SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two years ago, critics decried the original iPad as just “a big iPod touch.” They saw the tablet as a glorified media player with a large screen.
Now, size is a factor again with the introduction Tuesday of the iPad mini, but this time being a “smaller iPad” turns out not to be a criticism.
I spent the better part of an hour using the iPad mini after Apple’s media event in San Jose. For many people who have eyed the iPad but who don’t want the weight or expense, the mini is a perfectly sized alternative.
The most important consideration is that the iPad mini is truly light and comfortable in the hand. It weighs 10.8 ounces (compared with the full-sized iPad’s 23 ounces) and measures 7.87 inches tall by 5.3 inches wide. The depth, at 0.28 inch, makes the whole thing seem even less weighty.
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The original and subsequent iPads have been good for reading e-books and other texts, but not ideal — especially compared with Amazon’s Kindle readers.
The iPad mini comes much closer to the new Kindle Paperwhite, which weighs just 7.5 ounces, and is completely comfortable held in one hand for long periods (as much as I could project Tuesday, given I was in a room with hundreds of other journalists all vying to get their hands on the smattering of demo units).
Although I do read e-books on the third-generation iPad I own, I suspect I’ll use the iPad mini for my electronic reading.
The bezel at the left and right of the screen is narrower than the top and bottom, giving up more room for the 7.9-inch (diagonal) screen, but it’s not so narrow that my thumb would register accidental screen taps.
The screen resolution is the same as the iPad 2, at 1024 by 768 pixels, so you don’t get the Retina display found on other iPad models and on other Apple products (though I’m sure it will appear at some point).
But because those pixels occupy a smaller physical space — they’re physically smaller pixels — the resolution translates to a nice 163 pixels per inch (ppi). Text looks good, even if it’s not as pristine as that found on a Retina display.
From what I could tell, the screen also boasted good color fidelity and brightness.
If you’re concerned that the iPad mini’s non-Retina screen is a step back, don’t be: Just because Retina is the high-end display for Apple’s products doesn’t mean non-Retina screens are poor.
One aspect worthy of consideration, however, is that the iPad mini’s screen is glass, so, like other iPads, it’s reflective when viewed in bright light or direct sunlight. The less reflective Kindles retain this advantage.
In every other respect, the iPad mini is still an iPad. Its touch-screen performance is smooth and responsive. It has Wi-Fi and optional cellular LTE networking, and it has the Lightning connector introduced with the iPhone 5.
It uses a dual-core A5 processor and includes a FaceTime HD front-facing camera and 5 megapixel rear-facing camera, and boasts faster Wi-Fi than its predecessors. And it runs all of the apps that the other iOS devices run.
Prices start at $329 for a 16 GB model, adding $100 each for a 32 GB and 64 GB model. The cellular versions are each an additional $129.
Pre-orders start this Friday, with the Wi-Fi models shipping Nov. 2 and the cellular models shipping the following week.
Although the iPad mini was the star of the show, it wasn’t the only announcement.
The full-size iPad, now called iPad with Retina Display, enters its fourth generation with a faster A6X processor, Lightning connector and improved Wi-Fi.
The third-generation iPad introduced in March is now gone, but the iPad 2 remains available as Apple’s least expensive iPad at $399.
Apple also revamped the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which the company said is the most popular computer it sells.
The new model includes a Retina display, and is both thinner, at 0.75 inch when closed, and lighter at 3.57 pounds, than the previous version. It starts at $1,699 and is available now.
Lastly, the iMac enters its eighth generation with an exceptionally thin design — when viewed from the correct angle.
Its edges are just 5 mm in depth, though the back does bulge in a smooth hump, so it’s not the flat slab, like you might initially think. But it’s still nice, and when you’re using it, you’ll never see the hump.
This reduction comes at the cost of the optical drive. In fact, the only Macs that can now read CDs or DVDs are the non-Retina MacBook Pros (both 13- and 15-inch sizes) and the aging Mac Pro. Apple gave up on optical media years ago and is finally close to phasing them out throughout the product line.
I can already foresee one annoyance, though: The SD memory-card slot is on the back with the other ports, which means you’ll need to either stretch around to find it or blindly feel for the opening when you want to import photos from a camera’s card.
Jeff Carlson, a Seattle freelancer, writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications.