"It's so cu-u-ute!" my wife cooed as she gripped my Apple iPad mini. She then grasped it to her breast, playfully refusing to give it back to me.
Or, maybe not so playfully.
My wife's metaphoric and physical embrace of the iPad mini made me both a little jealous and opened my eyes. Intellectually, I understand why Apple chose to compete with the growing number of 7-inch Android tablets from Samsung and Google (Nexus 7) as well as the e-book vendors, Amazon with its Kindle Fire HD, Barnes & Noble's Nook HD and Kobo's Arc.
But all of these tablets are substantially cheaper than the $329 16 GB iPad mini (many more than $100 cheaper) and all have higher-resolution screens, which makes smaller text – especially book text – crisper and easier to read.
My wife's visceral and decidedly non-technical attraction to the mini, however – and her less than lovable reaction to other 7-inch tablets I showed her – told me who the natural constituency for the iPad mini is. A hint: she liked the pink and powder blue iPad mini smart covers as well.
But first allow my Apple iPad mini review to bore you with some detail.
Some tech/spec stuff
Technically, the iPad mini is not a 7-inch tablet – a tablet with a screen that measures 7-inches diagonally. iPad mini has a much larger 7.9-inch display.
Here's a screen size/pixel comparison of five major 7-inch tablets (PPI=pixels per inch; prices listed are for 16 GB Wi-Fi-only versions of each except the Samsung Tab 2, which comes only in an 8 GB version – add less than $10 for an 8 GB micro SD card to create a 16 GB tablet):
1024 x 768
Samsung Tab 2
1024 x 600
1280 x 800
1280 x 800
1440 x 900
1280 x 800
But it's not the size that matters, it's the width – of both the screen and the entire tablet – and the weight.
All the other 7-inch tablets are tall and thin, which means widescreen movies pretty much fill the screen when you hold the tablet sideways, horizontally (landscape mode). On an iPad mini, a widescreen movie will have black bars above and below the movie video image.
But in what activities will you be engaged with on your 7-inch tablet most often? Likely reading or playing games or surfing the net.
As you can see in the picture, iPad mini's extra screen width gives you a lot more Web at one time than the Samsung Tab 2, which is representative of all the 7-inch tablets. You get similar spatial spaciousness while game playing and especially book reading on the iPad mini than on more constricted 7-inch tablet screen real estate.
Holdability and pocketability
Yet iPad mini, despite its substantially larger display, is just a half-inch wider than the Samsung Tab, and actually trimmer than the 5.4-inch-wide Amazon Kindle Fire. Folks at Barnes & Noble told me the average wingspan of a woman's hand is 6.8 inches. Unless you've got the hands of a child, that half inch difference between an iPad mini and trimmer 7-inch tabs makes little one-handed grip difference.
What may make a bigger difference to gripping comfort is weight. As you can see, the bigger iPad mini, even with its aluminum unibody construction, is the lightest tab of the mostly plastic-encased bunch.
Nook HD is the only other 7-inch tab to tip the scales at less than 12 ounces, and does have a rubbery rear for easier gripping. But like the other 7-inch tabs, Nook HD is far fatter than iPad mini, which is just .28 inches flat. No other 7-inch tab is nearly as squashed.
Which brings us to perhaps the most important portability consideration – pocketability.
The inside breast pocket of a man's sports or suit jacket is 5 inches wide, which means only the Samsung Tab 2, Nexus 7 and Kobo Arc will slide in.
However, the outside pocket of a man's sports coat – as well as the outside of most jackets – is six-inches wide, enough to accommodate any of these 7-inch-wide models. But iPad mini's flatness and lightness means your pocket won't be bulging or feel off balance as you gallivant. The flat mini also takes up far less space in a purse.
I understand Apple's reasons for equipping iPad mini with a lower-resolution display – all iPad and iPhone apps operate without developers creating resized versions.
But iPhone apps blown up to 2x on the mini screen look pixilated and quite unsatisfactory. In practical terms, this means you will be happy only with Apple's 225,000 or so iPad-optimized apps.
E-book reading on iPad mini is barely satisfactory – text isn't as crisp as I'd like, especially smaller fonts. But the resolution difference becomes jarring when you compare iPad mini to reading on the iPad 3 or 4 with its 2x 2048 x 1536 pixel/264 PPI resolution display.
iPad mini does offers one other major everyday-usage advantage over most of the other 7-inch tab: only the Samsung Tab 2 7 includes a rear camera, and only a low resolution 3 MP imager. iPad mini packs a 5 MP camera on the rear (the same found on the iPhone 4).
Who's it for?
So, getting back to my original query…
Current iPad 3/4 owners gain no advantage by switching to an iPad mini except pocketability, and lose half the screen resolution.
If you own a smartphone, you've got a pocket computer already, so you don't need another. So if you own a smartphone and a full-sized iPad or other tablet – don't bother.
But, if you're a feature phone user and not yet a tablet owner, the iPad mini is – how shall I put it…?