The new iPads: What you need to know

Here's what we know so far about Apple's new iPad Mini and the fourth-generation iPad

Between Apple's presentation at its Tuesday press event, the press releases and spec sheets that followed, and our all-too-brief hands-on session, we've been able to get a pretty good first impression of the new iPad Mini and, to a lesser extent, the fourth-generation iPad. So while we wait for our review units to arrive, here's what we know so far.

The iPad Mini
How small is it, really?

The iPad Mini is 7.9 inches tall, 5.3 inches wide, and 0.28 inch thick. For comparison, note that the new fourth-generation iPad measures 9.5 by 7.3 by 0.37 inches. The iPad Mini's volume is less than half of the big one's. Obviously, the iPad Mini is lighter, too, weighing 312 grams (11.0 ounces) versus 662 grams (23.4 ounces). For the sake of further comparison, Google's Nexus 7 tablet is roughly 7.8 by 4.7 by 0.4 inches and weighs 340 grams (12.0 ounces), so the iPad Mini is a bit smaller.

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What about the screen?
The iPad Mini's screen is 7.9 inches on the diagonal, compared with 9.7 inches for the full-size iPad. Although it's smaller than the regular iPad's display, its diagonal measurement is twice that of the iPod touch (4 inches).

The iPad Mini's display provides the same resolution as the original iPad and the iPad 2: 1024 by 768 pixels. That's much lower than the 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution of the Retina display found on the third-generation and fourth-generation iPads. The new taller iPod touch models have 1136-by-640-pixel resolution.

However, keep in mind that while the first two iPads offered 1024 by 768, they did so on 9.7-inch screens, whereas the iPad Mini has the same pixel dimensions on a 7.9-inch screen. As a result, the pixel density of the iPad Mini is considerably higher than that of the old iPads, working out to 163 pixels per inch on the iPad Mini, versus 132 ppi on the iPad 2. That's not even close to the 264 ppi of the third- and fourth-generation iPads or the 326 ppi of the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. But next to the iPad 2, this is a significantly sharper screen. One other consequence: The on-screen keyboard could be pretty tight. We'll find out more when we have more-extensive hands-on time with the device.

Does the screen change mean that developers will need to create yet another version of their apps?
Thankfully, no. Because the iPad Mini's screen has the same resolution as the screen on the first two iPad models, iPad apps that work with those models -- meaning the vast majority of iPad-optimized apps -- will work with the iPad Mini without any developer tweaks.

On the other hand, everything will be smaller on an iPad Mini's screen. If a particular app uses especially small interface elements -- buttons, for example -- those items may be more difficult to tap on the iPad Mini. We suspect that some developers will need to adjust their apps to be more usable on the iPad Mini.

So does the iPad Mini look like a full-size iPad, just smaller?
Not exactly. Although the overall design is similar, a few significant differences make the iPad Mini unique. The most obvious is the color scheme. Apple has adopted the iPhone 5's color options for the iPad Mini: You can get one with a silver-aluminum back, a white screen bezel, and shiny silver buttons and switches. Or you can go with the black/slate model, which has a slate-black aluminum back, buttons, and switches with a glossy-black screen bezel. Like the iPhone 5, the iPad Mini has chamfered edges between the body and the glass display.

Instead of tapering to a thin edge where it meets the screen, the back of the iPad Mini is more squared-off -- like that of the original iPhone and iPod touch. And on the longer sides, the bezels framing the iPad Mini's display are much narrower than those of a full-size iPad, allowing Apple to squeeze in as much screen area as possible in the iPad Mini's smaller package. One touch we're looking forward to testing: Apple says that the iPad Mini's screen “intelligently recognizes whether your thumb is simply resting on the display or whether you're intentionally interacting with it.”

What about the other specs? How do those compare to the full-size iPads?
Though many people expected the iPad Mini to be essentially a smaller version of the iPad 2, with much the same inner hardware, it's actually somewhere between the iPad 2 and the current full-size iPad. The iPad Mini uses a dual-core A5 processor, like the iPad 2. (Because Apple doesn't publish clock speeds for its iPad chips, we can't compare them directly.) It has the same FaceTime HD (720p) front camera and 5-megapixel (1080p-capable) back camera as the fourth-generation iPad; compare that to the VGA-resolution front camera and 960-by-720-pixel back camera we got on the iPad 2. Similarly, the iPad Mini offers Bluetooth 4.0, with optional LTE wireless data; the iPad 2 included Bluetooth 2.1, with only 3G connectivity as an option. (The iPad Mini with LTE uses the same LTE chip as the fourth-generation iPad does, so it's compatible with more carriers than the third-generation iPad was.) And like the fourth-generation iPad, the iPad Mini sports a Lightning connector and includes Siri.

