Sure enough, the screen was too small in some cases. But more often, I could use the iPad Mini for text editing or Web surfing fairly easily. Yes, the text was smaller, and sometimes I needed my reading glasses (friends with better vision did not), but I could still get the job done. I wouldn't use the Mini as a replacement for my full-size iPad, but the iPad Mini can pinch-hit for it.
How much you can use an iPad Mini beyond entertainment, social media, and lightweight browsing depends on the apps. The key is how much they allow you to enlarge text to be more readable and ensure their controls are large enough to see and tap in the iPad Mini's smaller screen. That varies considerably.
For example, you can use the Large Text settings in the Settings app's Accessibility pane to boost the size of text in many Apple apps, including Mail. Chances are you'll want to increase the text size in iBooks, Kindle, and other newspaper and magazine apps (if they let you -- some don't). A good rule of thumb is that if you can set the text in an app to 20 percent larger than what you like on a full-size iPad, its appearance on the iPad Mini will match your preference on your full-size iPad.
But not all apps can go that large. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle app's maximum text size wasn't large enough for my older eyes on the iPad Mini, while Flipboard's barely made it. The Twitter and HootSuite social media apps did let me scale their text to an easily readable size on the iPad Mini, as did the Reuters and USA Today news apps.
Not all apps let you scale the size of their text, much less their UI elements. For example, the Zite news aggregator app doesn't, and I found it hard to use on the iPad Mini as a result. But Apple's iWork, Quickoffice HD Pro, and Office2HD -- the top iPad productivity apps -- were quite usable in the iPad Mini, as were GoodReader, FTP on the Go Pro, CloudOn, Notability, iMovie, and iPhoto. The Safari and Chrome browsers were borderline for me, as was the Concur travel manager and Fidelity financial planner. But again, what's readable depends on your eyes, so check out some apps on an iPad Mini at the Apple Store or other retailer if you're unsure.
Smart developers will revise their iPad apps to offer scaling settings so that users can optimize them for the iPad Mini. Others will target the iPad Mini with apps designed for users who work predominantly with an iPad Mini in the field, in the store, in the truck or cockpit, in the hospital room, or in other highly portable environments. The iPad Mini could be a revolution in these settings.
What it will cost you
The iPad Mini costs $329 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, with the 32GB model costing $429 and the $64GB model costing $529. Adding a 3G-plus-LTE cellular radio (with a choice of AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon) adds $130 to the price. By comparison, the only Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7-inch model, with a paltry 8GB of storage, costs $249; the Nexus 7 costs $199 for a 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, $249 for a 32GB Wi-Fi-only model, and $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model. Neither is anywhere as good as the iPad Mini, and the Nexus 7's lower price reflects its poorer capabilities.
The fourth-generation iPad has the same configurations as the iPad Mini, for $170 more; these are the same prices as the third-gen models but with a Sprint cellular version not previously available. Top-quality Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 cost about the same as the fourth-generation iPad -- $499 for the 16GB model and $549 for the 32GB model -- though cellular models are rare.
The one warning I have on the new iPads is the same as for the new iPhone and iPod Touch: You'll pay a lot more for Lightning-compatible accessories. The $49 cost each of a VGA and HDMI adapter is simply mind-blowing, even when compared to the not-so-cheap-at-$29 Dock equivalents. A basic Lightning charging cable costs $19, and Dock-to-Lightning adapters range from $29 to $39, and they don't support many Dock peripherals. The switch to Lightning easily adds $100 to a new Apple device's costs, though the cables and adapters work across the entire new Apple lineup.
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