That Bitter Pill

Nearly all the iPad mini reviews I’ve read could be wrapped up thusly: Yes, the non-Retina screen is a bummer, but I’m ditching my bigger iPad nonetheless.

Rene Ritchie wrote:

Personally, the lack of Retina on the iPad mini really bothered me a lot at first. Now I barely notice it unless I’m doing something very text- or line-work-centric. When I’m watching video or playing games, I don’t notice it at all. I do notice the compactness, the thinness, and especially the lightness all the time. They are profound enough that Apple’s compromise on Retina turns out to be the same compromise I’m willing to make.

Marco Arment is in the same boat:

If you’ve never used a Retina-screened device, you probably won’t care, but if you’ve been spoiled by Retina, you’ll notice the lack of it in the Mini almost every time you turn it on. I stop noticing after I start doing something with it, of course, but those first few seconds are a rough reminder every time.

Steven Hackett:

I won’t be going back to the larger iPad.

John Gruber:

Going non-retina is a particularly bitter pill for me, but I like the iPad Mini’s size and weight so much that I’m going to swallow it.

It would seem that just about everyone I know who has used the iPad mini for any length of time has decided to switch to it.

I, however, am sticking with my original intent and will not be getting an iPad mini. And it’s not because I don’t trust the above people’s opinions or think them to be loopy.

In fact, the above opinions are all from guys who own an iPad mini and have used one regularly in their own home. For me, however, my only hands-on experience with the iPad mini is what the Apple retail employees have allowed me. My local Apple store is next door to my favorite coffee shop, and I have stopped in a few times since the mini went on sale to check it out.

There is no doubt that the smaller and lighter form factor is superior. The mini is an awesome slab of tablet and it’s size is a welcome change over the heavier iPad 3 or 4. It’s almost uncanny how much easier the iPad mini is to hold and use with one hand compared to the larger iPad. My full-size iPad 3 begs to slide out of my grip if I’m holding it with just one hand.

And it’s the size of the iPad mini that makes it what it is: miniature. Right? Size is what Apple focused on, size is what they prioritized, and thus we have a product that’s just the right size.

I wouldn’t say the iPad mini is the antithesis of the iPad 3, but the two tablets certainly juxtapose well. With the iPad 3 Apple prioritized the Retina screen and thus the chassis was ever so slightly thicker and heavier than the preceding iPad 2. With the iPad mini, Apple has prioritized the form factor and thus there is no Retina screen.

Rene Ritchie again:

[I]t comes down to technology and price. The goal of the iPad mini was thinness and lightness; to give you everything the full-sized iPad has but in a more concentrated form. When the full-sized iPad went Retina, it actually got slightly thicker and heavier. Apple couldn’t have an iPad mini that was that thin, light, and cheap, with 10 hours of battery life, and a Retina display. They had to choose 2 of the 3, and they chose form factor and battery.

And Marco Arment, again:

It’s not hard to imagine, given what we see with the iPad 3 and 4, what an iPad Mini with a Retina screen would be like with today’s technology. Its battery life, portability, or performance would suffer significantly. (Probably all three.)

If all the iDevices in your home are Retina screens, then it certainly is jarring when you first turn on the iPad mini and you’re greeted with visible pixels. But after a few minutes, your eyes do get used to it and you’re left with a lightweight tablet that seems like your iPad of old but is actually quite a bit more comfortable.

Nevertheless, I’m sticking with my iPad 3. In part because I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten used to my Retina devices — and here I mean the “good” kind of not getting used to them. In that the crisp and sharp displays of my iPhone and iPad screens still seem uncanny to me even though I’ve had a Retina iPhone since the summer of 2010.

On my iPad 3 I play very few games and I watch very little video. I mostly read or write. It’s text that I’m staring at most of the time. And it’s in the text that Retina screens shine the brightest.

Yes, the iPad mini is superior for holding and traveling and so many other things, and the smaller screen seems to be not much of a drawback for the vast majority of tasks. It does feel like what the iPad mini was meant to be.

But for me, it’s not yet compelling enough.

If I was compelled to get an iPad mini, here would be my options:

  1. Buy an iPad mini outright and have it as my “around the house” iPad, and keep it on the living room coffee table for anyone to use at their leisure. I wouldn’t travel with the iPad mini because my iPad 3 is already my laptop replacement, thanks, in no small part to its LTE connection.

  2. Sell my iPad 3 and buy an iPad mini with LTE. Thus making the mini my new main iPad and laptop replacement.

  3. Keep my iPad 3 and use it as I have been, and upgrade to an iPad 5 and/or a Retina iPad mini when the time comes.

Option 1 is just silly for me; I have absolutely no need for two iPads. It would be the height of superfluousness.

Option 2 is viable, and is what I would do if I truly wanted an iPad mini, but I’m not compelled to do it. Just earlier this year I invested several hundred dollars in my 32 GB iPad 3 with LTE and I’m still happily enjoying it.

For long-form reading of books, I have a Kindle Paperwhite which I love, and this is a combo that I’m quite content with. I’ll stay with option 3.

That Bitter Pill