Apple says the iPad Mini offers battery life similar to that of the full-size iPad: up to 10 hours of Wi-Fi Web surfing, watching video, or listening to music; or up to 9 hours of Web surfing over a cellular-data connection.

In one regard, the iPad Mini actually uses newer technology than the latest full-size model: The iPad Mini accepts the same nano-SIM card as the iPhone 5 does, whereas all full-size iPads use the older micro-SIM card.

How much does the iPad Mini cost?
The iPad Mini is available in the same configurations as the fourth-generation iPad, but each model is $170 less. In other words, the 16GB Wi-Fi model goes for $329, 32GB is $429, and 64GB is $529; adding LTE cellular data ups the price to $459, $559, or $659, respectively. You can order one starting on Friday, October 26. Apple says the iPad Mini will start shipping November 2.

Now that the iPad Mini exists, why would anyone buy an iPod touch?
With the 32GB iPod touch priced at $299 and the 64GB model priced at $399 -- $70 more than the entry-level iPad Mini -- some people are wondering why anyone would go for the iPod touch. That's a valid question. But Apple would say -- and we would agree, for the most part -- that the markets for the two products are very different.

Sure, the iPad Mini offers a larger screen, but the downside to such a size is that it no longer fits in your pocket. The iPod touch, on the other hand, is still pocketable (4.9 by 2.3 by 0.24 inches, 3.1 ounces) -- a crucial feature for some people. The iPod touch also offers more storage for your money, and a true Retina display. As with many things in tech, huge and Miniature both cost more, and the iPod touch is a marvel of Miniaturization. If you want an iOS device with lots of storage and really long battery life that fits in your pants pocket, the iPod touch -- or the iPhone, of course -- is for you. If you're willing to give up pocketability and a good amount of battery life in order to get a much larger screen, Apple now has you covered there in a couple of different ways, too.

The fourth-generation iPad
What are the differences between the fourth-generation iPad and the third-generation model released earlier this year?
On the outside, the only obvious change is that the latest iPad uses Apple's new Lightning connector instead of the older 30-pin dock connector. (If you have older audio and power accessories, you can use them with the new iPad via Apple's Lightning-to-30-pin adapters.) But Apple has also upgraded the new iPad's front camera to a FaceTime HD (720p) version, in contrast to the VGA-resolution front camera on the third-generation iPad.

The other big iPad changes are hidden inside. First, the fourth-generation iPad features a dual-core A6X processor with quad-core graphics, a significant upgrade over the A5X processor in the third-generation iPad. The new version also has upgraded Wi-Fi circuitry: Apple claims that the fourth-generation iPad provides up to twice the wireless performance of the third-generation model. Specifically, the new iPad supports channel bonding, which means that it can use two adjacent bands of the wireless spectrum, allowing a theoretical doubling of the data rate. Channel bonding can work in the 2.4GHz frequency band, but you're much more likely to get its full advantages in the 5GHz band. (In fact, Apple's own Base Stations, and many from other companies, don't support channel bonding -- also known as wide channels -- in the 2.4GHz range at all, so you benefit only when using the 5GHz range.)

Speaking of wireless, the new iPad also has upgraded LTE circuitry that's compatible with more carriers around the world -- and with Sprint in the United States.

Has the price of the full-size iPad changed?
No. As usual, Apple has updated the iPad line but kept prices the same. This means that the entry-level fourth-generation iPad, which includes 16GB of storage and Wi-Fi, is $499. $599 gets you 32GB of storage, while $699 buys 64GB. If you want LTE cellular data, you tack on $130, for a total of $629, $729, or $829, respectively. The 16GB iPad 2 -- not the third-generation iPad, which has been discontinued -- is still available at $399 for the Wi-Fi version and $529 for the 3G cellular-data model.

This story, "The new iPads: What you need to know" was originally published by Macworld.

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