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Apple iPad miniFor all the hoopla about the iPad mini in the weeks before its launch, I have seen precious little hands-on since the little beast actually arrived on the market. I finally got my hands on a mini this weekend … and here are my thoughts:

1. Form Factor

I have mixed feelings about the form factor. It’s only 40 grams heavier than my Google Nexus tablet, but it feels a lot lighter. However, it is much wider.

The Nexus is a little chunkier and taller; the mini is slimmer but longer across. I do like how light it feels in my hands—and holding it in landscape mode to read a two-page spread in iBooks was very nice. But its size is a bit of a turn-off for me. I can see my Beloved cringing at the glow that thing would put off if I brought it into bed.

2. Usability

Well … it’s a miniature iPad; it functions just like a regular one. Nobody I saw at the large Apple Store display when I visited had any trouble operating it, nor did I. Several spots at the table were taken up by kids just goofing off and playing Temple Run.

I’ll admit, I made a beeline for that game because, after a summer of wrist issues brought on by playing Temple Run on the full-size iPad, I wanted to see if the mini would be better for me. And for that purpose, it was. But of course, my iPod Touch is smaller still, so …

I tried the iBooks app too. And it confirms for me that for long-form reading, I still prefer E Ink. I do a lot of reading on my tablets, because I often have them with me when I’m out and about. But for curling up on the couch to read a novel for an hour or two, it just isn’t as comfortable. It’s for this very use that I can see those who became accustomed to the Retina screens really noticing the difference. The letters just aren’t as dark and clear. The refinement (in terms of look and feel) just isn’t as precise. If you care a lot about this, you’ll notice.

3. Usage Scenarios

Many customers in the fairly packed Apple Store I visited seemed confused as to what the intended market for the Mini was supposed to be. It’s fine to say that the entry-level model is cheaper than the full-sized, regular iPad, but once you get into 3G models and the higher-capacity minis, they can actually be more expensive than the full-sized version.

I saw several people look at the price chart and then say, “Well, for that price, I can get the full one and it’s better, right?” I also saw two Asian guys holding it up to their ears as if they were testing its form factor as a phone.

I could see this being a hit with the educational market for several reasons: The entry-level version is cheaper than a full-sized iPad, so you could get more of them, and because of their slightly smaller size, you’d need less space to store them. I also think that if you love Apple stuff and are already wedded to the App Store because you have an iPhone, this could be a good general-purpose media consumption tablet if you don’t have one already. All your apps will run without further modification, and the screen is plenty big enough for casual use.

My issue is that I use my iPad as a laptop replacement (with a keyboard) at work, and I also use it to display video and presentations. I feel like for those reasons, I need the full-size model for now. But things change so fast in the tech world.

By the time I’m ready for my next upgrade, I could be working somewhere different, and perhaps might not be using my mobile device in the same exact way. Or phones might have evolved to the point where they have overhead projector-type functionality built in. Or tablets might have evolved into something else by then. Who knows?

If it was just me and I was using my iPad as I do now, but minus the work functions, I think I’d be quite happy with the mini instead of the full-size version.

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The bottom line for me? I’m conflicted. The mini is cute and shiny and fun, but it’s about $100 too expensive for me to qualify it as an impulse buy. What’s more, I just don’t see a usage scenario for it right now.

I need my full-size iPad for work, and it has better specs anyway, so I’m not going to pay that much money for a downgrade. Yes, my full-size iPad is a little heavy to hold for long periods. But the keyboard mitigates that issue for when I’m working, and when I’m home, I have my E Ink reader and my phone if I want something light and tiny. So … where will this fit in?

I guess the real issue is that my ideal personal tablet is probably the mini, but slimmed down to Kindle Touch size and at the price point of the Google Nexus. And we don’t have that now. But in a year or two, we might.

So, I’ll be spending my holiday tech dollars on an iPhone and a new E Ink reader with the glow function. And I’ll be passing on the iPad mini for now.

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