Review: Apple iPad mini (16GB/32GB/64GB)
(as rated late 2013)
(as rated late 2013)
(originally rated late 2012)
(originally rated late 2012)
Pros: A smaller and much easier to carry sequel to the iPad 2, benefitting from newer industrial design elements and technologies introduced in the fifth-generation iPod touch. Generally very solid build quality and highly attractive fit and finish, relying on thin but strong glass painted in either black or silver, plus an aluminum rear shell. Runs virtually all of the over 700,000 apps in Apple’s App Store, including the 250,000 designed for full-sized iPads. Includes a 7.9” screen that looks at least as good as the iPad 2’s, and iPad-like run times, while weighing around half as much as Apple’s full-sized tablets. Users will find either landscape or portrait keyboard size to be nearly ideal for virtual typing—easier than on full iPads or iPhones. Available in the same capacities and LTE cellular options as full-sized iPads, including the same Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4 wireless technologies, without compromises. Includes two bona-fide good cameras, stereo speakers, and an integrated microphone with Siri and Dictation capabilities.
Cons: Battery on Wi-Fi model falls modestly short of Apple’s 10-hour claim under some circumstances; cellular run time similarly falls below 9-hour estimate. Base $329 price tag is a little high, especially considering the additional expense of Lightning accessories and Apple’s decision to pack in an unnecessarily slow charger; $130 cellular premium remains somewhat steep, and arguably less necessary given the increasing availability of smartphone personal hotspots. Screen, while considerably better in colors, blacks, and viewing angles than would be expected from a pre-Retina display, falls short of Retina pixel density and thus sharpness—an issue in only certain situations, particularly when dealing with very small text. Front glass has a tiny bit of give relative to prior iPads, making a thin sound when tapped for typing, and seemingly becoming more susceptible to cracking. Rear camera is a hint behind current full-sized iPads despite similar specs. While comparable to the last two iPads, the A5 processor inside this model is a couple of steps behind the most recent iPad.
One of the bigger mysteries surrounding the iPad mini even after its launch was how Apple would handle recharging. In past years, Apple made two separate claims about its batteries—their run time under specific usage scenarios, typically 9-10 hours, and then their recharge times, which were generally around 4 hours. The latter claim suspiciously disappeared when the third-generation iPad was released, and it was subsequently discovered that a huge, slow-charging battery was the reason: 6.5-hour recharge times weren’t uncommon, but Apple didn’t want to advertise that fact. This week, Apple released a new 12W USB Power Adapter that cuts the charge times down for the last two iPads, and there was a claim that the iPad mini would have the same charger in its box, too.
As noted earlier in this review, it doesn’t—instead, Apple has included a 5W USB Power Adapter that’s identical to the ones it’s been shipping with iPhones for years. This isn’t necessarily crazy, but its disappointing, as the iPad mini turns out to be capable of much faster charging than the iPhone. The iPad mini contains a 4490mAh rechargeable battery, which is around three times as large as an iPhone battery, 70% the size of an iPad or iPad 2 battery, and only 40% the size of a Retina iPad battery. With the packed-in 5W Adapter, the iPad mini recharged in 4 hours and 38 minutes—longer than early iPads, but shorter than the problematic Retina iPads. Plugged into the new 12W USB Power Adapter, however, the iPad mini went from empty to full in 2 hours and 50 minutes, a fantastic speed.
Why wouldn’t Apple include the better adapter, since it sells each for the same $19 price? We can only guess that it wouldn’t make sense to pack in the slower, less capable charger unless it wanted to find a way to sell some people a second adapter. Some might suggest that the included 5W Adapter is smaller, and therefore better, but we’d be willing to bet that the average person would sooner shave roughly two hours off every recharge time than modestly reduce the size of the included wall charger.
Owners of recent Mac computers have the ability to charge at least one iPad at 2.1-Amp speeds, so if you have one of these Macs, you may find that your iPad mini charges faster than with its included adapter. A 2011-vintage iMac reported that the iPad mini was drawing 2.1 Amps of current, which is to say that it’s certainly capable of fully using all of the iPad chargers that have been released over the last few years—assuming you use one of Apple’s Lightning to USB Cables or Adapters with them.
Other battery test results were generally pretty good given the size and weight of the iPad mini, though generally somewhat below the performance of full-sized iPads. For instance, Apple promises that the iPad mini can get up to 10 hours of Wi-Fi web browsing on a single battery charge, the same as its promise for every iPad model. In our testing, however, the iPad mini actually lasted for 9 hours, 11 minutes on our standard web browsing test, with the screen at 50% brightness. This is 55 minutes less than the same test on the third-generation iPad, 49 minutes below Apple’s 10-hour claim, and 43 minutes below the fourth-generation iPad. [Editor’s Note, November 16, 2012: Cellular test results are now discussed on the eighth page of this review.]
Apple claims that the iPad mini can play videos for up to 10 hours on a single charge, the same as its web browsing time. In our testing, however, the iPad mini surpassed that number, running for 10 hours and 46 minutes with 50% volume on the speaker and 50% brightness on the screen, plus an active (but not actively used) Wi-Fi connection—a very good result, though below the 12 hour and 56 minute run time of the third-generation iPad, and the 13 hour and 52 minute run time of the fourth-generation iPad.
Apple doesn’t provide estimates for the iPad mini’s game playing run time, but we run the test regardless as many people use iPads as gaming devices. Results for this test always come out below the web and video times—the third-generation iPad achieved 6 hours and 42 minutes at 50% brightness with 50% speaker volume, playing Infinity Blade II continuously. The iPad mini roughly matched it, hitting 6 hours and 40 minutes on the same settings with the same game. Notably, the third-generation iPad’s run time for this test was a nearly identical 6 hours and 42 minutes, and the fourth-generation iPad fell just a bit shorter at 6 hours and 21 minutes; both Retina-equipped iPads were pushing far more pixels than the mini, though.
Two other tests we like to run test an iPad’s ability to serve for extended times as a camera. The iPad mini was able to record video with its rear camera for 5 hours and 36 minutes—around 16% battery loss per hour. This is lower than full-sized iPads, which typically get a little over 7 hours of recording time. The iPad mini ran for 6 hours and 3 minutes of continuous FaceTime video calling, as well.
Overall, the iPad mini’s battery performance was pretty much in line with our expectations: roughly equivalent to the full-sized iPad for marquee tasks, and a little below it for others. Most users will find its running times to be more than acceptable, and in the event that they’re not, recharging—with the right computer or adapter—is so quick that you’ll be back up and running in little time.