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iPad mini wins praise in initial "hands-on" reviews

John Cox | Oct. 25, 2012
The first slew of brief "hands on" experiences with the iPad mini - by reporters and bloggers at Apple's unveiling Tuesday - give high marks to the smaller tablet for build quality, lightness, display and performance.

"You can grip it comfortably in one hand, fingers wrapping around the edges just as we've praised Amazon's Kindles and other small e-reader tablets for in the past," he says. "That, together with the relatively light weight compared to the full-sized iPad, means holding the iPad mini one-handed for extended periods should be comfortable."

As with the display, so with the CPU. The mini uses Apple's existing A5 system-on-chip, which powers iPhone 4S and iPad 2, though it may be using a smaller fabrication process, 32 instead of 45 nanometers. The A5 is based on a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU, with a dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics processor. And it seems well chosen for the first iPad min model, even for demanding game titles.

"Applications I tried out seemed to run as snappily as anything on the 3rd generation iPad," Topolsky says. "Titles like 'Real Racing 2' seemed to take a little bit more time to boot up, but gameplay was fine and stutter-free."

The "A5 processor powered apps, games and websites along very smoothly," says T3's Peters.

Others did see a performance difference, at least compared to the new A6X Apple chip in the unexpected upgrade to the full-size iPad, also announced yesterday. This fourth-generation full-size iPad offers double the CPU and graphics performance of the A5X chip in the third-generation iPad, which was released earlier this year. The upgraded iPad also has the smaller Lightning dock connector.

The A6 was introduced in the iPhone 5 in September and represents Apple's first system-on-chip that offers its own custom-designed ARM cores. For more details, see "iPhone 5 shows an Apple first: custom CPU core design."

"In terms of performance, there's a pretty noticeable difference between the A5 in the iPad mini and the A6X in the 4th gen iPad as you'd expect," says Anand Lal Shimpi, in a brief hands-on assessment posted at his AnandTech blog. "I do wish that Apple had brought the A6 to the mini, however something has to give in pursuit of the lower price point."

One of the most notable features of the iPad mini is its lightness (10.9 ounces), he says. "The build quality and finish both feel good as you'd expect, but the device is just considerably lighter than the iPad which results in superior in-hand feel," according to Lal Shimpi.

The larger screen and lighter feel create a tablet that's "even more portable than the standard iPad," he says, in a conclusion echoed by T3's Peters. "The smaller size, thinner shape and lighter weight makes for a much better mobile experience," Peters writes. "It's easy to hold and manipulate in the hand but feels durable and well-built enough to accompany you throughout the day."


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