Thoughts on the iPad Mini

Ever since the iPad mini was announced, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Based on my experience using the iPad 3 and MacBook Air 11.6″, I felt it was just the right complement to my mobile arsenal.

A bit of background on my usage patterns: Working as a consultant for a global clientele, I need to be able to get work done from pretty much everywhere. When I say work, I mean writing articles and responding to e-mails as well as connecting to remote OS X Servers via SSH and screen sharing. I also need to be able to do some basic website maintenance while on the road.1

I bought my last iPad when I was still using a MacBook Pro 15″ connected to a 27″ Cinema LED Display. Depending on how long I would be travelling and what kind of work I was expecting to sneak up on me during that time, I’d either take my MacBook Pro 15″ or my iPad 3 (yes, I call it the iPad 3) with me. Both devices allowed me to do everything I needed to do, but the MacBook Pro had the edge when I knew many hours of work were ahead.

Then the 2nd generation of MacBook Airs was introduced. Suddenly I realised that a MacBook Air 11″ connected to a 27″ Display would be the perfect setup for me. No more choosing between a MacBook and the iPad. The MacBook Air was so small and light that I didn’t need to compromise. Ever since that day, my iPad was not allowed to travel anymore. I started to mainly use it as a web browsing, e-mailing and reading device at home; whenever I preferred the couch to my desk. Mainly browsing, since it always felt on the heavy side for long form reading.

An almost perfect setup, except that I’d sometimes miss having the iPad with me while travelling and wanting to only do some light reading or maybe watch a movie. (No, bringing the MacBook Air and the iPad 3 along was never an option. I am a firm believer in travelling light).2

Enter the iPad mini.

Short version: Problem solved. I can now pack my MacBook Air 11″ and my iPad mini without breaking my travel light rule! Read on for the long version:

I received my iPad mini last Friday, so I have been using it for 4 days now. As soon as I was holding it I couldn’t believe how incredibly light and compact it felt. A pleasure to hold and use. Like the iPhone 5, it feels just right. The balance between screen real estate and portability is perfect. Performance is more than adequate. Equal to the iPad 3, except maybe for some GPU intensive 3D gaming.

So how does it perform my most common tasks?

Writing: Interestingly enough, I prefer using it in portrait mode. The size of the device makes it easy to type with two thumbs and be fairly fast. In landscape mode, the keyboard is to narrow to be able to use it with both hands (at least with my hands). The compromise is perfect, and since I carry my MacBook Air with me, it is a non-issue.

Remote access and site maintenance: Just as with the big iPad. Everything works. Fine for emergencies, but not a comfortable solution. Servers are managed either via typing or using a mouse. Both not ideal for a touch screen.

Reading: A huge step forward. The iPad mini is so light and small that it is a pleasure to read on it for hours. I can hold it in one hand. Sit upright. Lay down. It always feels comfortable. Better than a book as it is often lighter.3

General use: Just as one would expect it. It does absolutely everything the full size iPad does. Icons and text are still large enough to be comfortably read. Even for me and my progressive lenses. There are a few apps which look a bit odd, but mostly due to their developers not following Apple’s UI guidelines in the first place.

As an aside: I had considered buying a Kindle Fire HD or Paperwhite before the iPad mini came out as I felt I wanted a lighter “reading” tablet. The main reason I decided not to was iTunes. I have all my digital media, from songs to videos to books, in iTunes. Just wasn’t willing to add a second ecosystem to my library. Now I am glad I didn’t. If all I did was reading e-books, the Kindle Paperwhite is probably the better device, but everything else is so much more fluid on an iPad.

Before you ask… What about it not being a retina display? Well, you can tell. No doubt about it. Especially if you use it immediately after the iPad 3 or 4. That said, in the real world, I don’t see it as a problem. At least not for me. Not yet… Out of all my devices, only my iPad 3 has a retina display. So I spend most of my day looking at non-retina screens. All excellent screens as is the iPad mini’s. You only notice how much of an improvement retina is when you compare them side by side. So in a year or so, when the MacBook Air and maybe the 27″ Display get a retina upgrade, I am sure the non-retina screen on the iPad mini will begin bugging me. But, by that time a retina iPad mini will most likely be available…

So, what’s gonna happen to my iPad 3? It stays where it is. Next to my 27″ Display, used mainly as a preview screen when coding. Works like a charm.4

For now, this is the best setup I ever had. Looking forward to what the future will bring.

  1. Apps I use: Byword and TextExpander for writing. Coda 2/Diet Coda for HTML/CSS coding and website maintenance. Prompt for SSH access. iTeleport for VNC and Remote Desktop. 
  2. All my gadgets and accessories fit nicely into Tom Bihn’s Ristretto for MacBook Air 11″. 
  3. I do most of my reading using a combination of Safari, Reeder, Pocket, Tweetbot, Zite and Pinboard 
  4. Actually, I was able to get very good money for my iPad 3 32GB and bought an iPad 4 16GB instead. Not because of performance but to make sure all my devices have now lightning connectors. The resale value of iPads is amazing. Nobody ever mentions it when comparing prices. 
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