When Apple unveiled its smaller-sized iPad mini in October, we were blasé and unimpressed. After all, it's hardly the new kid on the block in this category – Samsung's Galaxy Tab and the Asus Nexus 7 have been out for months – and it's not as if its innards are bleeding-edge. The iPad mini doesn't have a retina display, the processor is just the A5 (the same one in the iPad 2), and it won't take new micro-SIM cards (so you can't double up your old iPad's data plan and use it in this one). To boot, it's pricey at $349 for the base Wi-Fi-only version with only a measly 16-gigabytes (GB) of memory, which is barely enough to store a dozen or so apps, a couple of videos, and, if you're lucky, about 2,000 songs. Anyone who wants to watch a handful of movies on a long plane ride, bring along a decent selection of their favorite tunes, and run a few apps, is going to want the 64GB version with built-in Wi-Fi and superfast LTE 4G mobile broadband capability, which will jack the price up to $559.
Despite these seemingly significant reasons to steer clear of Apple's new, reduced-size tablet, we broke down one recent afternoon and took the plunge, opting for the 64GB, Wi-Fi-only version ($529) with the optional red Smart Cover ($39). We felt overcharged for about 10 minutes – such an impulsive purchase. Then, a quick charge and a connection to our Wi-Fi network and we were sold pretty much immediately. Here's why.
First off, it's light. At .68 pounds (.69 if you opt for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version), the iPad mini is noticeably lighter than the Nexus 7 and the Galaxy Tab 7 (both of which weigh approximately .75 pounds). These may sound like minuscule differences, but we noticed the lighter weight right away while reading. Propping up or holding the iPad mini while you're flipping through, say, the latest potboiler on the Kindle app or our favorite magazines on the iPad Zinio app is more effortless than with an actual printed book, and our arms didn't get tired (as they do with the standard-sized, 1.46-pound iPad).
Second, despite its unparalleled lightness, the iPad mini has a screen that is actually 7.9-inches, versus the 7-inch screens found on the comparable Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tab 7 tablets. Again, everything from surfing the Web and reading newspapers to watching 'Homeland' or videochatting on Facetime is an iPad-mini-fied, just-big-enough delight. It may not be the Retina display, but at this smaller screen size, we can't tell the difference, so we're fine with iPad 2-quality.
Also, the built-in speaker is a revelation. We're accustomed to having to attach external Bluetooth speakers or headphones so we can hear dialogue on movies, but the tiny stereo speakers on the bottom of the iPad mini can blast powerful and focused sound that's completely clear and easy to hear. No, you won't be blown away by any thumping bass – external speakers are still preferable for impromptu iPad-powered dance parties – but we had no problems making out dialogue while catching up on 'Boardwalk Empire' episodes.
Lastly, the iPad just has a certain je ne sais quoi factor that will satisfy anyone with gadget-lust. The lightness combined with the metallic finish and slightly wider screen than we're used to make it a pleasure to hold in your hand. We spent the first week up until 3 a.m. every night playing around with it, something we've only done when the first iPhone and first iPads came out. And we haven't used our old iPad since we bought the iPad mini a month ago, making Apple's little tablet the best new reason not to get the latest standard-size iPad in years. As Sony once did with its Walkman and Trinitron TVs, Apple knows how to make iconic gadgets that consumers just want for as many rational reasons as for irrational reasons, and the iPad mini falls comfortably into that category. [From $349; apple.com]