Well, what's this, then? Another little tablet from Apple? We surprised ourselves by being quite fond of the first iPad mini, which crossed our desks just a few weeks ago. It strikes the perfect blend of size, performance and capability, but without a proper wireless connection its usability on the road is definitely hampered. