I recently had a chance to spend a significant amount of time with an iPad mini. It wasn’t mine, but it wasn’t in an Apple store. It did have all of my information and my most-used apps. After putting it through its paces, I have come to a couple of conclusions.
First, these devices are truly only as good as their screens. Retina may not be considered revolutionary by some, but after trying to use the mini as a news reader, book reader, or writing device, there is no question in my mind. Print-level resolution is essential for enjoyable, relaxing text. It’s almost as if I can feel my brain resolving the jagged edges and smudgy aliasing.
Second, the mini fills only the gaps that my iPhone currently occupies. The device is light and thin (I still can’t wait for a regular iPad redesign that gets closer to the mini’s thickness). There’s less strain on the hands when reading or playing games, and holding it with one hand is possible if not totally natural. But the major issue is that the mini doesn’t meet the requirement for what I think defines the iPad: a computer for everything but what it can’t do. The longer the iPad is around, the more it becomes capable of doing. The mini does less in spite of its ability to run all of the same apps.
When I first started using an iPad, I expected it (wrongly) to replace a laptop. It didn’t, and I’ve since found that it shouldn’t. The mini, however, is even less a computer stand-in than the regular iPad. At this point, almost all of the writing I do for this site is from an iPad on the onscreen keyboard. The mini is just too cramped to write with. I found other apps to be the same.
One place where I thought the mini won out was in gaming. The lower resolution makes everything feel smooth and fluid. I’m comparing it to a third generation iPad, not the faster fourth gen, but it was one way in which the mini performed better.
When retina comes to the mini, I’ll be interested to see if my feelings stay the same. Still, I’ll be waiting for a mini-styled design on the full-size iPad.