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iPad mini gives you most of an iPad at half the size

Dan Frakes | Nov. 7, 2012
When the iPad debuted, many called it "just a big iPod touch." Most soon realized that such claims were misguided, as the iPad turned out to be much more: more powerful, more capable, more useful, more everything. Instead of being arithmetically bigger than the iPod touch, the iPad offered exponentially more of what was good about it.

Like the fourth-generation iPad, the iPad mini is available in three capacities, each in black or white. Each color/capacity combination is available with or without LTE-data connectivity, and each LTE-equipped model is available in three models in the United States: AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon. (Yes, that means that, as with the fourth-generation iPad, there are 24 U.S. variations of the iPad mini.) The Wi-Fi models are $329, $429, and $529 for 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB, respectively; adding LTE cellular data bumps each price by $130 to $459, $559, and $659, respectively.

We haven't tested the LTE-equipped versions, which are supposed to ship later this month, but they'll have the same features as the full-size iPad with LTE: no-contract LTE data, tethering (depending on the carrier), GPS circuitry, and turn-by-turn navigation.

Call it an iPad 2.5--or 3.5

Of the many rumors swirling around prior to the iPad mini's announcement, the most common pegged the mini as being simply a smaller version of the iPad 2. But the mini is actually somewhere between the iPad 2 and the current full-size iPad. The mini uses the same dual-core A5 processor, at the same clock speed, as the iPad 2; includes the same 512MB of RAM; and sports a display with the same resolution, 1024 by 768 pixels. But the mini has the same 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD (720p-capable) front camera and 5-megapixel (1080p-capable) back camera as the fourth-generation iPad. (Note that Apple says the A6x processor in the fourth-generation iPad includes image-signal-processing features that allow that model to provide better image stabilization and spacial noise reduction for photos and video than the iPad mini. We'll publish imaging-test results later this week.)

The mini also matches the newest full-size iPad when it comes to wireless capabilities, offering Bluetooth 4.0, improved 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi performance thanks to channel bonding, and optional LTE wireless data. The iPad mini uses the same LTE chip found in the fourth-generation iPad, so it's compatible with more carriers compared to the third-generation iPad. Of course, the iPad mini also uses Apple's new Lightning connector instead of the older 30-pin connector.

Thanks to its iPad 2-matching processor, graphics capabilities, and screen resolution, the iPad mini should offer performance on par with that of the iPad 2. Indeed, in our benchmarks testing, the iPad mini performed identically to the iPad 2 in every test except for our Web page-load test, where the iPad mini bested the iPad 2 by roughly 40 percent--likely because of the aforementioned 5GHz Wi-Fi enhancements in the mini.

My real-world testing echoed these findings, as the iPad mini felt much like an iPad 2 when playing games and watching videos. With one exception, I experienced no stuttering or slowdowns, even when playing graphics-heavy games, and even when mirroring the iPad's screen to an Apple TV using AirPlay. The exception was Real Racing 2 HD, but only when hosting a multiplayer game in Party Play mode, where my iPad was mirroring to an Apple TV both my screen and the screens of other players. In this test, the on-TV images stuttered at times, though the game was still quite playable.


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