I love using my new iPad mini, so much so that I find that I am using it far more than my full-sized third-generation iPad. I never expected to type that sentence when I ordered the iPad mini last month. I almost didn't order it at all — $329 is cheaper than a regular iPad, but certainly not an impulse buy — but I wanted to be able talk intelligently about whether attorneys should consider getting an iPad mini instead of (or for those feeling decadent, in addition to) a full-sized iPad. After almost a month of use, I am incredibly impressed by this device, and for many attorneys, this is the iPad to get.
Yes, it is simply a smaller iPad, with a screen that is about 80% of the size. But to just stop there is about as silly as saying that an iPad is just a big iPhone. In both cases, the difference in size has a drastic impact on how you use the device. The iPad mini is so much lighter than a full-sized iPad that I find myself wanting to pick it up and carry it around with me. I love that it weighs so little when you hold it in your hand, even if you are holding it for a very long time, that your arm and hand doesn't get tired and distract you from the content on the screen. Because of the weight, I find myself reaching for the iPad mini, not the iPad 3, when I want to lean back in my chair and read pleadings in my office. Because of the size, I often found myself reaching for the iPad mini, not the iPad 3, when I was headed to court to attend a status conference or monitor a hearing. The iPad mini fits in the pocket of most of my pants, and also fits in the outside pocket of my suit jacket, so I could slip the iPad mini in one pocket and pick up a stylus to use when taking notes and head off to court without worrying about a briefcase. Sure, for some tasks like looking at my calendar or reviewing emails, an iPhone would have been enough, but when you need to look at pleadings or take notes in court, you need a larger screen, and the iPad mini is vastly better than an iPhone for those tasks. And because of both the size and the weight, I found that when I was at home and headed to a couch, it was the iPad mini that I reached for to surf the Internet.
Of course, there are disadvantages to using an iPad mini versus a full-sized iPad. When I use the GoodNotes app to take handwritten notes with a stylus, the full-sized iPad is better if I have a table because of the larger, nicer screen — and when resting on a table, the weight is not an issue. But if I am sitting in a chair and holding a device while I take notes, the iPad mini is often preferable because it is so much lighter and easier to hold.
Similarly, when I am using a device to review pleadings in GoodReader, it is tough to decide which device to use. Documents are larger and text is easier to read on the iPad, but when I am working with a document with large enough text — such as deposition transcripts, which usually have a wide margin that I can crop off in GoodReader to fill the screen with just the text — a lighter device is usually the better device if I am going to be holding it for a while.
The iPad mini uses the same processor as the iPad 2, so I know that means that it is slower than the fourth generation iPad and the iPhone 5. In every day use, however, I really didn't notice it being much slower. I suspect that much of the processor oomph in Apple's latest devices goes towards powering the Retina display, which the iPad mini lacks so the more advanced processor is less necessary.
Speaking of the Retina display, the lack of that display is the biggest drawback of this first generation of the iPad mini. As Rene Ritchie of iMore noted in this post, there are good reasons that Apple did not include a Retina display in the first iPad mini — in brief, a desire to keep the device thin and light with a long battery life. As battery technology improves and becomes cheaper, I fully expect to see a Retina display in an iPad mini in another year or so. But for now, the lack of a Retina display is an important consideration for anyone trying to decide between an iPad and an iPad mini. This is not something that I notice all the time (and if you don't already have experience using an iPad 3 or an iPad 4, you might not notice it at all), but I definitely notice that text is not as crisp when I am reading emails or other text. Yesterday, I was reading the New York Times using the nice New York Times app on my iPad mini, and it was slightly annoying that the text was not as crisp ... enough that I actually put down the iPad mini and picked up my iPad 3, but then after a few minutes I decided to go back to the iPad mini after all.
I suspect that most people will find a full-sized iPad preferable to an iPad mini when using the device as a laptop replacement. For example, I started typing this review using the Pages app and a Bluetooth keyboard on my iPad mini, but within a few minutes I switched over to my iPad 3. The larger, brighter, Retina-quality screen provides a much better experience, whereas I was squinting somewhat to read on the iPad mini screen. Of course I could have worked around this — for example, I could have increased the font size. And in the past I've been known to connect a Bluetooth keyboard to my iPhone and use that to type a memo or long email, and the iPad mini's screen is certainly much larger than the iPhone. But with the iPad mini, I really felt like I was using a compromised substitute for a laptop. With my iPad 3, I don't feel like I am making compromises. And I didn't just notice this when typing text. For example, when I use the LogMeIn app to connect to my PC, the experience is far better using the iPad 3's larger and more detailed screen.
For photos and videos, the full-sized iPad is also much better. Pictures look amazing, and 1080p video is stunning, on the iPad 3 or 4. The only time I noticed any advantage for the iPad mini for photographs was on Thanksgiving day when I was showing off some picture to relatives. The light iPad mini was easy to pass around, and photos of our recent family trip to Disney World looked good enough on the iPad mini to provide a springboard for sharing stories of our trip. Similarly, on Thanksgiving my family had a FaceTime videochat with my brother who was across the country, and the video quality on the iPad mini was fine for a video chat and the weight made it easy to pass around the iPad mini among family members who wanted to provide long-distance greetings.
For several weeks now, I've been struggling with the answer to one question: if a lawyer wants to get an iPad right now, would I recommend the fourth generation iPad or the iPad mini? Before I started using an iPad mini, I thought that the answer would be that the iPad mini is a fun little device for some, but most attorneys will prefer a full-size iPad to get real work done. Now, I'm not so sure. I estimate that over the last few weeks, I've used my iPad mini about three times as much as I've used my iPad 3. Some of that is just because it is the new gadget, but more often it is because the iPad mini is better suited for the work I'm trying to do. For a more casual iPad user, such as an attorney who will mostly use it as a consumption device to read websites, briefs, and someone who doesn't expect to watch many HD movies, the iPad mini is an excellent device. You can hold it for a very long time without your hand getting tired, it is super-easy to carry around in a large pocket or a purse of almost any size, and the size is, frankly, fun. On the other hand, if you plan to use the device as a replacement for a laptop to do more sophisticated work, such as word processing, or if you are already used to the Retina display on an iPhone 4 / 4S / 5, and you want text, pictures and videos to look their best, then I think you are likely to be happier with a fourth generation iPad.
The problem is that I think that most attorneys will fall between these two extremes. Sure, you want something light and easy to carry, but you also like the idea of traveling with just an iPad and an external keyboard to get work done on the road. So for most, the decision will be tough. If you can only have one car, do you want a full-sized luxury car, SUV or mini-van that is comfortable and carries lots of people and tons of groceries, or do you want a two-seater convertible that is fun to drive and fits in even the smallest of parking spots?
Ultimately, after weighing the pros and cons, I cannot imagine not having a full-sized iPad, so if I were forced to buy only one today, I'd buy Apple's fourth generation iPad. But I am someone who really pushes my iPad to the limits, and I realize that I am not the typical attorney buying an iPad. For many attorneys, the iPad mini will handle just about everything that they want to do, and the reduced size and weight will more than compensate for the smaller screen and lack of a Retina display.
The iPad mini is a great device that any attorney would enjoy using. There are still some tasks that are better suited for a full-sized iPad, but for a large number of the things that you will want to do with an iPad, the iPad mini is fantastic. Good luck to those trying to choose, and I hope that this review helps to nudge you one direction or the other, depending upon how you see yourself using your iPad. On the other hand, for a few of you who just want to have it all, you'll get both and enjoy getting to decide between the sedan and the convertible every time you hit the road.
Click here to get iPad mini from Apple (starting at $329).