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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.

Less impressed is Darren Murph, assessing the mini for Engadget, who was struck by what he saw as a lack of "breakthrough hardware."

"The device itself is precisely what you'd expect it to be: a slightly shrunken iPad, with a rear that resembles the new iPod touch," he says. "The volume rocker, orientation/mute switch and bottom-mounted speakers are graciously borrowed from the conventional iPad, while the rest of the exterior maintains a pretty familiar look." As he notes, there is no touch sensitive bezel, wireless charging or USB 3.0 support, which are found in some rival tablets, but in none of Apple's.

"If you were looking for breakthrough hardware additions, you'll be sorely disappointed," he writes, sounding sorely disappointed.

Murph has concluded that "the smaller iPad is clearly aimed at classrooms and readers -- two sectors where frills aren't exactly necessary." The small iPad "excels" in the tablet's "overall fit and finish" though it's "still not 'small'", and is "too big for your average pocket, and it's not going to save you a heck of a lot of room in your knapsack compared to the 9.7-incher."

The main attraction seems to be the price. "With a $329 starting point, it'll hit the sweet spot for many prospective consumers who weren't about to drop $500 on the 9.7-inch iPad," he says. And that includes, he says, schools and those users who are really more interested in e-readers than handheld computers. "[T]here's a subtle marketing push that's aiming this less at general computing users and more at readers," Murph says.

Sascha Segan, writing at PC Magazine, fulsomely praised the mini's "spectacular, nearly surreal build quality and its amazing array of apps." But he still thought the small tablet makes "two ergonomic missteps, though, which is surprising for Apple."

Onscreen buttons and icons are now smaller compared to the full-sized iPad. He found this a subtle but noticeable difference. "With the regular iPad, you don't have to move all that precisely; this little iPad demands a little more exactitude," Segan says. "It'll take some more time to find out whether this makes a noticeable difference in usability."

Second, the mini is "not a one-handed tablet," he says. "[L]et's remember that Apple is selling the iPhone 5 as better than the competition at one-handed use specifically because of how narrow it is," Segan writes. "Now here comes the iPad mini, which is a better one-handed tablet because ... it's wider than the competition."

That added width "makes a significant ergonomic difference, and it isn't in the iPad mini's favor," he says. He thinks that probably won't matter to Apple's prime target market: school kids, who won't see iPad mini as a one-handed device.


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