Apple’s fifth generation iPad Mini packs the power of the iPad Air in a smaller case. That compact size is the secret of the Mini’s appeal.
You may wonder if there’s a market for a 7.9-inch iPad when you can buy a 6.5-inch iPhone. After all, the iPhone XS Max is almost a tablet.
Apple say iPad Mini sales have been steady since the format was first introduced. It’s not for everyone, yet some people who like the Mini are fanatic about their favourite tablet.
One reason is the cost. At NZ$680, the base model iPad Mini costs less than one-third the price of the cheapest iPhone XS Max. It’s not the cheapest iPad, but it’s good value.
Price is not the only explanation for the Mini’s popularity. The size hits an important sweet spot.
At 7.9-inches, Apple’s 2019 iPad Mini comes in about halfway between the iPhone XS Max and the 10.5-inch iPad Air.
While having a bigger screen than a phone is an advantage, the iPad Mini is still small and light. It weighs 300 grams. It’s handy and very portable.
At a pinch you can fit it in a pocket. OK, a big pocket. Cargo pants could come back into fashion to accommodate iPad Minis. It also slips into a handbag or any other bag. You can hide it in a car glove compartment.
We measure screen sizes across the diagonal. Thanks to Pythagoras’ theorem a 7.9-inch display has 50 percent more viewing area than a 6.4-inch screen. In other words, it’s a big leap.
Among other reasons, the iPad Mini is the right size for people who work on the move. Think of police officers or health professionals. It helps that most people can grip it in one hand.
I also find typing on the larger iPad Mini glass keyboard is easier than tapping on a phone screen. That’s because I’m a big bloke with big fingers.
Apple’s bigger 12.9-inch iPad Pro keyboard works well when laid flat. The Mini keyboard is at its best when vertical. If you hold it up with your hands and hit the keys with your thumbs.
The action is like phone typing, but there’s more room.
This is an effective way of typing when you’re on a crowded bus, train or airplane. I haven’t had the chance to test it on a plane yet. I’m sure if I did I could be productive even in a cramped seat.
The extra screen real estate makes it better than a phone for reading complex information and maps or for inspecting photos. It’s roughly the same size as an e-book reader like the Kindle.
iPad Mini beats phone for web
There’s no question the iPad Mini does a better job of displaying every kind of web or app content better than a phone.
Although you can, at a pinch, run side-by-side apps on the iPad Mini, that’s not its strength. In practice I found I only ever used one app at a time.
In all other respects except the screen, the new iPad Mini uses the same technology as the current iPad Air model. It even has the same A12 chip as the iPhone XR. That means there’s a lot of computing power.
There’s a laminated screen, support for Apple Pencil and True Tone. The last of these means the iPad will adjust screen whites to compensate for lighting conditions. Apple says you get 10 hours battery life. We found that’s about right when we tested the Mini.
A couple of quirks: there’s a headphone jack and a lightning port for charging. New Apple devices don’t all have the jack and prefer USB-C over Lightning.
At times the Mini feels more like a big phone than a small iPad1.
The new iPad Mini costs NZ$680 for the basic wi-fi model with 64GB of storage. Boosting the storage to 256GB takes the price to NZ$929. Adding cellular puts another NZ$120 on the price. You might also consider the Apple Pencil at NZ$160.
iPad Mini verdict
My few niggles with the 2019 iPad Mini are minor. The design is the same as seven years ago. There’s less screen and more bezel, the case edges around the screen, than on more modern looking iPads. It also supports the old first generation Apple Pencil, not the new version.
Should you buy the iPad Mini? It’s not the right thing to buy if you’re looking for a laptop replacement. If that’s your goal, get an iPad Air or a iPad Pro model.
If you want a tablet for reading and writing while you’re on the go, it’s ideal. The iPad Mini is a good choice for taking notes and consuming media. It’s also a great upgrade for owners of long-in-the-tooth first generation iPad Minis. I suspect this will follow its ancestor to become another classic.
Earlier this week Apple announced new iPads and refreshed iMac models. Both product lines needed an update and, for the most part, Apple delivered. Yet there are some odd choices.
2019 iPad update
While there are two iPads in the announcement, they are, in effect, two different sized versions of the same hardware.
