If you've been looking for a more portable and less expensive iPad than Apple's 9.7-inch original tablets, the iPad Mini delivers. Based on preliminary tests today, Apple appears to have successfully fit much of what's good about the iPad into a smaller package.
Portability. The iPad Mini has a 7.9-inch screen, so it's bigger than 7-inch Android tablets such as the Nook HD and Google Nexus 7. But being bigger doesn't mean it feels heavy. In fact, it weighs just under 0.7 pounds, the same as the lightest of those 7-inch tablets. It's also the thinnest tablet we've seen, at 0.28 inches. In short, the Mini feels very easy to hold, even in one hand for an extended period.
Display. You don't get the high-resolution Retina display you'll find on the full-size iPad. Resolution on the Mini is 1024x768 with 163 pixels per inch. That's significantly less than the Retina display's 2048x1536 screen with 264 pixels per inch, and it's also less than the Nook HD, with its 243-pixel-per-inch display. But the crispness still holds up against most 7-inch tablets and the older iPad 2. In addition, colors and viewing angle are on a par with the Retina screens.
Cameras and photos. If you're the family photographer, you'll appreciate the iPad Mini's ability to use the full screen to display photos. Between the larger screen size and the lack of black bars that surround photos on some other tablets, the iPad Mini provides a great photo-viewing experience. Videos play fine as well. The cameras are the same as those on the iPad with Retina display, including 720p video and a 5MP camera.
Sound. The iPad Mini sounds a bit less rich than the full-size iPads, but it's just as loud. It's also got stereo speakers instead of the mono speakers on the bigger iPads, but you'll have to be up close to hear the stereo effect.
Apps. As promised, Apple maintained the experience of reading and using apps on this smaller version of the iPad. Magazines look great, as do books. The size makes it easy to hold for long periods of reading. And when I tried out a game I'd been playing on a larger iPad, everything looked and worked the same, only on a smaller screen.
Bottom line. The iPad Mini is the thinnest tablet we've seen, and very light. It's by far the least-expensive iPad, even if it's pricier than most of the best 7-inch Android tablets. But in shrinking the iPad, Apple didn't seem to compromise on functionality or the iPad experience people expect.
We'll fully test the iPad Mini and post results soon. Meanwhile, take a look at our tablet Ratings to get the scoop on other new tablets.
Prices for the iPad Mini start at $330 for a 16GB tablet with Wi-Fi and $460 with broadband; 32GB and 64GB models are also available.
—Donna L. Tapellini