I remember the first time I picked up my iPad 3. I was surprised how much thicker and heavier it was compared to the iPad 2. In my iPad 3 review, I wrote that even though the increased thickness and weight of the device are noticeable, I’d probably get over it in a matter of weeks. Several months later, I’m still not used to it, and to be honest, I’m completely turned off by my iPad 3.

The nail in the coffin came when I received a Nexus 7. This device was everything I needed to read, email, and tweet, which is pretty much all I’m doing on a tablet. In the end, the Nexus 7 didn’t do it for me and I returned it, but it clearly showed that there was a device missing in my life. A device that is small, thin, and light. A device that would be just like an iPad, but smaller. Enters the iPad mini…

Before going any further, we have to get some things out of the way. I will cut to the chase and admit right now that the iPad mini is by far my favorite Apple device, right after the iPhone 5, of course. It is all I ever needed, well, minus one detail. Since we’re on the subject of getting things out of the way, let’s talk about the lack of Retina display.

RetiNO display

Having no Retina display is a real bummer. Of course, if you don’t have a Retina device, you probably won’t even notice, but coming from an iPhone 5 and iPad 3, it is a real obvious downside to me. The screen sure looks slightly better than the iPad 2, but not by much. Just like I tried to learn to live with a heavier iPad 3, I am now trying to learn to live with a device with no Retina display.

The only reason why I’m not flaming Apple about the lack of Retina display in the iPad mini is my understanding of technological limitations as well as my understanding of how Apple works.

Apple could have certainly packed a Retina display in the iPad mini. There is no doubt about this. But were they really ready to sacrifice portability (i.e. thickness, weight), battery life, and cost? Of course not. A Retina display would have made the iPad mini bigger, thicker, and heavier. Something that wouldn’t have played nice compared to a device like the Nexus 7. Furthermore, you must remember that Apple is in the business of making money. If the iPad mini had a Retina display, what marketing gimmick would they be able to use next year to sell you a new iPad mini?

Industrial Design and build quality

I’m obviously heavily biased towards Apple products and your opinion may vary, but like most Apple products, I think the iPad mini is a beautiful device. You can just have it lay around the coffee table and it makes the scene that much nicer to look at. It gets even better once you hold it in your hands. It’s incredibly small, light and thin.

As a matter of fact, it is so thin and small that it even fits in the pocket of my shorts. For those living in colder areas and who don’t have the luxury of wearing shorts as often as I do, I’m happy to report that the iPad mini also fits in the pocket of my jeans. Obviously, it’s really tight in there and you probably wouldn’t want to walk around all day with the mini in your pocket. To me, it’s perfect. I can put it in my pocket while riding my scooter to Starbucks. It’s safe and snug in there.

I have to say that I was not particularly impressed with the build quality at first. When I unwrapped my iPad mini, I noticed small scratches on the back of the device. Maybe even worse, I noticed some glue residues around the Lightning port. It’s definitely not usual for Apple products to be shipped this way and I’d lie if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Using a wet cloth, I was able to quickly get rid off the scratches and the glue, but still, the memory is there forever.

I had a problem with a crackling speaker so I returned the iPad mini to my local Apple Store and got it exchanged. When I unwrapped the new iPad mini, it had the same glue residue around the Lightning port, which made me think that it probably wasn’t an isolated issue. The new iPad mini didn’t have any scratches though.

If anything, this shows that the iPad mini was rushed through production to meet the deadline. It’s the first time I encounter this issue with an Apple product, and I sure hope it’s not going to be a recurring problem.

Now, to be fair, despite these minor issues that were taken care of, the overall build quality of the iPad mini is amazing, just like I would expect from a $329 tablet from Apple.

Performances and battery life

Sporting the older A5 chip, the iPad mini has been performing extremely well so far for me. But again, remember that all I basically do is email, Twitter, RSS, and light photo editing. I’m fairly certain that the A5 will be more than enough for most people. For the purpose of this review, I fired up Real Racing and took the iPad mini for a few laps. As far as I can tell, graphics and frame rate were just as I would have expected. I didn’t notice any lag or anything negative for that matter.

Battery life is always a big concern, especially for a mobile device. Apple claims the iPad mini has about 10 hours of battery life, and while I haven’t conducted any scientific test, I find it to be quite accurate. I have obsessively been playing with my iPad mini since I received it late Friday afternoon, and I only had to plug it and charge the battery once. Yesterday, I exchanged my faulty iPad mini for a new one which came with 90% of battery. I suspect I won’t need to charge it for another day or two. All in all, the battery life is amazing.

Pricing

Much has been said about the pricing of the iPad mini. Everybody was expecting Apple to play the Amazon/Google game, but it just didn’t happen, and hopefully it never will.

As I mentioned above, Apple is in the business of making money. Actually, to be more precise, Apple is in the business of generating insane amounts of profits. When Amazon struggles to break even on each Kindle Fire sold, Apple makes several hundred dollars for each iPad it sells. Why do you think Apple is the most profitable company in the world while Amazon is actually bleeding money?

Last week we found out that the estimated cost of a 16GB iPad mini is about $188. Retailing at $329, it leaves Apple with a comfortable profit of about $141 per device on the base model. Note that out of these $141, you have to take off costs of manufacturing, shipping, R&D, marketing, etc, so it’s not like Apple is pocketing $141 net.

As always with high end brands, you get what you pay for. I’ve used a $200 Nexus 7 and I can assure you the build quality is nothing like an iPad mini.

I’ve never really understood why people complained about high prices for Apple products. It’s quite simple: their products are better than the competition and that’s exactly what you pay for. When you want to buy an Audi, you don’t complain that the A5 is too expensive. You know you’re getting a high end automobile, and you know that’s the price to pay. The same applies to Apple products.

The bottom line

I’ve said it before the iPad mini was announced and I’ll say it again: I believe that in the near future, the iPad mini will outsell the full size iPad. It’s more affordable, it’s more portable, it’s more fitted to what most people expect from a tablet.

I never found the full size Apple practical for work use. My job requires a lot of typing and a lot of windows to be opened at the same time, and the iPad just can’t do that right. For the last two years, I’ve been using the iPad as a content consumption device, but it was clear from the start that it was too big for me.

The iPad mini has definitely replaced my iPad 3, and I will probably never buy a full size iPad again, at least until Apple can figure out how to turn a MacBook Air into an iPad (believe me, it’s coming). I’m already anticipating the next iPad mini to come with a Retina display, and hopefully it will not be at the expense of portability as it was with the iPad 3.

Now the big question: should you buy an iPad mini? As always, it really depends on your needs and financials.

If you don’t own a tablet yet, the iPad mini might be the right pick if all you’re going to do is browse the web, Facebook, email, etc… However, if you intend to get any work done on your iPad, I highly suggest you get a full size iPad, as the iPad mini is too small to be used for content creation.

If you already own an iPad, and like me you feel like it’s too big for what you do with it, then go ahead, put your iPad up for sale on Craigslist, and go grab a mini. I promise you won’t regret it. Of course, if you can’t live without the Retina display, you’d be better off waiting for another year or so until Apple gives the iPad mini a much needed screen upgrade.