The 2019 iPad Mini is functionally the same as the 2019 iPad Air. In place of the Air’s 10.5 inch screen, the Mini has a 7.9 inch screen. Prices for Air models start at NZ$850. You can buy a Mini for NZ$680. Otherwise they are much the same.
That’s not the only confusing Apple product name to emerge from this week’s announcements. Both the new iPads work with the Apple Pencil, not the new flat-sided Pencil that works with iPad Pro models, but the older round pencil. You’ll need to be careful if you order one to go with your new iPad.
Adding a Mini model that can work with a Pencil is a smart move. There’s a clear need for this with some customers.
The new Air model’s screen is larger than the older Air. A move from 9.7 inches to 10.5 inches might not sound like much, but because we measure screens across the diagonal, any increase is a squared. In plain English, the new screen is a lot bigger than you might otherwise expect.
While I’ve chosen to use an iPad Pro as my main on-the-move computer these lower-powered iPads are a more affordable choice. For most everyday work, such as writing, dealing with email and so on, they are more than enough computer.
Apple’s 2019 iMac upgrades are nothing other than speed bumps. You’ll get a faster machine this week than the one you could have bought last week.
The computer’s external design remains much the same as before. This isn’t a problem, the iMac is perfectly formed and there’s nothing obvious that needs fixing on the outside. The gorgeous big displays remain gorgeous.
Inside the case is another matter. The new iMac models still include old school hard drives. The technology is now past its sell-by date. Apple doesn’t offer old style hard drives anywhere else. It pushed hard to show solid-state-only portables were the way to go at a time when other computer makers still relied on hard drives, but hasn’t extended this to its new iMac models.
Sure, there are Fusion drives, which combine some solid state storage with a spinning drive. This will speed up many apps, but even so, they are slower than pure SSDs. No doubt the argument if that iMac buyers are price sensitive.
Next week Apple is holding a media event in Cupertino, California. Company watchers expect Apple to launch one or more new subscription services including TV streaming.
While I prefer a Markdown editor for my writing, most of my clients prefer to get Word documents. Converting Markdown to Word is easy enough. But on the iPad Pro it’s easy to work in Word and not stuff around with converting files.
For some reason I’m yet to fathom, Word works far better on iOS than on MacOS anyway. On the iPad Pro it’s a far better experience than on any MacBook. At least for my work.
If you think I’m enthusiastic about the new iPad, you’d be right. It’s rare for any new hardware to capture my imagination as much as the last two 12.9-inch iPad Pro models.
They are amazing. Despite the high cost, we’ll come back to that point, they a good investment. I get a fast productivity pay off. So might you.
For my first two days with the iPad I was out-of-town working from a hotel room and cafès. That gave me an opportunity to road-testing the iPad with the kind real tasks that make up my bread and butter. I had a newsletter and a feature to write.
Before going further, I should point out an older 12.9-inch iPad Pro has been my main mobile computer for a year. There have been times when I needed a Mac, few times, but enough to mention.
I’m familiar with the basics of living an iOS only existence. Much of the rest of this post is about my first impressions moving from one 12.9-inch iPad Pro to another.
Size is the most visible change. As the 12.9-inch name makes clear, the screen is exactly the same size as before.
The edges around the screen; bezels in geek-speak, are smaller. This means the iPad is smaller. When looked at in the portrait orientation, the 2018 model is only about 5mm less across its width. It’s height is around 20mm shorter.
In practice this is a bigger deal than you might expect. At the airport on the way home I had to unpack the iPad to go through security. Taking a dozen or so millimetres off the case means I could slip it in an out of my bag with less fuss than my older iPad.
Space is at such a premium when flying that this helps. The smaller 12.9-inch iPad Pro size works better on Air New Zealand tray tables.
It is a few grams lighter too. If, like me, you watch streaming sports coverage on an iPad, it means you can hold the device for longer in a single hand.
I spent part of Thursday and Friday moving from place to place, often cafès, carrying the iPad. It felt more comfortable.
Apple uses a faster A12X processor in the newer iPad Pro. You may see this referred to elsewhere as a system on a chip. It is getting on for twice as fast as the processor in last year’s iPad Pro.
