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Little tablet, big price tag

Good things come in iPad mini’s small package — but are they good enough?

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SEE, here’s the thing about the new iPad mini. It’s an iPad, only… smaller.

Beyond that, there may not be much more to say about the latest addition to Apple’s tablet family. But I’ll think of something.

OK, how about this?

Apple’s most important products created their own markets: People didn’t know they wanted or needed an iPhone until Steve Jobs & Co. showed it to them. The iPad mini, by contrast, is an attempt to follow competitors rather than find a new audience. Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire (not available in Canada) and Google’s Nexus 7, to name two, have shown that users want something smaller than the 25-centimetre screen that’s been on every iPad until now.

Which isn’t to say Apple has compromised the iPad experience. For the most part, it has simply shrunk it.

The mini’s screen measures 20 cm diagonally. Though that’s 35 per cent larger than the competing Amazon and Google devices, which have 18-cm screens, I still found it small enough to hold comfortably in one hand.

Like its big-brother iPad, the mini accommodates six rows and four columns of app icons.

The icons here are smaller, but arrayed with enough space between them that even my large fingers had no difficulty landing on the one I wanted.

The most striking thing about the mini is in how thin and light it is. It is really thin and light. Crazy thin and crazy light, even.

Despite the mini’s larger screen, it also 30 per cent thinner than either the Kindle or Nexus, thinner, in fact, than a pencil.

With those dimensions, the mini is extraordinarily easy to slip into a purse or jacket pocket.

Besides the size and price tag — more about that later — the most notable thing about the mini is the quality of its display, which can be best described as adequate. Unlike the big iPad (just refreshed with a faster processor and graphics chip, plus Apple’s new Lightning connector), the iPad mini lacks Apple’s ultra-sharp Retina display.

Instead, the mini’s screen has a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels. That’s the same as on the iPad 2, but less than either the Kindle or Nexus.

I didn’t see a huge difference when watching videos or reading e-books. But I found it noticeably harder to read some web pages. Be prepared to do a lot of pinching and zooming.

Beyond that, the mini offers few surprises to anyone who’s ever used an iPad. I found battery life comparable to the all-day performance of the bigger model. And the mini ran all my iPad apps without difficulty — a particularly big advantage, given the paucity of apps available for either the Kindle Fire or the Nexus 7.

Google claims 600,000 apps for the Nexus 7. But almost all of those are simply smartphone apps running on the bigger screen, as opposed to the 275,000 designed specifically to take advantage of the iPad’s capabilities. And the Google Play store can’t approach Apple’s iTunes Store in terms of its selection of movies, music and other content.

Amazon, with its huge content selection, can plausibly compete with Apple on that score. But its selection of apps, depending on how you want to count, is even worse than Google’s.

Which raises the question: How much is Apple’s superiority in software and content worth to you? How about $130?

That’s the price difference between the iPad mini, which starts at $329 for a Wi-Fi model with 16 gigabytes of storage, and a comparably equipped Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD, which both go for $199. The mini is also available with 32 and 64 GB capacities, each for an extra $100.

There are a few extra benefits as well. The mini has both front- and rear-facing cameras; the Kindle and Google tablets have only front-facers. The cellular-enabled models also have a GPS chip.

I can tell you the iPad mini is the best small tablet you can buy. The question you’ll have to answer for yourself is whether it’s that much better.

 

— Bloomberg News Services

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