Very thin and light aluminum design; Extensive app selection; Great battery life over 4G LTE; Fast 4G performance ; High-quality cameras
Screen not HD; 50 MB iTunes limit over 4G; Limited parental controls
The 4G iPad for AT&T offers fast LTE speeds and a long battery life, making it a compelling tablet and hotspot in one device.
If there's one tablet that's tailor made for built-in 4G, it's the iPad mini. This tablet is lighter and thinner than most 7-inch budget slates, yet packs a larger 7.9-inch screen for enjoying all of your apps, not to mention a full web experience, on the go. If you're willing to sign a two-year contract, the iPad mini starts as low as $359 on AT&T, which is just $30 more than the Wi-Fi only version. But that doesn't include the cost of monthly data. Those looking for month-to-month flexibility will pay $459 for the tablet. Read on to find out just how much tablet you get for your money.
Editor's Note: Portions of this review are taken from our iPad mini Wi-Fi review.
The Wi-Fi + Cellular iPad mini measures the same 0.28 inches thin as the Wi-Fi-only model. By comparison, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD (0.4 inches), Google Nexus 7 (0.4 inches) and Barnes & Noble Nook HD (0.43 inches) are all chunkier. The 11.1-ounce 4G mini is only slightly heavier than the Wi-Fi model's 10.8 ounces, yet it's still lighter than the Kindle Fire HD (13.9 ounces) and Nexus 7 (12 ounces). The Nook HD weighs the same 11.1 ounces.
As it should for the price, the mini looks and feels more like a premium product than the rest of the 7-inch tablet field. Its unibody, aluminum design and diamond-cut edges signal that you're holding a device that's been crafted with precision and care. The back is smooth without feeling slippery -- it's almost like a soft-touch aluminum, if that's even possible. This treatment also resisted fingerprints. Even with our smaller hands, we had no problem holding the mini for extended periods of time.
We tested the version of the iPad mini with LTE in slate back, but it's also available in white-and-silver. To us, the former color scheme has a more professional vibe. Our only quibble is that tapping on the display with a fingernail resulted in a somewhat hollow sound, but the glass certainly felt rigid enough during everyday use.
Apple touts that the mini's screen is 35 percent larger than the Nexus 7's, resulting in 49-percent larger content. That's true, but both the Nexus 7 and Kindle HD have higher-res, 1280 x 800-pixel displays. Those slates have 30-percent more pixels, and you can watch high-def content. With the mini, you're stuck with standard-def fare. The Nook HD has an even sharper 1440 x 900-pixel screen. On websites such as NYTimes.com, the Nexus 7 had a dimmer image, but sharper text.
In a side-by-side comparison with the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD, we viewed a 1600 x 1200-pixel picture of a yellow flower. The Kindle Fire delivered the most vibrant image, even if the colors were oversaturated. We could make out more detail in the petal on the Nook Tablet HD because of its higher resolution. The flower on the Nexus 7 looked slightly washed-out compared with the iPad mini, which had better contrast, but somewhat fuzzier edges on the petals.
We enjoyed watching "The Avengers" on the iPad mini. We could easily make out intricate cracks in Iron Man's suit after his free fall from space. Skin tones also looked natural in the characters' faces.
To test the mini's music performance, we fired up MGMT's "Electric Eel" on Spotify. Although the audio sounded a bit harsh on max volume, the track easily filled a small office with sound. You just have to be careful not to muffle the speakers with your hand when holding the device, as the speakers are on the right side in landscape mode.
Interface and iOS 6
[More: Apple iOS 6: Full Review]
Unlike the iPhone, the iPad mini shows you more information in certain apps via a dual-pane interface in landscape mode. For example, in the Notes app, you can see all of your notes on the left side of the screen, and the contents of the note you have open on the right. Similarly, the Email app shows your incoming messages on the left and their contents on the right.
What's missing? We were a bit surprised not to find that Passbook, an app that aggregates coupons, loyalty cards, boarding passes and tickets. Granted, if you own an iPhone, this omission won't make a big difference, but we still think people will miss it.
More importantly, Apple has fallen behind the competition when it comes to parental controls. The Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble HD tablets have modes dedicated for children in which you can create profiles. Amazon even lets you restrict screen time. The iPad mini only offers parents the option of enabling restrictions for apps and content based on ratings.
Although we had to stretch our thumbs slightly, typing on the iPad mini's keyboard in portrait mode was fast and accurate. We typed email replies and URLs with ease. You can also switch to a split keyboard with a swipe. Some may lament the lack of tactile feedback, which you'll find on some Android tablets, but we didn't miss it.
If you tap the microphone icon, you can dictate instead of type on the mini. The device successfully recognized our phrase, "This is the iPad mini, and I'm typing as fast as I can." Unlike Google Voice Search, however, you need to be online to voice-type on the iPad. And because the Nexus 7's program works offline, you dictate faster on that machine.
Apps and Content
On Spotify, for example, you can use the left edge of the screen to quickly toggle among What's New, Radio, Playlists and other options, while the center of the display shows your stations and recommended stations. The bottom of the app has playback controls, but you can maximize this view to see full-size album art and the thumbs-up and thumbs-down icons.
Flipboard presents the latest news stories in a beautiful magazine-like format, displaying a great many cover stories and headlines on one screen without sacrificing legibility. Facebook shows all of your updates down the middle of the screen and displays those of your contacts who are online on the right, for easy messaging. There are tons of other apps like this tailor-made for the iPad.
