December 05, 2013
With the iPad mini being in more people’s possession now, several hands-on comparisons between it and the iPad Air have surfaced. Five weeks ago I mused on the differences between the two, not having received my retina LTE iPad mini yet. Now that I have had a chance to play with the new iPad mini, I can confirm several of my previous assertions.
Since the mini is not only bigger than the iPhone but at the same resolution as the Air, I see general reading on the mini as being a practically equivalent experience as on the Air.
I’ve read eBooks on my mini, I’ve read my Instapaper queue. I’ve read web pages, and used writing and coding apps like Editorial and Textastic. I left the font sizes the same from how they were configured for use on my iPad 3, and I can honestly say I have not experienced any noticeable adjustment from my previous use of these apps or others. In fact, I haven’t even thought about needing to adjust font sizes on account of the mini’s smaller screen.
… I don’t see the mini offering any less of an overview as to a web page’s full content and layout than on the full-size iPad…
Again, my use of Safari on the mini hasn’t compelled me to change font sizes. Most web pages are still perfectly readable, and I find myself zooming in on specific text columns as much as I did before. I suppose there may be some web sites that when viewed on the mini, a user would be more likely to zoom in than if viewed on an Air, but the mini also makes it easier to accomplish an analog zoom - moving the iPad closer to your face for a quick closer look. Overall, I can’t definitively conclude web pages are more comfortably viewed on the full-size iPad, especially when factoring in the easier one-handed use scenario.
Physical comic books are already larger than the 9.7” iPad Air screen, so if you’re used to that format, then undoubtedly a larger screen size is better.
Just to experiment, I loaded up some Walking Dead comics that I hadn’t gotten through, and tried to view them on the iPad mini. To my surprise, the text was easy to read in full-page view, and I didn’t feel like I ever had to zoom in. I initially played around with Comic Zeal, which I had used on my older iPads, but also took this opportunity to try out Chunky which I found to be a better overall comics-reading experience. I noticed too that some pages sized well width-wise, but required scrolling to view down to the bottom of the page. As most pages contained panels and were not full-page drawings, I tended to prefer this default arrangement.
I did try jumping between zoomed-in panels, and found the experience questionable under Comic Zeal. Chunky handled this better, but I admit to preferring a more zoomed-out view. As I stated before, however, I am not a huge comic book reader, so if comics are incredibly important to you, then perhaps a larger-size screen is worth it. For me, the mini is a perfectly capable comic book reader, and I plan to use it to catch up on the Walking Dead during the TV show’s hiatus.
As far as typing goes, the subject is more nuanced than some bloggers let on, because again it’s a huge matter of personal use.
I think it says something that after a week of use, I haven’t once thought about trying to use the iPad mini to type in landscape mode. The mini is so much easier to hold and type on in portrait mode that this feels like the more natural way to use the device. In fact, almost all my use of the mini has been in portrait mode, the exception being games and a short browsing session in Flipboard.1
When not typing in portrait mode, I did some long-form writing and code tweaking using Apple’s Bluetooth Keyboard and the Origami stand. For this latter activity, having access to arrow keys proves easier, and the much lighter mini made using the Origami on non-flat surfaces a bit easier than it would have been on my iPad 3.
For the purpose of being able to comment on it, however, I did force myself to try typing in landscape view. Surprisingly, I did not find it any more difficult than on my iPad 3. I still had more typos than when using a physical keyboard, and don’t feel the more cramped view made things noticeably worse, but still wouldn’t resort to this method most of the time. I suppose if you’re already an experienced iPad typist, then using the smart cover to prop the rear of the mini up in landscape mode would still create a better typing experience for you, and one that is undoubtedly faster than thumb-typing in portrait mode. However, while I enjoy thumb-typing on the mini more than I do on the iPhone and iPad 3, my overall opinion regarding typing has not changed - I will still use a physical keyboard most of the time. That said, for hammering out shorter notes, the iPad mini in portrait mode, while I stand or walk around, has proven a more enjoyable experience than using the virtual keyboard in any way on the iPad 3.
… if you’re holding the iPad for long periods of time, larger may become more tiresome, as that quarter pound weight difference begins to become more noticeable.
I was actually surprised at the mini’s heft when I first used it. For some reason, I expected it to be lighter, and while the weight hasn’t been a negative in actual use thus far, I can see how some people may find the Air a bit more cumbersome for long periods of time when held out, or due to torque when held only at the bottom in portrait mode. The mini is simply a joy to hold, though as with my iPad 3, I prefer to remove the smart cover completely most of the time.
If you like to draw on your iPad, I don’t see how the mini’s screen will be as nice.
I was rather surprised to find that handwriting on the mini wasn’t any more cumbersome thanks to decent zoom features in the top handwriting apps. I thought for sure that drawing would be another story, but found this to be false as well. It’s true that a stylus with a large tip takes up more of the screen than is ideal, but even when using my finger alone, I had no difficulty sketching out some app designs in Paper, with comparable results to those I drew using my Cosmonaut stylus on my iPad 3.
What others are saying.
I want to take a couple paragraphs to reflect on what others are saying about the iPad mini, particularly as compared to a full-size iPad. Mostly because some statements don’t seem supported by notable facts, though I do understand the decision comes down to personal preference. Sometimes, preference is intuitive, and not logical.
If you don’t have or want a laptop at all, the iPad Air is the ultimate post-PC.
In that sentence, I think “the iPad Air” could easily be replaced with “either iPad”. I don’t have a laptop, and have used the iPad as my primary computing device since the original iPad was released. I feel no less capable using the iPad mini than I did my iPad 3, and in no way regret getting it over the iPad Air after having played with the Air in-store and having used the mini now for a week. The iPad mini feels like a more polished version of the iPad I bought in 2010, and the smaller size makes it feel even more personal. Surely, I feel this way partly because of the novelty, but I’m happy to say every reservation I had about the device was addressed sufficiently.
That’s not to say the iPad mini is the better iPad, merely that for me, the smaller size is not an issue. Maybe if you have worse eyesight, or simply like bigger screens because you want to see things bigger overall, the iPad Air is a better option for you. However, objectively, the screen size alone isn’t a major influencer in what tasks can more effectively be done on either iPad.
If power is the most important thing, if you want to use it as a primary computing appliance, if you mean to use it more around the home, school, or office, if you need to get a ton of work done, then you want the iPad Air.
Ritchie doesn’t really justify this sentence. There’s nothing less powerful about the mini, since the internal specs are basically the same between it and the Air. There’s nothing about the mini that says you can’t get as much work done as on the Air, nor anything about it that makes it less efficient in the home, school, or office. For me, I find the smaller size of the mini even more beneficial in the office, and am more inclined to hold the mini than keep a larger iPad attached to my Dekke Slope.
Yesterday, Shawn Blanc posted what I found to be a more reasonable take on the iPad mini and iPad Air comparison, and I pretty much agree with his findings:
The iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices; pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.
In other words, there is not one true iPad, merely two sizes of the same beast.
I reverted back to portrait mode in Flipboard shortly after trying it out in landscape mode. ↩