You wouldn’t buy an iPad Pro based on something as esoteric as processor speedtests. I’m not going to waste your time discussing benchmarks, they are meaningless for most of us.
Even so, you might choose the new iPad based on what that faster A12X chip means for your productivity.
Raw speed doesn’t make any difference to my writing. I don’t type a Markdown or Word document any faster with a better chip.
The speed comes into its own if you do photo or video editing. Next year, Adobe plans an iPad version of Photoshop. That will push the A12X harder than anything I’m using at the moment.
For now, one bonus of the faster processor is that it runs the Face ID software at a clip. It works in no time.
This means you don’t need a home button, hence the smaller bezels. It also means security is less of a productivity burden. At times I still instinctively reach for the home button, but I suspect that won’t last.
Smart Folio Keyboard
The Smart Keyboard Folio is better than the Smart Keyboard Cover used with the earlier iPad Pro. It still lacks backlighting, which I find essential on a night-time plane flight even though I’m a touch typist.
Speaking of which, I can touch type all the alphabet characters without a problem. Yet I struggle to find the apostrophe key without peeking. In touch typist circles, that feels like cheating.
Likewise, I need to look at the arrow keys use them. The keyboard is exactly the same width as on my old, 2012 MacBook Pro, but shallower.
Keys have a pleasing amount of travel and a comforting click. The typing experience is good. This is more important when you consider Apple’s new MacBook keyboard comes in for criticism. I prefer using the Folio.
I’m not excited that Apple now offers two screen angle positions. Microsoft Surface users will jeer that Apple hasn’t gone down the kick-stand route. Long-term happy iPad users will wonder what the fuss is about.
The back part of the Keyboard Folio covers the entire back of the iPad. It would be a little harder to remove in a hurry than the earlier KeyBoard Cover. That’s not a bad thing, my old Keyboard Cover often detached when I didn’t want it to.
Also I slipped and bashed my older 12.9-inch iPad Pro. If that had happened with the newer Folio, it would have protected my tablet.
New Apple Pencil
Apple’s new Pencil is marvellous. I like the way it looks and feels in my hand more than the earlier one which was too shiny and slippery for my taste.
The new Pencil has a far less awkward charging mechanism. You sit it on the top of the screen when the iPad has its keyboard attached in the landscape orientation. While it is there, the Pencil will also pair with the iPad. It feels almost like magic.
When the Pencil is in this place, a strong magnet holds it to the side of the iPad. I walked about 5km around Wellington in windy, wet conditions. The Pencil stayed stuck in place.
Apple has done something remarkable to the speakers. When I first heard them cranked up during a demonstration the clarity surprised me. It’s amazing given the small amount of space the engineers have to play with.
Later when I listened alone, the wide stereo separation was more obvious. There’s enough sound here for two or three people to watch a movie or sports game on the device in comfort.
12.9-inch iPad Pro Issues
I’ve run up against a couple of frustrations. Using WordPress is hard work on the iPad Pro. The WordPress iOS app is incomplete and inconsistent. I usually prefer to use the web to edit and manage my site, but this is difficult on a touch screen device.
WordPress has a poor designed for touch screen users. There’s a simple fix for this, find an alternative to WordPress.
Not having a Touch ID home button presents a minor, very minor challenge at first. I use a couple of apps which don’t always switch off when they are in the background.
With the old home button, clicking it twice gets a screen showing all the active apps. Swipe the misbehaving ones up and they would stop. If I didn’t they chewed through processor cycles or battery life.
Now there’s no button, the double swipe-up gesture is a little harder to use. It could be a case of getting use to it.
Value for money
Make no mistake, the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is not cheap. The basic model is NZ$1750. That version only comes with 64GB of storage, which is less than most people will need.
Few users will need to go all the way to the MZ$3049 model with a terabyte of storage. To me even the 512GB for NZ$2350 seems excessive. The sweetest spot is the NZ$2000 model with 256GB.
Adding cellular capability adds NZ$250 to the price. This seems a hefty premium given that you can tether an iPad to a phone in a jiffy. After all, no-one goes out without their phone these days.
Is this a lot to pay? That depends on what you want it for.
If it makes you more productive and lets you work where you otherwise might not. If it makes better use of your travelling time then its a bargain. You’ll recover the price premium in no time.
