Apple iPad mini Review: Mobile TV Gets More Portable

I’ve been using the new iPad mini from Apple for less than a week now, however it has become immediately apparent that there is one thing the unit can excel at and may be one of its strongest selling points: it’s a great portable device for viewing mobile TV. But is it for you? 

Let’s go over the strongest points first, and one of the best has to be its incredible lightness and large screen. I’ve tested a number of tablets — from the Kindle Fire HD to Google’s Nexus 7 — and it’s clear that Apple put additional effort into really creating a content consumption device specifically geared toward video. One surprise was the decision to not go with the 16:9 aspect but with a 4:3 ratio. Compared to other tablets in the 7in range, 16:9 movies take up about the same amount screen real estate. But it also allows 4:3 content, of which there is a lot, especially via streaming services, to be viewed using the full screen. Take a look at 4:3 content on a 16:9 7in tablet from other companies, and you may be surprised how small the actual picture is. The iPad mini is a transition device to be sure, and bridges the old world of 4:3 (square) content as well as the new world of 16:9 (widescreen content). Until you hold the iPad mini, you can’t really get a sense of how immersive the unit is for its size. Mobile TV content really looks great in various formats. Of course, at 1024 x 768, the resolution would not be mistaken for HD, but still video content looks great and really pops on the 163ppi IPS screen. Also remarkable is how portable the device really is. The design moves away from the curves of the previous iPad and comes more in line with the style of the iPhone 5. The device feels great in the hand, and indeed, can be held with one hand. Where other tablets in the range can feel thick and chunky and heavier to hold, the iPad mini moves in the opposite direction: it’s svelte and trim, and its lightness brings no arm fatigue even after hours of use. And this is crucial for a device to succeed as a mobile TV content viewing device. 

What about content? Most of it comes from the iTunes store, as well as apps such as Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. It’s refreshing that unlike the Kindle Fire HD, which pushes content for you to buy every time you switch a screen, iOS never overwhelms you with ways to spend money. Even though there is a wealth of video for sale and rent in the iTunes store on the iPad mini, most of the content consumption will take place via apps. The screen is the perfect size for viewing your streaming content from Netflix or your favorites queued up in Hulu. The dual-core A5 is speedy and keeps up with everything, while the new improved 802.11a/b/g/n Wi‑Fi (802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz) ensures that you get maximum bandwidth. 

Much has been discussed about the iPad mini’s screen. Some were surprised that for all Apple had been doing promoting the Retina screen, the iPad mini actually had a standard-resolution screen. Chances are the Retina screen would have driven the price up and caused lower battery performance pushing around all those extra pixels, as well as made the unit heavier from the advanced screen technology. Apple made the right choice this time in going for low-cost, high battery performance and reduced weight (the unit is a light 308g). When you see the screen, you realize it’s sharp and the color pops compared to similar-sized tables. I have tried the Kindle Fire HD as well as the Nexus 7, and the iPad mini makes them both feel chunky and thick. Because the weight is distributed over a larger area, the iPad mini seems lighter than it actually is. And comparing the screen sizes, there is no contest, both the Nexus and KIndle screens look much smaller and narrower when compared to the larger 7.87in iPad mini screen. 

Again. one of the main advantages with this new unit is video. Apple has gotten the sweet spot right with mobile TV: The unit is small enough to be portable and light, while the screen is large enough, crisp and saturated enough to be totally immersive when you are viewing. For watching video on the go, this is a very tough table to beat.