Who'd think that Apple's latest iPad tablet would stir so much controversy? Some folks adore the more portable size and absolutely stunning design; while others say without a Retina display, it's junk. Since Apple has sold out online and in store, we're guessing that most folks are willing to give the slim and capable 8" iOS 6 tablet a fair chance. The iPad mini starts at $329 for the 16 gig WiFi model and it's also available in 32 and 64 gig capacities (each capacity jump adds $100 to the price). In mid-November, the 3G/4G LTE + WiFi model goes on sale for $130 more.
To be exact, this is a 7.9" tablet not 8", but it's much closer to 8" and it does feel larger than many competing 7" Android tablets on the market. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD has nearly the same footprint, while the Nexus 7 is noticeably narrower. As big an impression as the iPad mini makes when it comes to display size, it's absurdly thin at 0.28", and it truly looks like a product from the future. The paper-thin aluminum casing (available in white and black with an anodized finish just like the iPhone 5) and narrow bezels make for a stunning package. Yet it's rigid and feels sturdy.
The tablet is a bit wide to hold with one hand, though I can do it (I have large hands and feel the stretch). There's nearly no bezel on the sides when held in portrait mode, which is the exact opposite of the Kindle Fire HD design philosophy of providing huge bezels to facilitate a book-like grip on the device. Is this "just" a smaller iPad? Assuredly it is, but it doesn't feel as cramped as other 7" tablets yet it is more portable in every respect than the 9.7" iPad.
The 1024 x 768 display obviously lacks the hyper-packed pixels of the iPad 3 and iPad 4 (both simply called "new iPad"), but the iPad mini's pixel density is significantly higher than the iPad 2's, and contrast is improved. It's a very sharp, colorful and lovely IPS display. I honestly can't imagine how anyone could describe it as a terrible display unless they only thing they've used recently are the Retina iPad and MacBook Pro. Compared to other tablets on the market, this is a very good display with neutral whites, good brightness and sharp text. It really helps that Apple pays so much attention to typography, so fonts look finely rendered even on a standard resolution display.
The Nexus 7 and iPad mini.
This is the first Apple iOS device to sport stereo speakers, and they sound very good: plenty of volume and more fullness than you'd expect from a 7" tablet. They only 7" tablet with better speakers is the Kindle Fire HD. The tablet has Bluetooth 4.0 for those of you who prefer wireless speakers and headphones and there's the usual 3.5mm audio jack.
The Kindle Fire HD iPad mini.
In terms of brains, the iPad mini is the equivalent of the iPad 2. It runs on Apple's 1GHz A5 CPU with a capable graphics chip. It has 512 megs of RAM. The tablet scored 752 on Geekbench 2, which is the same as the iPad it. It put up a strong showing on the cross-platform GLBenchmark 2.1 test with 60fps for the Egypt test and 90 fps for the Egypt off-screen test. In practice, the iPad mini feels as responsive as any iOS product (fast!) and it had no trouble playing challenging games like Dead Trigger and Modern Combat 3.