iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad: first-impression review

With the release of the iPad mini and its updated big brother, the 4th-generation iPad, I just had to pick them up to see if they live up to the hype. Here's my experience so far.
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

Well, it's that time again: another day, another Apple product release. This time, we've been given an updated iPad (4th-generation iPad, iPad 4, what have you) and a new, miniature iPad, appropriately named the iPad mini. As per usual, I had to go get my hands on them to see what they're about. I've been an avid iPad user since the iPad 2, and by that, I mean I've used my iPad daily for ~70% of the days following my first iPad purchase. So, what's so great about these latest releases? Are they actually worth purchasing for people who already own an iPad? Which one is best, if looking to choose between the two? Is there an answer to the meaning of life?

The story starts with my trip to Best Buy at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night to pick up whatever models they might have in-store. Interestingly, the only models left were 64GB models of each, so that's what I walked out of the store with. For the viewing pleasure of those interested, here's an unboxing video I made for both models:

When the 3rd-generation iPad was released, I chastised Apple for -- amongst other things -- not providing a 128GB model with which to utilize for large files that might truly take advantage of the resolution of the Retina display -- things like high-res movies and TV shows, high-quality game assets, etc. But with only 64GB models left in the store, perhaps that lends some sort of perspective as to why Apple doesn't yet see the need to provide 128GB models -- which, if/when it does happen, will probably be referred to as "marvelous," "spectacular," "wondrous," or some other buzz word that Apple likes to use in their keynotes.

Anyway, after unboxing these devices, I decided to start with the iPad mini -- an exciting prospect, since I like the idea of a smaller iPad. Upon first turning it on, I immediately noticed the degraded quality of the display. I thought moving from the iPad 2 to the iPad 3 was something to marvel at, but going from the iPad 3 to the iPad mini was an even more drastic (see: atrocious) experience. With almost every single device of Apple's now having a Retina display, the regression for the iPad mini immediately makes it feel like a half-hearted, disingenuous, and greedy effort. Needless to say, this entire page reads like one big lie when comparing the iPad mini's screen to a Retina display.

With that said, the size of the iPad mini does feel a bit better and less awkward than its larger counterpart, but the effect is short-lived. Additionally, I enjoy the placement of the speakers directly in the center on the bottom -- a location where I never find my hand, thus not obfuscating the sound like I sometimes do with the iPad. Someone who could fit this in their pocket book might find this to be more portable than a normal-sized iPad, but that's about it.

Image credit: Stephen Chapman

Ultimately, the iPad mini is nothing more than a shrunken-down iPad 2; and despite its brand-new release and immaculate sales page, in my hand, it already feels extremely dated, gimmicky, and poised to give Apple's bottom line far more enjoyment than anything it will give its users. It's almost like Apple said, "hey, we have all these old iPad 2 parts that need to be used, so let's put them in something smaller and come up with Apple-esque marketing jargon to convince people they want one!" BOOM: immaculate garbage!

Don't get me wrong, though; the idea of an iPad mini is a good one with plenty of potential, but it's the execution of it in this current form that makes it completely miss the mark: no Retina display, an old processor, no real increase in portability (unless you carry a pocket book), and possibly a headache for developers to have to consider supporting. If you've never owned an iPad, this may be a viable option; just don't look at a single other Apple device around you.

All of this, of course, is in stark contrast to the 4th-generation iPad, which is just as amazing as the 3rd-generation iPad, but not yet worth upgrading to unless you're the owner of an iPad 1 or 2. The 4th-generation iPad comes equipped with Apple's new A6X processor, which is supposedly "up to" twice as fast as the latest A5X processor (which is what's in the 3rd-generation iPad). Unfortunately, typical usage of the 4th-generation iPad doesn't seem to validate that claim, but benchmarks performed elsewhere have shown definitive potential.

I'll tell you, apps do load noticably faster, and there's definitely a speed improvement with Web browsing (page-loading is snappier), but it's not fast enough to justify an upgrade from a 3rd-gen iPad. At all. That may change, however, as developers look to create apps that specifically require the A6X processor. Honestly, you could read my 3rd-gen iPad review and critiques today and they would be mostly on-par for how I feel about the 4th-gen iPad, since it feels like a mere extension of its predecessor at the moment. With that said, I'm still dumbfounded by the under-the-hood specs of the iPad mini, which means that developers are going to have to keep on considering iPad 2 users instead of phasing them out.

Image gallery: iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad

So, do you choose the iPad mini or the 4th-generation iPad? If you don't care about the fact that you're getting old hardware in a new, gimmicky form factor, then the iPad mini may just be for you. Also, if you've never owned an iPad (or any other Apple device with a Retina display), then you won't know what you're missing should you settle on an iPad mini. As for the 4th-gen iPad, I wholeheartedly recommend it over the iPad mini, as well as an upgrade from the iPad 1 or 2. As I noted, there's just no reason at this point to upgrade from a 3rd-gen iPad. Yes, the latest iPad is the most powerful now, but it's like owning a sports car in a town where the speed limit doesn't allow for you to drive it to its full potential (yet). And I'd wager to say it will remain like that for quite awhile, perhaps even until the 5th-gen iPad.

Whatever the case may be, if you're considering an iPad mini, I highly recommend a side-by-side comparison via some hands-on time at either an Apple store or some other retail store near you that sells them. I can see the iPad mini being a good choice for a certain demographic, but having been completely spoiled by the 3rd-generation iPad (and, by extension now, the 4th-gen), contrary to what Apple says on their site, the iPad mini is simply not worthy of being called an iPad. Nor is it worth the price point, plain and simple.

Not to keep flogging a dead horse, but let me finish with this: I shudder at the thought of Apple making a killing on the next iPad mini. You know, the iPad mini this one SHOULD be. But somehow, they'll conjure up typical Apple marketing flimflam to make it seem as though things like a Retina display are only possible after some sort of magic, despite the fact that the technology already exists in form factors larger (MacBook Pro and iPad) and smaller (iPhone and iPod Touch) than the iPad mini. I love my iPad, I like iOS, and I love the form factor of Apple's hardware; however, there's much about Apple that I loathe as a company, and the iPad mini just feels like a money-grubbing facade that anyone with a modicum of concern should see through and avoid. Garbage in, garbage out? One can only hope...

What do you think about the iPad mini and 4th-generation iPad? Have you managed to play with either or purchase either yet? Weigh in your experiences and thoughts below!

See also: Apple's iPad mini doesn't deserve a grand debut

Editorial standards