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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.

There's one way, however, in which the mini's speaker layout offers an improvement over its siblings: Because there are two speakers, and they're located near the center of the bottom edge, you're less likely to cover them with your hand when holding the iPad mini in landscape orientation. In my testing watching video and playing games, at least one of the speakers was always unobstructed. On the standard iPad, my left hand often covers the speaker unless I rotate the iPad 180 degrees.

Finally, the mini differs from other iPad models in that it uses the same nano-SIM card as the iPhone 5 does; the standard iPads use the older micro-SIM standard.

Detached from Retina

Surely the most controversial aspect of the iPad mini is that, contrary to Apple's recent trend towards high-resolution screens, it doesn't have a Retina display. Instead, it offers the same screen resolution as the original iPad and the iPad 2, 1024 by 768 pixels. That's considerably lower resolution than the 2048-by--1536-pixel display of the third-generation and fourth-generation iPads, and, in one dimension at least, it's even lower than the 1136-by--640-pixel display of the latest iPhone and iPod touch models.

Each iOS device originally debuted without a Retina display, so the iPad mini is simply following that pattern. But at a time when all other iOS devices--and even Apple's MacBook Pro models--have made the transition to Retina displays, the iPad mini lags behind. For those of us deeply involved in the Apple market (meaning we've already got Retina-display gear) the lack of a Retina display is disappointing.

Does it really matter? That depends largely on your frame of reference. The pixel density of the iPad mini is just 163 pixels per inch (ppi), compared to 264 ppi for the third- and fourth-generation iPads, 326 ppi for the latest iPhone and iPod touch models, 227 ppi for the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, and 220 ppi for the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. If you're accustomed to one of those displays, the iPad mini's lower pixel density is immediately noticeable. This is especially the case with text, which is blockier, but everything--graphics, images, interface elements, you name it--just looks less sharp.

That's surely disappointing to Retina veterans who've been pining for an iPad mini for reading. An iPad this size with a Retina-quality display would be a near-perfect reading device: all the great reading apps and services available for the iPad, in a smaller, lighter, book-sized package. Even Google's Nexus 7, which I've been using for just that purpose, offers slightly clearer text, with a pixel density of 216 ppi. (It's worth noting, however, that in other areas--brightness, color, contrast, and the like--the iPad mini's screen seems better, and I prefer the iPad mini's screen overall.)


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