GADGET WATCH: iPad mini

The seven-inch tablet space has seen its share of quality entries. The Google Nexus is a fantastic device, at a cheap price, and has performed extremely well. Amazon’s Kindle Fire is similarly well-built with a good amount of content to back up the initial price.

Apple, on the other hand, promises a superior build quality – but it also wants users to pay much more for it. The iPad mini starts at $369 in Australia, with most Android tablets at or under $300.

Is the mini worth the extra money?

Hardware and features

The iPad mini is made of glass and aluminium, with a 7.9-inch screen. It measures 7.87 inches high, 5.3 inches wide and 7.2mm thick, weighing 308 grams. The screen itself is 1024×768 and 163 pixels per inch.

Storage-wise, models come in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB configurations, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. A mobile version is available with 4G connectivity. It’s powered by the A5 chip, the same as the iPad 2 – but not the faster chip found inside the new iPad.

There are two cameras, with the front-facing lens capable of 720p recording. The back camera takes pictures at five megapixels, capable of 1080p video recording.

Apple claims 10 hours of battery life.

What’s the consensus?

The first key point Apple made about the iPad mini was that the build quality is superior to competitors like the Nexus. It seems like a good way to begin.

Engadget started off its review by pointing out the mini is more rounded than the full-sized iPad, with not so much of a sharp taper at the edges. While that makes it more comfortable to carry around, the benefit is the weight – just 308 grams:

“Overall, the tablet is very comfortable to hold; its thinness and lightness are both attributes that must be perceived first-hand,” it said, pointing out the device is thinner than a fourth-generation iPod Touch.

“It’s cool and matte to the touch, which we find very appealing, but time will tell just how durable this black version will prove.”

That was actually a negative point for The Verge, saying that it actually preferred the Nexus due to its gripped back. The iPad mini, on the other hand, can tend to slip out of the hand if one isn’t careful.

And while we’re on the topic of negative attributes, it seems appropriate to address the iPad mini’s biggest: screen resolution.

As TechCrunch notes, the mini doesn’t use a Retina screen, instead using a lower-resolution display.

“Let’s not beat around the bush — if there is a weakness of this device, it’s the screen,” it said, although noted the resolution is actually better than the iPad 2 screen.

“But you really can’t compare it to a Retina display.”

Back at The Verge, it had good things to say about the cameras, although noted they’re not great for taking general photography and should probably be used for video chatting.

The biggest change, it said, was getting used to the fact that with the mini, everything is the same but smaller. Apps can be a little harder to navigate and the keyboard size feels altered.

John Gruber said much the same, in that typing in landscape mode is practically unusable.

The Verge also noted the software has compensated for the smaller bezel size by making sure your thumbs don’t activate the touch screen – it knows when you’re simply holding the device.

“The flip side to that, however, is that it sometimes seems to overcompensate and reject touches you intended — meaning that sometimes apps don’t respond the way you want. It wasn’t a huge problem, but it could be annoying at times,” it said.

Slash Gear put the claimed 10-hour battery life to the test, saying it exceeded 11 hours before running low. Engadget even exceeded 12 hours, running in at 12:43 minutes.

That’s a huge score, and beats previous iPads – as well as the rest of the seven-inch tablet market.

“Indeed during the course of our testing the battery on the iPad mini exceeded our expectations, expectations that were already high thanks to the consistently great battery life offered by the iPad family,” it said.

Who’s it for?

If you own the first or second-generation iPads, then this is definitely worth a look. If you’re not attached to the extra screen size, then this could well be the upgrade you’re looking for and could save you some cash in the process.

If you have a third generation, then this is probably worth skipping over until the next version has a  Retina screen. That’ll probably come before Christmas next year.

If you’re anyone else, though, then it really depends on what you want. You’re going to pay more for the iPad mini, that’s for certain. But in return, you’re getting a better build quality, support from Apple and access to every piece of content on the iTunes store.

If you’re just browsing and checking email, maybe go for a cheaper option. But if you want to fork over the extra cash, know that you’ll be getting more for your money.

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