The iPad Mini's small size doesn't hinder many apps, whereas the fourth-generation iPad adds little value
The iPad Mini's screen and processing are perfectly adequate
That iPad 2 derivation shows why raw specs aren't always meaningful. The iPad 2's screen resolution is 138 ppi -- half that of the third- and fourth-generation iPad -- but looks just fine. Although the Retina display has better color range and clarity, it's not noticeably better than the iPad 2's screen in everyday use. You need to zoom in on text and images to see the differences. The iPad Mini's lower-resolution screen (compared to the Retina-equipped iPad) isn't as inferior as the specs might suggest. In fact, it's perfectly good.
The faster CPU in the fourth-generation iPad, on the other hand, delivers a noticeably faster experience in some apps, such as iPhoto and iMovie. But it's not dramatic and certainly nowhere close to Apple's claims of "twice as fast." I noticed no uptick in mainstay business apps like iWork, Quickoffice Pro, and Office2HD; Angry Birds is no more responsive, either.
Like the iPad 2, the iPad Mini's performance is perfectly adequate until you get to complex image editing, which also explains why some such apps don't run on the iPad 2 -- it lacks the high-end graphics coprocessor found in the third- and fourth-gen iPad. That's an edge case for the iPad Mini.
Also, I should point out that the fourth-gen iPad is not much faster than the third-gen model. Its only other "improvement" is to use the new Lightning connector instead of the Dock connector. I suspect the Lightning connector is the real reason for the fourth-gen iPad's existence; the iPad was the only current-year iOS device still to offer the old Dock connector. You can put any jealousy aside if you bought a third-gen iPad before the new model was announced. You aren't missing anything.
The iPad Mini is surprisingly easy to type on
I feared the Mini's onscreen keyboard would be too small to comfortably type on. The full-size iPad's onscreen keyboard is essentially full-size, so you can touch-type on it once you get used to the lack of tactile feedback. But I was happily surprised by how easy it was to type on the iPad Mini.
- In horizontal orientation, the onscreen keyboard works nicely for thumb-typing, when you're holding the iPad Mini in two hands. The width of the Mini is perfect for such use.
- In either horizontal orientation or vertical orientation, the onscreen keyboard works well for one-finger typing, when you're holding it with one hand and pecking at keys with the other's index finger. The keys are large enough to accurately tap.
- When the iPad Mini is on a surface such as a desk, especially if tilted up at an angle with the likes of Apple's Mini Smart Cover -- which works just as nicely as the full-size iPad's Smart Cover -- you can touch-type with both hands. You need to adjust your fingers' travel, but after a few minutes, some friends and I could serviceably type on it. Again, it's not what I would do all day every day, but it works when on the road and for short-term needs like taking notes in a meeting or when on a phone call.
Of course, you can also use a Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad Mini as you can with a full-size iPad. In fact, you can use the same Bluetooth keyboard you already have for your full-size iPad.
The make-or-break factor for the iPad Mini: Apps
When I use my full-size iPad on the road (I no longer travel with my laptop) or even at my desk, the 9.7-inch screen can be tight when working with documents or Web pages designed for large monitors. Zooming helps, but it adds work.
Thus, I was concerned that the 7.9-inch screen on the iPad Mini would be too small for such activities. Keep in mind that iPad apps run as is on the iPad Mini, with the same 1,024-by-768 screen resolution as an iPad 2. That means everything is shrunk proportionally to about 85 percent of the size of an full-size iPad.
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