The iPad also taps into Apple's large array of premium content, from music and movies to TV shows and magazines. If you've previously purchased something through iTunes, it's easy to download it to this device via the cloud.
On Geekbench 2, which gauges processor and memory performance, the iPad mini scored 761. That's less than half the 1,679 score turned in by the fourth-generation iPad, which has a new A6X chip. The Nexus 7 also beat the iPad mini by a wide margin, scoring 1,405.
On the multithreaded version of the Linpack, the iPad mini narrowly beat the Nexus 7 (133 versus 127). We also ran Passmark, which measures CPU, graphics, disk and memory performance. The iPad mini scored 2,000, about on par with the Nexus 7's score of 2,004.
In everyday use, the iPad mini opened apps quickly and never kept us waiting as we swiped between home screens or opened Notification Center. The mini could rotate its screen faster than the Nexus 7 when we changed orientations, and also moved faster when zooming in and out on Web pages. We also enjoyed smooth frame rates in both "Infinity Blade II" and "Rayman Run." The mini instantly responded to tweaks we made to pictures in the iPhoto app, from applying the Early Chrome effect to upping the saturation.
LTE and Web Browsing
The iPad mini with LTE was able to load the desktop version of NYTimes.com in only 5.6 seconds, ESPN.com in 4.5 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 5.5 seconds.
Back in New York and New Jersey, the iPad mini's speeds weren't quite as impressive, but still well within AT&T's advertised range. Downloads averaged 10.5 Mbps, and uploads were an even faster 11.9 Mbps.
Downloads speeds over LTE can often be faster than with Wi-Fi. However, iTunes downloads over LTE are restricted to 50MB or less. This means that you'll have to wait until you get home or find another hot spot before you download that TV show, movie or large game. You could get around this restriction by pairing a Wi-Fi-only iPad mini with a mobile hotspot like the MiFi Liberate, but you would need to make sure that you didn't go over the data cap for that device's data plan.
The mini syncs all of your bookmarks and tabs via the cloud with your Mac and other iOS devices, and you can easily add new tabs underneath the address bar. You can also quickly share sites via email, Facebook or Twitter.
Camera and Camcorder
Unlike its lower-cost, 7-inch competitors, the iPad mini sports a 5-MP camera on the back. Plus, the mini captures 1080p video. The front of this tablet features an HD camera for FaceTime calls.
We do wish the camera on the iPad mini supported the same Panorama mode as the iPhone 5 and latest iPod touch. You don't get an HDR mode, either.
The 1080p footage we captured of New York City traffic looked crisp and evenly lit, remaining so as we panned to the skyline and back down to passing taxis. The blue Chase signs across the street looked particularly vibrant, and we could easily make out the Sabrett logo on hot dog carts across Fifth Avenue. Because the mini's A5 chip has built-in image stabilization, our footage didn't look shaky at all.
Smart Cover and Accessories
Apple also sells a number of Lightning adapters, including a USB Camera adapter and an SD Card Camera Reader (both $29), as well as a VGA and Digital AV Adapter (both $49). Several third-party accessories, mostly cases, are already on the market, but we expect many more options to arrive soon.
Configurations and Data Plans
The iPad mini Wi-Fi + Celluar is available from three U.S. carriers: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. If you're looking for LTE speeds, it will be important to check the coverage where you work and travel. Unless you opt for a contract on AT&T, you can purchase data plans month by month.
AT&T offers a $100 discount on the iPad mini when purchased with a two-year contract, bringing the price from $459 down to $359. The iPad mini is eligible for the Mobile Share plan, which offers a set amount of data to be shared among multiple devices. You need an AT&T smartphone for this plan. Customers pay a base fee for a set amount of data, and then additional charges for each device used to access that data. The base charge for 1GB of data is $40 per month, with a $10 monthly fee for the iPad mini.
Those who plan to use more data per month can opt for a more robust Mobile Share plan that includes anywhere from 4GB ($70 per month, plus $10 for the tablet) to a whopping 20GB ($200 monthly, plus $10 for the tablet).
Verizon doesn't offer two-year contracts or subsidized pricing for the iPad mini, instead sticking to a traditional monthly data plan. With the Verizon Share Everything plan, 4GB costs $30 per month, 6GB costs $40, 8GB is $50 and 10GB is $60.
Sprint also offers a month-to-month model. A plan with 300MB costs $14.99 per month, 1GB costs $15, 3GB is $34.99, 6GB costs $49.99 and 12GB runs $79.99. Sprint, however, has the least-developed LTE network, so many people will experience speeds slower than those possible with the AT&T and Verizon models.
For the constant traveler, the iPad mini with LTE is a smart investment. We could check our email or hop online wherever we were, and the LTE hotspot feature meant that all of our devices had the same luxury. We were impressed not only by the mini's fast 4G speeds on AT&T network, but also it's 8-plus hours of battery life. While some will prefer to use their smartphone's hotspot feature or a dedicated hotspot device to get the iPad mini online, it's hard to beat the convenience of having 4G built into a device that's designed to go everywhere.
|Storage Drive Size||64GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|OS||Apple iOS 6|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||1.2MP|
|Card Reader Size|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||7.87 x 5.3 x 0.28 inches|