Gadgets

iPad mini compared: Is it the best 7-inch tablet?

Today Apple announced its 7.9-inch iPad mini tablet. Right on stage, the company compared it to the Nexus 7 (Google’s flagship Android tablet) to show the wealth of differences between the two. But Apple skipped a few key comparisons that you might want to be aware of.

Here’s a closer look at those differences, as well as how Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD tablet compares to both:

The iPad mini is without a doubt the thinnest tablet ever produced. It’s thinner than most smartphones today at just 7.2 millimeters thick. It’s slightly taller and wider than most competing 7-inch tablets, though not the Kindle Fire HD.

From my time with the Fire HD, I’ve found that holding it from edge to edge with one hand is possible, though not comfortable — so the iPad mini should be comparable.

The iPad mini is also the lightest tablet available, although the upcoming Barnes & Noble Nook HD tablet will weigh just seven grams more at 315 grams.

Processing power, based on the specs alone, appears fairly similar, but specs don’t tell the whole story. The A5 processor inside the iPad mini is identical to the one inside the iPad 2 — which is now one and a half years old — compared to the newer processors inside both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD. On the other hand, the Android tablets may be faster and offer double the RAM, but Apple’s current operating system (iOS 6) is better suited for the included components, which makes it better at processing data more quickly and more efficiently. Google constantly updates its operating system to improve speed and efficiency; Amazon historically has not.

Apple’s October Surprise

Apple event logo
We expected Apple to announce an iPad mini today, and we got it. What we didn’t expect was the sheer number of new products the company unveiled. Here’s a rundown of the news.

At the iPad mini’s unveiling in San Jose today, Apple’s Phil Schiller (Senior VP of Marketing) also mentioned how it feels much better than the Nexus 7, primarily because the Android tablet is made of plastic and feels cheap. I haven’t found that to be the case. The Nexus 7 is the best 7-inch tablet to hold because of a well-designed case that is easy to grip and feels warm in the hand. The Kindle Fire HD has a rubber-like back, which is also comfortable and warm. The iPad mini has a metallic back panel. I expect that it will be similar to the current iPad, which feels cold in the hand but provides good grip. I prefer the warm Nexus 7 to the iPad, though size and weight have to be considered as well.

The iPad mini is available in three capacity variations: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. The Nexus 7 starts with just 8GB, which in my use is completely inadequate. A 16GB model is also available, and 32GB models have been found in stores across the US. The Kindle Fire HD comes in 16GB and 32GB capacities.

All of the tablets use a 1.2 megapixel (MP) front-facing camera that can record video in 720p, but the iPad mini is the only tablet here that includes a rear-facing camera. That 5MP camera is likely the same found in the latest iPod Touch and the iPhone 4. Tablet cameras have traditionally offered mediocre to poor still photography and video recording, but larger 10-inch tablets have shipped with significantly improved cameras this year.

Most 7-inch tablets feature widescreen (16:9) displays, but the iPad mini has the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the full-sized iPad. This means all HD video on the iPad mini will be letterboxed with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD both have denser displays at significantly higher 720p resolutions, which will make HD media appear clearer and without letterboxing.

All of the tablets use high-quality IPS displays, but the iPad’s lower resolution and larger screen will make pictures appear blurrier and more pixelated. It’s surprising Apple didn’t include a Retina display on the iPad mini for exactly this reason.

Apple boasts the same 10-hour battery life on the iPad mini as on the iPad, though the Kindle Fire HD promises 11 hours of continuous use. As with any manufacturer’s promised battery life, take these numbers with a big grain of salt.

The iPad mini is also the only small tablet that can access fast LTE 4G cellular data. LTE will be available on the iPad mini in the US through Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, for an extra $130 over the comparable Wi-Fi models.

The biggest difference between the iPad mini and all competing Android tablets is the price. The starting price for the iPad mini is $330, $130 more than both the starting Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD. The iPad mini also increases the price in $100 increments for doubling the memory, compared to Amazon, which only charges $50 more for the 32GB  model.

Additionally, other tablets like the Nook HD offer expandable memory through user-purchased memory cards; the iPad mini doesn’t.

In short, the iPad mini is far more expensive than the competition at equivalent capacities, and only gets more expensive as the capacity increases. In fact, the iPad mini is expensive even compared to the latest iPod Touch, which has all of the same internal components as the iPad mini.

Will you buy an iPad mini? Tell us what you think about it in the comments section below.


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