When you compare the price and performance of an iPad Pro against any laptop, they don’t look like a bad deal. The same goes for comparisons with the Microsoft Surface. For a while I could have gone Surface or iPad Pro. My recent experience puts me in the iPad Pro camp, but, remember, my needs are not your needs.
If you think you can’t justify the price, there’s always the non-Pro iPad. It does most things its big sister can do at a fraction of the price.
Prices start at NZ$540 for a 32GB model. I recommend you either find a little more and get the NZ$700 version with 128GB or accept you’ll move plenty of data on and off your tablet.
Logitech’s Slim Combo for iPad Pro keyboard is a mixed bag. Its good points are excellent. Its less good features are, well, disappointing.
I’m testing the 12.9-inch iPad Pro version. You can buy it nn the New Zealand online Apple store for $250. At the time of writing JB Hi-Fi has it for $230.
This compares with $270 for Apple’s Smart Keyboard. So it’s cheaper than Apple’s keyboard, but not a lot cheaper.
You can’t judge the Slim Combo without reference to the Smart Keyboard. The pair are a head-to-head choice. In some ways they are polar opposites. What one keyboard gets right, the other gets wrong.
Let’s start with the keys themselves. Logitech’s Slim Combo feels great when you’re typing. Keys are back-lit. This makes it easier to use in low light conditions.
The keys have positive travel. They move more than on the Smart Keyboard. The keys stretch across 270mm wide and 95mm deep. That’s a little less depth that ideal, but the width is fine.
Each key is about the same size as on a normal keyboard: 15mm square for most keys. The top row of function keys are only half height. They are a little more cramped than on the Smart Keyboard.
In practice this means you can touch type on the Slim Combo without giving it a second thought. There’s no audible click, but enough of a clatter to let you know what’s going on.
If you loves Apple kit, but don’t like the new laptop keyboards, then the Slim Combo and an iPad Pro could meet all your typing-on-the-go needs. It feels better than the keyboard on Apple’s alternative.
The only negative I found with the keyboard is when it comes to reaching up and touching the screen. Somehow that is more comfortable on the Smart Keyboard.
During testing it felt fine. When, after testing, I retried the Smart Keyboard I realised I prefer Apple’s version. There’s not a lot in it and my preference could be a matter of familiarity.
Logitech made the Slim Combo in two parts; the keyboard itself and a plastic case. This does two things. First, it turns the Slim Combo into a protective shell when you’re on the move. Second, there’s a Microsoft Surface-Style kickstand.
There is also a nylon loop to store an Apple Pencil. While handy, it looks a little tacky when the Slim Combo is new, I can only imagine it will get worse over time.
This sounds better on paper than the Slim Combo is in practice. While the keyboard is sound, the plastic case has a down-market feel.
It’s not as solid as I’d like. When you use the kickstand on a desk, there’s a disturbing wobble. You can’t use the Slim Combo on your lap — if that’s important to you — because the set up is too flimsy. I also found the Slim Combo doesn’t work as well on an airplane as the Smart Keyboard.
Another negative is the case is a pain to get on and off the iPad. My iPad Pro may be a laptop replacement when I’m on the move, but at home it’s a tablet. The case adds nothing useful at those times. It feels as if the Slim Combo wants you to use the iPad as a laptop all the time.
It adds bulk. While the Slim Combo is light, it is also bulky.
Logitech Slim Combo verdict
Logitech has made great iPad keyboards in the past. This doesn’t live up to the brand’s reputation. There’s not enough here to pull me away from Apple’s keyboard.
That said, the Slim Combo is a welcome alternative to the Smart Keyboard. Some readers might prefer its typing action and there will be others who like the kickstand.
At NZ$700, Surface Go rounds out the bottom end of Microsoft’s tablet-to-laptop range. It’s a small, thin tablet with a 10-inch screen. No doubt people will compare it with another small, thin 10-inch tablet: Apple’s NZ$540 iPad.
Before going further, we should be clear, the tablets come from different ranges. They have different design perspectives. Despite the obvious similarities, few people will choose between the Surface Go and an iPad. For the most part, they aim at distinct markets. You also need to remember these are the cheapest models in each range.
