Interface and performance
When it comes to the interface on the iPad mini, it's not going to be a shock to any long-time Apple users, with the same iOS 6 method of displaying icons still as prevalent as ever.
This means the transition to the smaller size of device will be easy for most, as although the iPad layout, with more space between the icons on the home screen, is prevalent once more, it shrinks down nicely.
Holding the iPad mini in portrait mode is easy enough thanks to the weight, and prodding the icons on screen isn't too difficult nor does it feel like you're going to push the tablet out of your hands and onto the floor, waiting for that heart-stopping moment when you see a crack slide across the display like demon fingers reaching into your wallet.
The iOS interface is simplicity itself, so any users not familiar with Apple's mobile operating system will pick it up in no time at all. The icons are laid out in a 4 by 3 grid, and unlike on the iPhone they will rotate when you move the tablet into landscape format.
The ability to place icons in the bottom dock means you can have the apps you want pervading around the home screen, while dragging and dropping said apps on top of one another will allow you to create folders with ease, which you can rename anything you want.
As we expected with a device running iOS 6 there are no widgets to speak of, which means the only app you can really control from the home screen is the music player, which can be accessed by double tapping the home button (which activates the list of recently-used apps) and swiping left for access to the music controls.
What is also nice here is you can alter the brightness of the iPad mini from the same screen, as well as change the speaker output if you're using AirPlay... little things but the direction Apple needs to take to make iOS a little more modern. It's nothing new, but it works very well on the smaller tablet.
The lock screen is a slightly different matter; for those au fait with iOS on the iPad, this will be old news, but for the newcomers: if you double tap the home button here you'll be presented with access to your music controls again, along with album art displaying when you're listening to music.
And there's also the option to have the lock screen as a slide show of all your favourite pictures, which is started up by pressing the photo icon at the bottom - it's these little tweaks that have brought joy to so many Apple users over the years, and we're still impressed by them today.
However, this is still iOS 6 running, and that's becoming something of a problem in our eyes. Not so much at the moment, as there's enough simplicity and function on offer to not make us too worried, but it's a system that is starting to show its age.
For instance, one of our main bugbears is through controlling settings - this is still only really possible through the main 'Settings' app, which means if you want to tweak mail settings, music or apps themselves you'll need to jump out of whatever you're doing and head into another menu from the home screen just to make a small alteration.
However, Apple is still catering for the iPad owners with some handy gestures to make things easier to move around. Instead of double tapping the home button to switch apps, touching the screen with all five fingers and swiping left and right will move you through the most recently-used apps, and pinching all digits together will return you to the home screen.
This is really helpful when using the tablet on the move, as it means you don't need to shuffle the palm around to hit the home button - and it's really cool too. It's an even more intuitive system on the iPad mini than the iPad 'proper', as it somehow fits the screen size better.
We still like the Facebook and Twitter integration – being able to post thoughts directly from the notification centre (available anywhere by dragging from the top of the screen)
Apple might be criticised for bringing last year's technology to the iPad mini, as the A5 chip with 512MB of RAM doesn't sound like a lot when you can buy the quad core Google Nexus 4 smartphone with 2GB of RAM for the same price as the mini, and with the same amount of storage too.
However, in practice it's really rather hard to fault Apple's interface performance when using the device in day to day use. It's definitely not got the grunt of the larger new iPad 4, as when we were setting up the device and downloading all manner of music and settings the whole thing melted down and wouldn't let us move around menus or see what was going on with other apps.
But that was a rare situation, as only apps getting snarled up and shutting themselves down caused us any consternation in day to day use. This isn't a regular occurrence, and to be fair happens a lot less on iOS than it does on Android, as Apple's quality control is a tad higher when allowing apps into its marketplace.
And let's not forget about real world use - we tested this side by side with a number of other tablets, including the quad core competition, and when it came to browsing speed we were impressed to see the iPad mini coming up trumps in the speed stakes on a number of occasions. Benchmarks confirm that it can ripple along as well as the competition, and validates Apple's decision to stick with the older processor to keep 'costs down' (or margins up)...
The only real gripe, and it's one you'll hear time and again from us throughout this iPad mini review, is the fact that the screen is too low-res. It simply saddens us to see menus we're used to on both iPads and iPhones not having the same sharpness as before... and we're certainly not used to seeing Apple take a step back in quality.
If you've never used a top end smartphone or tablet, this won't be an issue as the display is fine, and technically still HD in terms of pixel count. But it's definitely the trick Apple is holding up its sleeve for the iPad mini 2 - that Tim Cook is a sneaky one, isn't he?