Apple has once again put together a refined device in the iPad mini. But whether it's worth paying $130 more than its competition may come down to the thickness of your wallet.
The iPad mini is the last major entrant into the small-tablet market before the holiday shopping season begins in earnest. It doesn't have the highest-quality screen, but it has some other features that you may like.
One being its size. The iPad mini is just 0.28-inch thick. That makes it as thin as a pencil, as Apple likes to say, and slightly thinner than the iPhone 5.
It also weighs 0.68 pounds, and the combination of light weight and thin profile makes it easy to hold. But it's also a sight to behold.
The design of the iPad mini is far superior to its competitors.' Apple brought shiny aluminum to the game while Google and Amazon both brought plastic. Many times when I picked up the device, I kept thinking to myself, "How would my parents have reacted if they'd seen a machine like this in the '80s?" The combination of the design and its size, is very impressive.
But you also have to turn the machine on, and that's when you notice the first of two disappointments found on the iPad mini, its low-resolution screen.
The iPad mini features a 7.9-inch screen but has a 1,024-by-768 pixel resolution with a 163-pixels-per-inch density. The makes the display on the iPad mini larger than its rivals' but it has a lower resolution.
Those stats also mean the iPad mini doesn't have Apple's famous high-resolution Retina display. But whether or not a product is Retina, Apple simply knows how to make a good display. Videos are still fun to watch, the Web is a joy to surf and playing apps is as fun as ever on the iPad mini.
However, if you're used to Apple products with Retina display, you'll be able to tell the difference, especially when you look at text or app icons.
And while having a low resolution is disappointing, there's a reason Apple did that. The company chose the same resolution as the one found on the iPad 2 so that every single app made for the iPad would already be optimized for the iPad mini.
What you end up with are little buttons and icons that make the iPad mini the cutest iPad while also getting a vast selection of apps, which is something neither the Nexus 7 nor the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD can boast.
The other notable visual feature on the iPad mini that's not found on other iPads is on its bottom edge. There you find the Lightning dock connector with a speaker on either side of it. That makes the iPad mini the first iPad to have two speakers for stereo sound.
That's a nice addition, but putting both speakers on the same side of the tablet doesn't make sense. You still end up with sound coming from one side of the tablet unless you're holding it in portrait mode like you do when you read a book or a magazine. But if you're watching a video in landscape mode, the speakers will still be pointing in one direction.
The sound itself was crisp and clear, but leaned toward being tinny. There is little to no bass, though. That makes the speakers fine for watching YouTube videos with a friend but ill suited for any true rocking out -- not that it's built for that, though.
As for the battery, Apple says the iPad mini can get 10 hours of mixed, continuous use. In general, I found that to be true. But I suspect this device will be heavily used for gaming, and one 30-minute session of the game "N.O.V.A. 3" really drained the iPad mini's battery. Gaming was a blast, but you may want to keep your charger handy if you're planning to do a lot of that.
Another feature on the iPad mini is its two HD cameras. The front is 1.2 megapixels while the back camera is 5 megapixels -- the same as on the fourth-generation iPad. Both seem fine for video chatting, but the back camera is still inferior to the iPhone's.
All in all, the iPad mini is a great machine, but you'll have to pay the price. That's because it costs $130 more than its two rivals. The iPad mini starts at $329 for a 16-GB model while both the Nexus 7 and the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD start at $199.
So what do you get for the extra $130? Not much. Sure you get a larger screen, access to more apps and a more elegant design, but what you're really paying for is the right to own an Apple product.
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