The iPad mini. Ever since this little device was just a rumor, I knew I would get one sooner or later. It’s everything I (thought I) liked about a tablet, without the bulkiness of the full sized iPad. For the first year of its release, I used some self restraint, hoping that the second generation of the Mini would improve in a way that would make me oh-so-happy that I waited for the update. So I played around with them in the stores, opening and closing programs, flipping through home screens, and toying with the settings to see how it could be customized once I chose to actually buy it.
…But then I just couldn’t wait any more. I wanted a new gadget to play with, and I made the big purchase, getting a 64GB iPad Mini just before the new line of “retina” iPad Minis were announced.
My First Impressions?
Well, my first reaction, holding the box, was “… is this box big enough? Is it actually in here?” The box was so light, and just so small. I was just so used to seeing people carry around the noticeably larger and heavier 10 inch iPads.
And my reaction upon opening it? Sleek. This thing looks amazing, even when it’s just sitting on the table, turned off. And It looks even better when it’s turned on (yes, when without the retina display, it still looks good.)
So, after using it for a couple weeks, how did I feel about it?
I bought the iPad to “try” it out, not actually sure if I’d love it enough to make it part of my gadget and tech collection. The first few days were fantastic. I loaded it up with music and movies. I was initially worried about the file limitations Apple places on their devices, making it hard to play .avi files, .mkv files, and other common types that don’t import directly into iTunes. After I found the many apps that serve as a workaround to this issue and allow the iPad to play most files, that was no longer a pressing issue.
One of my favorite things about the iPad Mini is the form factor. Most tablets in this size group are widescreen. The iPad Mini sports a 4 x 3 aspect ratio, making the screen only slightly larger, but greatly increasing the working space on-screen. It feels like the perfect size, especially when increasing font size a bit in apps and browsers to help out with visibility a little bit.
Being the first handheld Apple device I’ve owned since the iPhone 4, I became very attached to iTunes Radio, which, if you haven’t used it, is very similar to the “genius” playlist feature introduced to iTunes years ago, except the songs stream, so you can discover new music, rather than re-listen to your music over and over. (Although after a while, you’ll notice that each iTunes Radio station sends to have a limited amount of songs that will loop.)
Another feature I became very attached to was the multi-touch gesture support. It can make you feel strangely powerful to exit your current app and return to the home screen by just pinching the screen with your fingers, or to switch to another open awful by sliding your fingers across the screen. (It reminded me of the brilliant swiping support used by the Blackberry Playbook.) At the very least, using these features can save wear and tear on the iPad’s one and only physical button.
I was also a huge fan of the YouTube app, which has a wonderful layout (as many iOS apps tend to). The videos look great when full-screened on this device. My only complaint about the YouTube app is the lack of an “upload” feature. You’ll need to download a separate YouTube app called “Capture”. It just seems a bit unnecessary.
Lastly, I really like how Apple has incorporated iMessage into their lines of iPods and iPads. Living abroad, texting and calling friends and family back home can be expensive, but since my family members all have iPhones, I’m able to text them for free. This feature is a huge plus to owning an iPad, in my opinion.
Although the first few days were fantastic, (as they should be when you buy a new toy), I gradually began to notice some shortcomings and annoyances – the biggest one being the lack of support for true multitasking. This specifically applied to the web browsing experience. Of all the browsers I tried out (including Apple’s “Safari”, they all had an annoying auto refresh feature when switching between tabs. It seems the memory is low enough that it simply can’t save a lot of information in the background, behind what is being worked on at the moment. This was a huge frustration — for example, if I had 6 tabs open in a browser, then switched apps to check a new iMesssge that came in, the browser would be empty upon returning… with all the tabs gone and no information saved. This was a shock to me. Even the Blackberry Playbook, which I owned (quite happily, except for the poor app selection) two years ago, had better multitasking support.
Another inconvenience, especially if you’ve used an Android with the glorious SWYPE keyboard feature, is Apple’s hunt-and-peck keyboard setup. Sure, you could become a pro at it, and I’m sure many have, but I have never been comfortable typing on Apple devices.
Finally, an occasional annoyance was dealing with apps crashing. It wasn’t a troubling issue (maybe 3 or 4 in a few hours of usage), but I really didn’t expect to deal with crashing apps at all. Maybe it was a result of apps working out some iOS7 bugs.
So, how did the trial phase go?
Well, maybe you caught on to how this article gradually changed to the past tense… Yes, I sold the iPad Mini, after about 40 days of owning it. It just wasn’t the tablet for me. It lacked the customizability that I like to have in a device. I also like to know that my handheld device can replace my computer in a pinch, easily creating documents, saving them, and being able to go through the device’s filesystem – rather than needing to depend on services like DropBox and Google Drive. And the iPad just isn’t able to do that.
So who would the iPad Mini best serve?
I would recommend the iPad Mini for somebody who uses apps out of convenience, not out of necessity. Somebody who likes the sleek, clean interface of the Apple IOS and doesn’t mind that they will probably have to use the iPad in conjunction with a laptop or desktop to get full functionality out of it. The iPad Mini is a very powerful device in a tiny little package, and the app selection is enormous, so you’ll probably be able to find an app for just about anything you need (although you may need to pay for a lot of them).
I give the iPad Mini 4 out of 5 stars.