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iPad mini Review - Screen, Interface and Usability

Luke Johnson

By Luke Johnson



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iPad mini


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iPad mini - Screen

Despite offering an experience altering 35 per cent more screen real-estate than its standard 7-inch rivals such as the Google Nexus 7, the iPad mini's screen is undeniably its weakest point.

Whereas the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD both sport high-definition displays, for the first-generation iPad mini, Apple has opted to go down a more dated visually inferior route. Sporting a screen with the same 1024 x 768p resolution as the superseded iPad 2, the iPad mini’s LED IPS offering falls behind its lower priced competition when it comes to sharpness.

A noticeable step back from the latest-generation 9.7-inch iPads, the iPad mini’s 163 pixels-per-inch image density is noticeably worse than the competition, and all told it's a disappointing move from Apple. A Retina display offering akin to the iPhone 5 or iPad 4 is a seemingly sure-fire inclusion for the likely second-generation update.

Apple iPad mini

Causing text and application icons to appear somewhat grainy and considerably less sharp than desired, the iPad mini screen is the device’s only real stumbling block, putting it at a significant disadvantage to its similarly sized rivals. Although the iPad mini lacks defined edges to text based content such as ebooks or web pages, in terms of video playback or app-based gameplay the tablet holds its own with a strong colour palette and impressive contrast ratios ensuring the device is a more than viable option for multimedia absorption.

Lacking the eye-popping detail of Apple’s Retina displays, video playback on the iPad mini is still an enjoyable option with little motion blur or stuttering of images detracting from the overall viewing experience. Not without its merits, the iPad mini screen features auto brightness adjustment capabilities and is more than visible when in areas of both bright, direct sunlight and dark, uneven shadow.

Supporting multitouch input commands, the iPad mini screen is extremely responsive to the touch with all taps, swipes, prods and sliding scrolls producing their desired on-screen reactions all within an acceptable timeframe. Due to the reduced bezel of the iPad mini, it is at times unavoidable to have a stray thumb encroach onto the screen. Ensuring these wayward digits do not register as touchscreen based selections and commands, however, Apple has introduced software that detects these unwanted finger placements and ensures they do not interfere with the user experience. Surprisingly, this works exceptionally well with all but the rarest of interferences caused during our time with the device.

As with all touchscreen devices, the iPad mini is a magnet for smeared, greasy fingerprints that can often leave the screen in a less than appealing, at times experience-depleting, state. In a bid to help this, Apple has finished the iPad mini with a fingerprint-reducing oleophobic coating. It doesn't stop all fingerprints but certainly reduces their effect compared to untreated displays (most tablets and phones do feature oleophobic coatings now).

Apple iPad mini

iPad mini - Interface and Usability

A largely pleasant experience that is hard to fault in terms of user friendliness, Apple’s iOS 6 operating system runs the show on the iPad mini with little fuss or fanfare. Everything is not as smoothly and pristinely Apple-esque as you might expect, however.

Whilst unlike Android or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system Apple’s iOS offering does not bring information such as emails or calendars to the fore through the use of interactive and customisable widgets, the app based UI that Apple introduced with the original iPhone is still a simplistic joy to use. With nothing more than a quick tap of the desired icon needed to launch the application, the iPad mini interface allows for both new and experienced users alike to pick up the device and instantly gain a workable understanding of what’s what.

Despite having been fitted with an A5 dual-core CPU as opposed to the quad-core processing option found within the Google Nexus 7, the iPad mini still feels acceptably speedy with application launches handled with sufficient expediency. Although some heavy duty games take a considerable amount of time to load, this is not an issue that is easily overcome by rival devices and one which does not put the iPad mini considerably behind the curve.

Unlike the full sized 9.7-inch fourth-generation iPad, the iPad mini's compact form factor and single-hand friendly design help make the device become a pleasure to type on. Whereas the original iPad proved cumbersome and oversized, causing an awkward, slow, prodding typing style - unless laid flat and in landscape mode - the iPad mini allows for smartphone-esque thumb typing. Proving more comfortable to use, the iPad mini can be utilised for prolonged periods of time without the dreaded and unwanted wrist ache.

Apple iPad mini

In unusual form for Apple, a company renowned for its attention to detail and style lead interfaces, the calendar application pre-installed on the iPad mini, as well as the iPad 4, is disappointingly unattractive and a noticeable eyesore on an otherwise impressive OS. Although fitting nicely in a landscape stance, when holding the iPad mini in a portrait manner, the calendar service fails to fill the screen, leaving ugly and unnecessary black bars of considerable size both above and below the entry fields.

