addition to iOS is that it recognises if you're resting your thumb on the side of the screen or interacting with an app. The side bezels are just 5mm wide so touching the screen is inevitable, especially when reading an eBook.

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Apple iPad mini: Specs

  • Apple A5 (ARM Cortex-A9, dual-core)
  • PowerVR SGX543MP2 (dual-core)
  • 7.9in (1024 x 768) 163ppi IPS display
  • IOS 6.0
  • 512MB memory
  • 16, 32 or 64GB flash storage
  • 802.11a/b/g/n with channel bonding
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 5.0Mp rear camera
  • 1.2Mp front camera
  • 1920 x 1080 video capture
  • 3.5mm headset jack
  • Lightning dock connector
  • 16.3Wh, non-removable lithium polymer
  • 200 x 134.8 x 7.4 mm
  • 307g (67g SmartCover)

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