That said, they are low-cost tablets from the two biggest names in personal computing. Both are versatile mobile devices. They both have large touch screens by mobile device standards. Each offers a huge catalogue of software covering almost every possible application.
Apple’s iPad is smaller and lighter than the Surface Go. It measures 240 by 170 by 7.5 mm and weighs 470 g. Surface Go is about 10 percent heavier at 520 g. It’s thicker at 8.3 mm.
Although the frame is fraction larger at 244 by 178 mm, that’s used for a bigger screen. The Surface Go display is 10.6 inches, while the iPad is 9.7 inches. The Apple display has more pixels: you get 2,048 by 1,536. The Go is has 1,800 by 1,200 pixels. I’ll save you the maths of working out that means the iPad has 264 pixels per inch compared to Go’s 217.
Both support an optional pen for writing on-screen. Apple’s drawing tool is the Apple Pencil.
Microsoft uses a two-core Intel processor; the Pentium Gold 4415Y. Apple’s is the A10 Fusion chip. Without benchmarking, it’s hard to know which has the more powerful processor.
On paper Apple’s hardware choices give you a little more battery time than the Surface Go. How that works in practice is more a matter of how you use your tablet.
Apple appears to have an edge here, but we’d need to wait for formal tests to know. Both processors are a generation behind the top models in their respective ranges. As it says at the start of this post, people will use the devices in different ways. So their relative power is less important than the suitability for applications.
The Surface Go has a clear edge when it comes to storage. The extra NZ$140 buy double the Ram and double the built-in flash storage. The Go has 4GB and 64GB. Again it’s hard to know what these numbers mean in practice without testing, but as a rule more is better.
Surface Go expandable memory
You can expand the storage on a Surface Go. There is a MicroSD card slot. There is nothing like this on the iPad. This will matter a lot to some people. It would interesting to know how many people use a memory slot in a device like this.
At the risk of triggering angry comments, I find iOS has a better touch screen interface. Although Windows 10 handles touch, at times the old user interface peeks through. It can cause problems. Your experience may differ.
On the other hand, I find Windows 10 makes more sense on a tablet than a desktop. Again, you might have a different view.
Microsoft’s marketing makes a lot of fuss about the kickstand. This allows you to prop the Surface Go up in the landscape orientation on a flat surface. Some Surface Pro users love this feature, it’s popularity bewilders many iPad fans.
Microsoft’s Surface Go Signature Type Cover adds NZ$220 to the price. The Surface Pen is NZ$160. Apple’s Pencil is the same price. Apple has its own keyboard covers for iPad Pro models. For the plain iPad, Apple’s online store offers a NZ$150 Logitech Slim Folio Case with integrated bluetooth keyboard.
Both ranges offer models with more storage. A 128 GB iPad is NZ$700, the same price as the basic Surface Go. For the well-heeled Microsoft has a 128 GB model with 8 GB of Ram at NZ$950.
Let’s put the Surface Go price into context. The same money will buy a Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook or one of a range of low-price Windows laptops.
By the time you add the official keyboard you could buy a ThinkPad with an Intel Core i3 processor. Of course these would not be as portable. Yet you will find a better processor, better keyboard and better screen.
If you’re already happy with Apple or Microsoft’s comforting embrace, then you’d do well to stay put. That way you can be productive from the moment you open the box. Most of the time, you will get more from your existing investments in software and services.
At first sight the iPad and Microsoft app store look to be roughly equal, after all, this is Windows we are talking about. Yet in practice many popular Windows apps are either not optimised for touch or have occasional touchability lapses. You may also find some popular, well-known apps are not there.
It’s odd, but on a personal note I find Microsoft Office works better on an iPad than on a touch screen Windows tablet. Although this could be a matter of familiarity and taste, you couldn’t say the same for MacOS where Office is noticeably inferior.
Over the last three months of 2017 Microsoft’s Surface line made $1.3 billion in revenue. That’s impressive, but the dial hasn’t shifted from two years earlier. Sales are flat. That is despite a slew of new Surface products in 2017.
In round numbers Apple makes more than six dollars from its iPad models for every dollar Microsoft earns from all its hardware products excluding the Xbox.
There’s nothing to suggest Surface Go will change the market dynamic. The device looks neat and will meet an unmet need, but it doesn’t look like a surefire winner.