As with former Apple iDevices, the iPad mini multitasking is a straightforward affair with a rapid double tap of the physical home button producing a row at the screen's base of applications that are currently open and running in the background. Swiping left on this bar will see users greeted with fast access audio controls, a welcome addition that are easy to use and which offer playback choices without having to delve directly into the dedicated application.

Apple iPad mini

Having taken a leaf out of Google’s Android book, the iPad mini, thanks to its iOS 6 filling offers users a dropdown notifications bar, providing alerts to all the latest goings on from new incoming emails and messages to calendar reminders and social media updates. What’s more, for those in a hurry to share their 140 character announcements, users can also Tweet directly from the notifications bar, a time saving option that will be sure to appeal to many.

Apple iPad mini

In a bid to help improve the user experience further and offer a helping hand to users of all experience levels, Apple has complemented the iPad mini with its voice activated personal assistant software Siri. As we have found on other devices, Siri is still very much a work in progress. Although improved for iOS 6 devices such as the iPad mini, it is still filled with quirks that see it struggle with British pronunciations and it's lacking in details of stores and services outside of the US.

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Russell Peto

June 26, 2012, 1:10 pm

I'm not normally one to do complaining-about-apple-news-because-its-apple thing, but come on guys, a round up of incredibly vague rumors for a product that doesn't exist and has not even been hinted at by the manufacturer?


If you know something and are under an NDA then leave it till you can at least hint that you know. This sort of vaporcopy article just makes TR look bad.


August 23, 2012, 11:39 am

I know that the design would look really great if it comes out mini, but wouldn't having an I phone be better?


August 25, 2012, 10:27 am

Russell - I am assuming you read the article, therefore saw the adverts. Job done as far as TR is concerned


August 27, 2012, 12:17 am

We do know where you're coming from but ultimately if we're to be a news source for the latest happenings in the world of tech then we need to cover rumour articles too - after all, it's what people are searching for. This just makes for an easy one-stop solution for people to find out everything we've heard so far on the iPad mini. We try to be as open and honest about this as possible and feel our approach isn't over the top. You'll note the article doesn't misleadingly have the word review plastered all over it, for instance.


August 27, 2012, 12:34 am

I know what you're trying to imply here but you've actually missed the point. If the article was read in something like its entirety then absolutely we can be justified in publishing it. After all, there's no pretence or misdirection here - the article clearly states what it is. The cynical view would be that we don't even care about someone reading it but rather just that they click the link and give us a page view. But by providing considered and original content such as the above, we like to think we aren't.


October 3, 2012, 11:07 pm

In response to Ed's response to rushforthk, I disagree. The article headline in google reader read: "iPad Mini Tablet Review". I've noticed a lot of these linkbait style headlines over the past few months and will soon be removing TR from my rss feeds. The signal to noise rato has gone very low around here lately.


October 4, 2012, 11:00 am

Why do you keep implying Apple products are particularly fragile and prone to damage? They use toughened glass (which is really a kind of ceramic) and are at least as tough as any other smartphone on the market and the aluminium cases are certainly stronger than any of the plastic rivals made in the Far East. I have dropped my iPhone more times than I care to remember on tile, concrete and wood floors. The other day I left it my bed and forgot it was there and when I pulled the covers back my iPhone 4 shot across the room and smashed into the metal frame of an exercise machine. There wasn't a scratch on it and it worked perfectly afterwards. There are many legitimate things to criticise Apple products for but build quality is not one of them. Almost every TR review now carries a snide remark about using glass and aluminium. It's beginning to sound like special pleading from someone who did something stupid and broke his device and has been sore about it ever since. Can you please tell us which rival makes an indestructible smart phone that doesn't use glass in its construction? Yes it will scratch or break if mistreated. But that's also true of furniture, cars and just about any consumer device ever made. In the future when we can buy products made out of weightless indestructible unobtanium you might have a point. For now it is just silly.


October 4, 2012, 2:37 pm

Unfortunately, that's a technical issue that's not too easy to remedy. We'll admit it doesn't look the best on the RSS. But c'mon, we still do full, in-depth reviews for the most part :)


October 24, 2012, 3:36 am

Write for the end user TR, not the Google rankings... Really gone down hill in recent years! Very disapointed. Will also be removing from my RSS feeds!


October 24, 2012, 11:09 pm

I dunno about you guys but does this render the very recently released iPod Touch rather redundant all of a sudden because there's only £20 difference between that and the iPad mini? So unless we value the portability, double the storage and a sharper (albeit smaller) screen over the extra features, what's the point of the iPod Touch?


October 28, 2012, 5:22 pm

Always enjoy your reviews.. but in the PRO section for this ipad mini you put
Surprisingly affordable starting price ???????????
do a google search and that's one of the main sore points about this unit...


October 31, 2012, 12:59 am

"Surprisingly affordable starting price" - is probably a relative comparison to the iPad 9.7" but fall short when comparing to the keenly fought 7+" tablet marketplace.


