The ipad Mini: horses for courses

I’m trying out the small iPad, following a rave endorsement by Jason Calcanis, who claimed that it had left his big iPad for dead. That’s not quite the way I see it: my big iPad is doing just fine. But the Mini would have left my Nexus 7 for dead if it hasn’t been dead already. (It went blank a few days ago after running out of juice, and all attempts to resuscitate it have failed. So it’s going back whence it came.)

Even if the Nexus had stayed alive, however, it was doomed in my eyes, mainly because of the shape. For while it did fit easily in a jacket pocket, I found the aspect ratio hopeless for reading web pages. Some things worked brilliantly on it — Gmail, for example (hardly surprising since it is after all a Google device). And I liked the way Evernote is integrated into the Android environment. But the virtual keyboard was — for me at any rate — almost unusable. And I found that the touchscreen was erratic: there were times when it took umpteen taps to get it to do anything. The battery life was also inadequate compared to the ten hours that the iPad consistently delivers.

The iPad Mini seems, therefore, an improvement. Its most noticeable feature is the weight — it feels much lighter than its big brother. And, objectively speaking, it is: 308g compared to 662g. This matters when using it as an eReader — and I read Kindle books on iPads much more frequently than I read them on the Kindle itself. The big iPad is just too heavy to use as an eReader in bed. For many people (Nick Bilton, for example), it seems that the weight difference is the critical factor.

Some reviewers have complained that the Mini’s screen is significantly inferior to the Retina display of the big iPad. Well, it is certainly inferior in the sense that it’s a pre-Retina technology, but actually for most of my purposes (with one big exception — see below) the display is fine. And strangely, I find the smaller screen keyboard easier to use than the bigger one. Can’t explain why, but my typing on the Mini screen is much more accurate.

My other requirement — for a device that can fit into a pocket — is mostly satisfied by the Mini. At any rate, it slips fairly easily into most of my suit jackets. This is often useful because although it’s only a Wi-Fi model I use my phone as a modem and therefore don’t need to carry the bag that my big iPad necessitates.

In comparing the two iPads and reading the online arguments about which is better I’m struck by the thought that the answer will be different for each individual. It depends on what you use these devices for. In my case, I use the big iPad a lot for writing, and with the Logitech keyboard cover it’s very good for that. And I also use it for intermediate processing of photographs before uploading them to Flickr or sending them out, and for that purpose the Retina display is simply wonderful.

But really the physical properties of the device are only part of the story. For example, one reason why I found the Nexus unsatisfactory (in addition to my problems with the virtual keyboard and the touchscreen) was simply that I couldn’t reproduce on it the software ecosystem that I have built up round my Apple devices. I need that ecosystem for the work that I do, and it works just fine on the Mini. Sad but true: I’m pretty dependent on the services provided in my (luxuriously-padded and skeuomorphic) Apple cell.

So, what it comes down to is the old adage: horses for courses.