Features and design
The iPad mini is one of those devices that exists because the market started to dictate its presence…but that doesn't mean Apple doesn't want to put its own spin on things.
To that end, the screen is larger at 7.9 inches, the design is completely different to the likes of the new iPad or the Google Nexus 7, and the whole ethos has been created from the ground up partly under the stewardship of Sir Jony Ive, according to Apple.
None of that matters though – what is important is the fact it's a superbly-designed device that at least gives a measure of why it costs so much more than the likes of the Kindle Fire HD.
The aluminium chassis shares the same colouring as the iPhone 5, with the darker black slate and white silver options both bringing a touch of class to proceedings.
At 308g it's twice the weight and then some of the iPhone 5, but compared to other tablets on the market (and combined with the aluminium chassis) it gives a very lightweight feeling the hand.
The screen is something of a worry though – with the 1024 x 768 resolution in the expansive display we're only getting a sharpness akin to the iPhone 3GS. While the display is better than that, thanks to improved IPS LCD technology, its still light years behind the Retina display on the bigger brother new iPad.
If you own a modern iPad, you'll notice the difference straight away. But then again, if you have one of these, then you won't want to buy the iPad mini.
Where the tablet will struggle to impress is when users who own an iPhone are checking it out, as it certainly doesn't have the wow factor of other devices.
In a side by side test of the same movie running on the iPad mini, theNexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, the iPad looked the least impressive (although the contrast ratio was certainly more than decent in our eyes).
Then there's the issue of holding the actual tablet. As Apple says, it's as light as pad of legal paper, and there's definitely no notion of this causing undue wrist strain. However, there is an issue with actually holding it, as the iPad mini doesn't really lend itself that well to any manner of grip.
The most comfortable and safe-feeling way to hold a tablet is to grip right around the back – something Apple thinks you can do easily according to its promotional materials.
Well, you're wrong there, Cupertino-gadget-people. It's just too far to stretch around comfortably for those with average-sized hands, so you're forced to hold it in the corner, covering part of the screen. It's good that Apple has chucked some technology in there so this doesn't register as a touch, but it's not the most comfortable way to browse.
In landscape with two hands, the iPad mini is a much nicer device to hold, with the aluminium covering giving it a really lovely back. However, the covering in aluminium in the same way as the iPhone 5 has led to another design problem: scratching.
The handsets have been getting criticism for exposing the silver metal below with minimal scratching, and this has begun to happen within a day on the iPad mini – which is all the more confusing seeing as it doesn't live in the pocket with keys and coins.
It's something we hope Apple would have changed in the manufacturing process already, and means you'll need to keep a real eye on how you look after the tablet.
The top and the bottom of the bezel are also wide enough here to rest your hands comfortably, and the likes of landscape web browsing and accelerometer-based gaming are excellent.
The rest of the design is predictably ergonomic when it comes to tapping the minimal level of buttons. The volume rocker keys are close to, but not too near, the mute switch on the top right-hand side.
This is near the power button, which is intuitively placed to always be easy to hit when you want to reactivate the iPad mini… although many will just hit the home button to achieve the same thing.
That traditional Apple home key is predictably here again, and it's shrunken somewhat to fit into the smaller chassis. However, during our testing we found it just as easy as ever to hit, despite the dinkier dimensions.
It's interesting that Apple has popped the headphone jack at the top of the iPad mini, given it's put so much effort in chucking it down at the bottom of the iPhone 5... but we do love it staying above the screen.
The speakers are at the bottom of the iPad mini, flanking the Lightning connector, which offers faster speeds of data transfer and can be connected either way round that you fancy, which is handy when charging before bed and can't be bothered to put the light on.
The speakers provide decent enough sound, but in landscape mode really create a distorted sense of audio, thanks to it firing quite mono-directionally.
The processor being last generation, in the shape of the Apple A5 effort, may worry some but it's likely to be enough for most actions, coupled with 512MB of RAM. It's miles away from the raw grunt of the Google Nexus 7 or the new iPad with its A6X processor, but Apple reckons it helps it hit a sweet spot in terms of price.