On the iPad mini’s lack of retina

I’m not saying anything new here. I’m just doing a brain-dump so I can tell people to “go read my tumblr” rather than answer the same question ad infinitum. I’m lazy (efficient?) like that.

I’ve already made a couple of posts about the iPad mini, but more detail about its “low-resolution screen” has been requested.

The iPad mini has the same pixel count as the iPad 2 – i.e. 1024×768 – so given its size, the mini’s DPI is higher than the iPad 2. That said, it’s definitely not retina. You can easily make out individual pixels (if you try hard and/or care about such things).

I don’t have a problem with this. Apple’s anti-aliasing is excellent, so even text-intensive tasks like reading are comfortable on the iPad mini. That said, if you’ve been spoiled by a retina iPad, your mileage may vary.

But was I disappointed that the iPad mini was announced without a retina display? Yes and no. Obviously a “high-resolution screen” would be great, but at what cost? The device would be more expensive, it would need a more powerful graphics processor, it would draw more power, and to get the same battery life, it would be significantly thicker.

In my opinion, Apple have struck the right balance between price, size and battery life with the iPad mini. Hopefully with ever-improving processors and battery technology, a future mini will be retina. Meanwhile, I love my tiny low-res iPad :)

iPad mini + education = indecision

iPad mini + education = indecision

I should probably add an AUX port to my car stereo. Then I’d be able to listen to more podcasts than I do. (Which is almost none.)

But I was keen to hear Fraser Speirs’ extended thoughts on the iPad mini in K-12 education, so I sat down and listened to this one. It was very helpful, confirming many of my own thoughts on iPads in schools, and adding a few new ones into the mix.

Mostly, it became clearer that it’s genuinely difficult to choose the right device now that Apple are making excellent 8” and 10” tablets. But at least I know which way I’m leaning for each use case at my school.

A few thoughts on the iPad mini

The price

In Australia, iPad minis retail $60 cheaper than equivalent iPad 2’s, and $170 cheaper than equivalent iPad 4’s. Given iPad 2’s are more biggerer, and 4’s add retina and significantly more grunt, it’s fair to say that all are priced in Apple’s typical “premium but sane” way.

I was initially disappointed that iPad minis didn’t start at a more accessible price point (I want to put an iPad in the hands of every student at my school without bankrupting anybody), but having used one, I’m glad Apple aren’t selling a cheap device here. It’s solid, beautiful and.. well.. designed. Y’know?

The size

It’s slightly bigger than Google’s Nexus 7, thanks mostly to its 4:3 aspect ratio (which I find much more practical than 16:10, incidentally), but the iPad mini is SO much smaller, lighter and more portable than the already-small-light-and-portable iPad. It’s actually kinda.. cute. Good thing I got the manly red cover.

Users with fat fingers and/or bad eyes won’t love the small screen as much as I do, but as always, it’s what you do with it that counts. This much portability comes at a price, and even with my youngish eyes, skinny fingers and love of all things diminutive, I think it’s safe to say that “comfortable productivity” is the main one.

That’s not to say you can’t use an iPad mini productively. (Let’s not forget that some of us write entire blog posts on our iPhones.) But it’s not as.. comfortable as working on a full-size iPad. For example, you can’t touch-type with all 10 fingers on an iPad mini. You can on an iPad. For some users (especially those looking at iPads as laptop replacements), this sort of thing is a Big Deal, and using a bluetooth keyboard might not be an effective solution.

Smaller isn’t necessarily better – but it might be. Choose carefully.

The specs

I love my iPad 3’s display, so I expected the mini’s non-retina pixellation to grate. It hasn’t so far, but the same isn’t true for other reviewers, so your mileage may vary.

The mini’s processor is also a step down from the iPad 3 (which, in turn, is slower than the iPad 4), but I wouldn’t say it delivers a sluggish experience at all. I’m sure it helps that it’s not driving as many pixels.

[Aside: given how much more powerful the Nexus 7’s squillion-core processor allegedly is, and how Google “declared war” on UI lag in Android Jelly Bean, it’s amusing that iOS is as buttery as ever on the iPad mini. Jelly Bean still isn’t quite there..]

The conclusion

For me, the iPad mini is perfect. My MacBook Air (very portable in its own right) is usually available for extended writing sessions and technical work that can’t be done on an iPad, so I don’t need “comfortable productivity” in this device. It’s big enough to help me get through emails etc. quickly, and is ridiculously portable for campus use.

For others, the iPad mini will be too small to use for Real Work.

Again: choose carefully.