“Wow, it feels like a Kindle.”
“Ew, the screen is terrible.”
That was my wife’s initial reaction when I handed her the iPad Mini to see what she, an avid daily user of an iPad 3, thought. Her initial reaction matched mine exactly, and perfectly encapsulates the experience. The iPad Mini is not a device you need to spend a lot of time with to understand. My snap reaction from a week ago remains unchanged after a week of daily use.
I was wrong. I have wondered publicly whether or not a smaller tablet would fit into my workflow and even suggested the larger iPad would be better. I was wrong.
I picked up my iPad mini and iPad 4 from Apple just after the special event ended last week in San Jose and have been using them ever since. I haven’t used the mini to the exclusion of my iPad, but I wanted to see where this new device would fit into my lifestyle without being forced.
What I found was surprising to me. I actually used the iPad mini more than my iPad.
The iPad mini is an excellent tablet — but it's not a very cheap one. Whether that's by design, or due to market forces beyond Apple's control, I can't say for sure. I can't think of another company that cares as much about how its products are designed and built — or one that knows how to maximize a supply chain as skillfully — so something tells me it's no accident that this tablet isn't selling for $200. It doesn't feel like Apple is racing to some lowest-price bottom — rather it seems to be trying to raise the floor.
And it does raise the floor here. There's no tablet in this size range that's as beautifully constructed, works as flawlessly, or has such an incredible software selection. Would I prefer a higher-res display? Certainly. Would I trade it for the app selection or hardware design? For the consistency and smoothness of its software, or reliability of its battery? Absolutely not. And as someone who's been living with (and loving) Google's Nexus 7 tablet for a few months, I don't say that lightly.
The overarching consensus is that the iPad Mini is a phenomenal device, hampered only by its disappointing lack of a Retina-caliber display. Beyond that sole omission, the iPad Mini appears to be precisely as I had anticipated it would be: "a lightweight, well-built, and irreducibly fun device."
Each of the three cited reviews speaks of the Mini's difference in weight from its larger sibling, but John Gruber's point regarding the pairing of an iPad with an 11-inch Air really struck home for me. As someone who has a well-documented reticence toward working solely from an iPad, I carry an 11-inch Air with me on all of my trips. The iPad comes with me, but is only used when I'm lacking a good Wi-Fi connection for my Mac or when — as Jim Dalrymple writes — I'm looking to unwind and step away from my work.
With the iPad 3, the device is often unwieldy due to its weight and has a keen propensity for over-heating when on LTE. Accordingly, over the past few months, my iPad has steadily fallen into increasing disuse — a phenomenon I've experienced before.
So, as we approach the release of the iPad Mini, I find myself asking whether a smaller device could fit my use-case better than my existing iPad. I ask whether taking the unwelcome step back from Retina is really worth shedding a few pounds in my backpack, or if — as I wrote in the lead-up to the event — it would prove frivolous.
Perhaps most importantly, I'm beginning to wonder whether the iPad is a product for me at all. Obviously the iPad is indicative of the future of computing, but it's a product I've repeatedly failed to wedge into frequent and robust usage in my day-to-day life. With the iPad Mini, as it panders toward the "fun" aspect of the device, I tend to think it may better fit my lifestyle. But, then again, I thought that Retina and LTE would do the same for the iPad 3, and here I am speaking of its relative lack of usage.
Thus, I believe the answer — at least personally — resides within the "wait and see" category. In the past, I've bought each iPad on the first day. This time around, however, I'm choosing to be somewhat more thoughtful.
Although I'm certainly impressed by the iPad Mini's overwhelmingly positive reviews, three generations of iPads have struggled to find a place in my daily routine, and I'm reticent to charge into the realms of a new form factor without hearing more.
For those in a more clear-cut scenario, however, the iPad Mini appears to be an extraordinarily attractive purchase for the holiday season. The device appears perfect for children and newcomers to the tablet computing world, and it even seems befitting of those — such as myself — who have yet to buy into the iPad-as-a-laptop philosophy.
For me, though, the lack of Retina has acted as a welcome barrier against impulse buying ahead of the Mini's release. I look forward to dabbling with the device in person, but, more importantly, I'm very much looking forward to seeing the consensus regarding the device two-to-three weeks into ownership. Only then, as Federico Tweeted, will we garner a solid sense of the Mini's long-term utility.
So, on Friday — just as I did last week — I'll allow my curiosity to carry me into a retail store to dabble with a device that has not yet convinced me of its potential in my life. Last week I walked away empty-handed without a second thought. Perhaps this week will prove different.