November 4, 2012, 11:22 am

You say the iPad 2 had a screen pitch of 148ppi. This is wrong. It is exactly half the pitch of the Retina iPad, i.e. 132ppi, which means the iPad mini's 163ppi is 24% higher, or 38% less than that of the Retina iPad.


November 15, 2012, 8:10 pm

I stopped reading TR about a year ago because of all the rampant Apple fanboyism from the writers. For some reason I ended back at TR today and the first thing I saw was an Apple 9/10 review. See you in another year.


November 24, 2012, 10:40 pm

But the battery life is only 10 hours, it's really short as mobile device, already get iPad MINI Protective Leather Rotary Case With Belt Buckle, really cool ipad mini case

Alan Wright

December 17, 2012, 8:23 pm

But if it was that good why not give it 9/10? In my opinion it IS that good.


December 20, 2012, 4:30 pm

"Whilst unlike Android or Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system Apple’s iOS offering does not bring information such as emails or calendars to the fore through the use of interactive and customisable widgets, the app based UI that Apple introduced with the original iPhone is still a simplistic joy to use. With nothing more than a quick tap of the desired icon "

What I really don't understand is how apple is somehow allowed to be a special case for things like lack of widgets. Lets be clear here, in Android you don't have to use widgets. You can lay out your apps exactly how iOS does it, with a "quick tap of the desired icon". In this way, Android doesn't lose anything to iOS. On the other hand, in iOS you can't have widgets. The choice doesn't exist. Yet the lack of widgets in iOS is somehow presented as a good thing, a design choice, even a feature. If an Android handset came along and did the same thing it would get blasted for not allowing widgets. Why is iOS allowed to be a special case?


December 20, 2012, 8:11 pm

Agreed that was a little misleading as it was referring to comparative Apple products. We've removed that pro now, thanks for pointing it out.

Charly McVey

December 22, 2012, 7:05 pm

I don't understand how something like this can be given such a high score when it falls down everywhere next to it's 7inch Rivals. People are buying 7inch tablets as they are comfortable to use with one hand, have high resolution screens that are good for text and are inexpensive.

That is the 7inch market surely?

In this Review you clearly say not comfortable to hold in 1 hand as it is wider than the others, you complain about the resolution when reading text and web pages and also the price versus it's Rivals yet stll it gets 9 out of 10?? You do not get headphones with it or even an adapter to connect it to anything you already own? As for how it feels and the design I was vey dissapointed, it's a small iPad that feels like it is a cheap copy of a premium apple device. After I had tried one in the shop I left dissapointed and thought apple had definetly missed the boat here. 9/10 did I read this review correctly?

"Certainly the most desirable 7-inch tablet on the market,(Why?) the iPad mini’s £269 starting" price is considerably higher than the competition but for that outlay you get a device that, although not specs superior,(so it's more expensive?) is a far more enticing(to who, apple fanboi's?) option than much of what is already on the market. Can't believe after all of this it still gets a 9/10!!!!

Mike Hutchings

December 23, 2012, 11:03 pm

Twice the price it should be and it looks surprisingly like the Samsung Tab2 7 inch but not as good; do I smell another court case?


December 24, 2012, 11:12 am

The Nexus 7 gets slammed for:

Non-expandable memory
Native video support limited

But the iPad Mini's (and any other iPad's) lack of the same isn't even mentioned. You're mysteriously silent about it. Why is that?


December 25, 2012, 7:18 pm

I have been playing with the iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7 for about 3 days and both are very good but the Apple has way more function in the App dept. High performance means nothing when you do not have programs/apps to use the high performance. At that small of a size screen you are hard pressed to to see pixels and it looks more than good enough. I am going to get the iPad Mini. The only thing that these companies should offer on their tablets is expandable memory options.

Doug Eyver

January 3, 2013, 3:34 pm

The Ipad Mini will become a future Iphone where Siri will receive instructions via Bluetooth. You can keep the Mini in your briefcase, purse or coat pocket and have full function of the phone. Then you can pull it out, access maps, websites, photos, videos, even music while continuing to talk on the phone. The size of the mini coupled with the ability of a cell phone will revolutionize the industry. It will be that one step before your cell phone becomes your home computer that plugs into a cradle, connecting to a keyboard and monitor. One system for all. The more it does, the pricier it will get but worth it so that you don't have to carry a laptop, cell phone and Ipad around.

Wes Smith

January 11, 2013, 8:16 am

TR has been biased toward Apple products for a long long time. That's why.

Wes Smith

January 11, 2013, 8:22 am

One of the cons in this review should include non-expandable memory just like they pointed out on the Nexus 7. That is one example of a skewed review with an Apple bias..

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