So, if you have already read Fulltimecasual's review already and want to short version of how this is different, it's what he said plus LTE. I.e. The already reviewed iPad Mini with 100Mbps cellular in theory. Realistically you should average at about 20Mbps or 50Mbps on a really good day as long as you have LTE signal. If that was your goal, you're done for now.
From the unboxing perspective, it's like every other Apple product out there with the exception of the black iPhone 5 which has a black box instead of a white one. Open the somewhat smaller iPad box and you get an iPad Mini wrapped in plastic along with the power supply and lightning cable. No earphones as is the usual case with iPads no matter how frustrating that is. (and yes, I do think its a little cheap from Apple given the headphones probably cost them about $5 on a total price of about $500)
From there, the process is simple. Backup your existing iPad (if you have one), restore from backup or setup from new and you're off.
I'll start with the screen because this is where most people have been uphappy to date. I can understand that the screen difference is noticeable, but I'm pretty surprised at all the unhappiness. Granted it's not a retina but it's not horrible either. I've heard some arguing it's a step back but isn't everything cheaper a compromise? Is the conventional cheaper Macbook Pro is a step back compared to its retina counterpart? Yes, it would have been great to have retina but this is a lower end device designed to compete at the lowest areas of the market which requires it to be cheap. I have no doubt it will come at some point in future but we all knew this device was going to be a lower price point. It's $175 cheaper on the upper end models so perhaps people should try remember when you're paying less for something, it's probably going to be lower spec. Maybe I was preparing myself for the worst after all the people proclaiming the end of the world as we know it, but I stared at the non-retina screen and I didn't turn to stone.
Size and Form
Obviously where the iPad mini comes into its element is the size and its on this front that it is actually pretty amazing. I'm starting to see the benefits of having a small devices and this is one that actually works in the compact size. To truly understand how light this device is you actually have to pick up an iPad next to it. It feels like picking up a Macbook Air after a 15" Macbook Pro. At half the weight, its enough to allow for comfortable use on the couch and surprisingly enough, the typing is better than I anticipated. My initial expectations were that the device would be great for lying on a couch but nightmarish for siting on a couch but it may surprise you to know that the vast majority of this review was typed on a couch using my iPad Mini using the on screen keyboard. I made a point of doing this to evaluate the effectiveness of it. The other benefit with the iPad mini is that is small enough to use two handed for typing like a phone in both portrait and landscape mode if you're standing in a tram which would never be possible on the normal iPad.
The only thing I could find with the form was the side profile reminded me a little of the older Apple iPhone's. I.e. iPhone 3. It just didn't seem to have the sharper edges we've become accustomed to on the new Apple models.
Pick up the iPad Mini and compare it to some of the competitors and it's easy to feel the difference in quality. It's solid without a plastic feel to it that you get with some of the lower end models.. There are some that are going to complain about the coating on the iPad Mini just like the iPhone. It's a somewhat disappointing finish for the iPad given Apple's attention to detail and hopefully it's something they address soon. I personally tend to carry my iPad in a case as it's always likely to scratch when you put it in a laptop bag but you'd expect some durability with these roducts.
LTE performance is astounding as one would expect. Obviously this is largely dependent on the signal and location and I guess if I had any complaint, it would be the availability of LTE, even on Telstra. The reality is when you get used to LTE it's great and when you don't have it, your system just seems incredibly slow. I found Melbourn CBD ranged around the 10-30Mbps mark most of the time, the odd day it was horrible, the odd day faster.
If you compare the LTE and non-LTE models, you'll find that Apple estimate about an hour less battery time. The Apple site gives the following info: "Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music. Up to nine hours of surfing the web using a cellular data network". Whilst the tests Apple use aren't always close to reasonable use, my experiences are pretty close to those and 9 hours of actual use is probably more than most people need. In short, even with a day of heavy use I end the day with more than 50% of my battery life remaining. Most of my work currently is onsite where I don't have wifi access so the LTE is getting a work out during this time.
System performance is on a par with the iPad 3 so assuming that's where you are coming from, you won't be disappointed. If you're coming from the iPad 2 or 1, this will be a substantial jump in performance. Although technically lower spec than the iPad 3, the lack of Retina does improve the performance somewhat.
Accessories are already flooding the market. Some suppliers have limited stocks so if you don't find what you want, hunt around a little. I haven't quite decided on my final cover yet but I picked up an XtremeMac cover to tide me over in the interim.
Retina or no retina, this little baby was always going to be a success. The big thing with this price point is that it puts it into the realms of acceptable Birthday and Christmas presents for parents where in the past it may have been beyond that for a lot of parents. $369 is actually pretty reasonable and whilst there may be cheaper models out there, they don't have the Apple brand or quality of construction. Add LTE and it's a recipe for success. Apple just has to hope they can keep the stock going for Christmas.
About the author
Athol Hill is the Practice Lead for Stonebridge Systems, an SAP & OpenText implementation partner specialising in web and content management implementations and strategy.
He is a certified SAP and Project Management Professional with a large number of implementations spanning the globe including Australasia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. When he isn't kitesurfing or spending time with his family, Athol writes part time for Mactalk on a range of subjects including iOS/OSX in the workplace, bleeding edge, product reviews and anything Mac. If you have something new and exciting to review, feel free to get in touch. He can be contacted via twitter on @themissionman or email on firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions noted here are Athol's own and aren't any official policy of position of his employer.