Let us see if Apple's not-that-miniature iPad has enough potential, both hardware- and software-wise, in order to compete with the mighty 7-inchers out there!
Well, what can we say - Apple has done it again! The iPad mini is an incredibly beautiful tablet, not only because of its clean and stylish appearance, but also thanks to the high-quality materials and great attention to details that's can easily be observed from every angle that you look at it. The iPad mini is not just a shrunken down iPad, though, the left and right bezel has been narrowed to make the device easier to hold with one hand only. This has also given the iPad mini a more elegant and sophisticated look compared to what it would be if all sides of the bezel were equally wide.
Still, since the iPad mini's screen measures 7.9 inches, and the aspect ratio of the screen is 3:4, holding the iPad mini with one hand only will not be as easy as it is with 7-inch devices like the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. However, thanks to a cool trick that Apple has utilized, you'll still be able to hold it naturally as if you're holding a book, with a thumb against the front bezel/screen, and in case your thumb actually presses the display, it won't be recognized as a press. This is very cool, since we can imagine that the thin bezel of the iPad mini will often cause us to accidentally tap the screen.
With that said, the iPad mini should feel very comfortable in the hand, as it is thinner and lighter than any of its competitors, which is extremely important when we talk about tablets.
The 7.9" display of the iPad mini will have a resolution of 768 x 1024 pixels - the same as that of the original iPad and the iPad 2. What this allows is for all 275,000 tablet-optimized apps in the App Store to run flawlessly on the smaller screen of the iPad mini. Due to the smaller, 7.9" screen, the iPad mini will sport a slightly better pixel density at 162 ppi. However, this is still a bit low for today's standards. For example, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD both have a pixel density of 216 ppi, making their displays crisper than that of the mini. This makes us think that Apple will be looking to bump the resolution significantly next year, just they way it did with the big iPad, making a Retina Display out of its screen. Until then, however, users will have to put up with a somewhat coarse UI appearance. Obviously, the first big compromise with the hardware of the device is found right here, with the screen resolution. Had Apple equipped the first-generation mini with a Retina Display, it would really mean that the iPad mini is "every inch an iPad", as Apple puts it, but then again, that would have made the low price close to impossible.
Aside from that, the panel uses IPS LCD technology, which means that we can expect some vibrant and true-to-life colors out of it.
Processor and Memory
And just like that, we arrive at the second hardware compromise that we've found in the iPad mini - the processor. Once again, we see the 4th gen iPad being positioned as the premier device with a powerful A6X processor, while the iPad mini is left with the SoC of the iPad 2 - the A5. Now, while this might translate into some slight hints of lag in the most complex and heavy apps/games, we don't really think that it will have any significant effect on the system's performance as a whole. After all, the A5 does a pretty good job in the iPad 2, and having in mind that the screen resolution of the iPad mini is not that high, we do expect it to behave rather responsively. However, it's one more area where the iPad mini will have to do with last year's tech, and we certainly hope that this won't lead to software incompatibility issues with upcoming apps or software updates by Apple.
The amount of RAM found on the iPad mini is also smaller than what we have on the 3rd and 4th gen iPads. While the big guys are generously treated to 1 GB RAM, the iPad mini is again stuck in iPad 2 world with 512 RAM, which makes sense to an extend, seeing that the apps made for the lower resolution may not require that much RAM. All in all, we're sure that Apple has tested the mini properly to ensure that it'll present customers with the smooth and responsive software experience that's so typical of its products.
When it comes to internal storage, the situation is pretty much the same as with the big iPads. There are 16, 32 and 64 GB variants, and of course, none of them offers expandable storage via microSD.
In typical Apple fashion, not much is currently known about the characteristics of the battery inside the iPad mini. The company does say that it'll allow for roughly 10-hour usage time, which should consist of various unknown activities. All in all, Apple promises that the battery life of the iPad mini will be similar to that of the big iPad, which is still a very neat achievement.
The iPad mini has a 5 MP rear camera and a 1.2 MP front-facing one. The main one proudly wears the iSight branding, which hints that its photos might be similar to those of the iPhone 4 or 4S, though we'd like to test the device ourselves before we can say for sure.
Meanwhile, the 1.2 MP front-facing one should be good enough for HD video calls via FaceTime or some other service.
The iPad mini should also be able to capture some good-looking 1080p HD video. According to its official specs, 1080p video should be recorded at a smooth 30 fps, so the only thing left to worry about here is the quality of the sensor that they have used.
There seem to be no differentiating factors when it comes to the software of the iPad mini, but then again, does it need any? Naturally, the iPad mini will come with the latest version of iOS 6, and thanks to its 3:4 screen aspect ratio, it will be able to run every application available on the App Store, including the 275,000 ones designed specifically for the iPad. What this means is that right out of the gate, the iPad mini will have access to a vast catalog of rich and powerful applications enabling the user to do tons of stuff on their iPad mini, and with a beautiful and fun to use interface at that.
Once again, Apple stays true to its tradition of beginning to sell a device right after it has announced it, in contrast to most other manufacturers out there. In the case of the iPad mini, the tablet will be available for pre-order starting October 26 (this Friday), and the units will ship on November 2 (next Friday). Or at least, that's when they'll start shipping, as limited initial stock supplies aren't out of the question.
In the end, the iPad mini will undoubtedly be a remarkable small tablet that has many ways of trumping its competition. Meanwhile, though, it may not be as attractive to the specs-hungry users out there, but then again, this isn't the typical audience that Apple's after. It's still too early to say if the device will be hot enough to generate long lines in front of Apple stores on launch day, but it's now pretty much certain that it'll be yet another winner for Apple.