It was the third-generation iPad, the first one Apple made with its super-sharp Retina display. But a little over a year after I bought it, I realized I wasn't using it at all. It just sat on my nightstand with a dead battery.
I can't give you one big reason why I had stopped using my iPad. It was a mix of things. The iPad isn't a great device to write on (yes, even with one of those nice Logitech keyboard cover things), and I do a lot of writing both for my job and in my personal time. My old iPad was also too heavy and bulky for extended use when reading or watching video, two of the most common tasks on a tablet.
This year, Apple released the perfect iPad, or at least the perfect one for me. It's the iPad Mini with Retina display. I've had it for a week and I'm already using it more than my iPhone. In seven short days, the iPad Mini has become my device of choice for everything but my job.
At a glance, the this year's iPad Mini looks nearly identical to the one Apple launched last year. It comes in two new colors — space gray and white — and is slightly heavier and thicker. That extra bulk is because Apple had to cram in a bigger battery to fuel the power-hungry Retina display while still maintaining the same 10-hour battery life we're used to enjoying on the iPad.
The weight gain is negligible though. The new Mini weighs 0.73 pounds versus the 0.68 pounds last year's model weighs. That's a trade off I'm willing to make to get a Retina display. On the inside, the iPad Mini has Apple's newest mobile processor called the A7, which is also found in the iPhone 5S and iPad Air. On paper, the iPad Mini is pretty much the same machine performance-wise as its big brother the iPad Air. And you're getting all that performance for $100 off and in a much more manageable size.
But as anyone who even pays moderate attention to the tech world knows, things change quickly. The new iPad Mini's upgrades are so significant that I now think it's the best tablet out there.
The iPad's biggest advantage over the competition is its app selection. As good as its two biggest rivals, the Kindle Fire HDX and Nexus 7, may be, those devices simply don't have as many good tablet-optimized apps as the iPad does. The Google Play Store for Android apps is full of great software, but most of it is designed for smaller screen smartphones. Developers are much more active on the iPad, which means you can get versions of your favorite apps that take full advantage of 8-inch+ screens.
The Mini's form-factor strikes the perfect balance of portability and extra screen real estate. It's big enough for casual reading on the couch or in bed, but small enough for me to throw in my bag and catch up on articles in my Instapaper queue on my subway ride to work. I'm glad I no longer have to squint at my tiny iPhone 5 screen on the train anymore.
If you want an iPad Mini, it starts at $399 for the 16 GB, WiFi model. For me, 16 GB is enough since I don't store a lot of video and music on the device. But I imagine most people will want at least the 32 GB model, which costs $499. That's significantly more expensive than the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HDX, which both start at $229.
If you want an affordable smaller tablet, the iPad Mini is the wrong choice. But if you want the best smaller tablet, the iPad Mini is your only choice.
My only other complaint with the iPad Mini is iOS 7, the newly redesigned operating system for iPhones and iPads. iOS 7 doesn't do a good job at taking advantage of the extra screen space on tablets, so there are a lot of open gaps throughout the system of menus and features like the drop-down notifications center. I'd like to see Apple do more with iOS 7 on the iPad, perhaps add side-by-side app multitasking like Samsung and Microsoft do with their tablets.
The iPad Mini promises a lot. It has the same processing power and excellent battery life as the larger iPad Air, but manages to pull all that off in a smaller, more portable, and more attractive package. If the price doesn't scare you off, I think it's the best tablet you can buy right now.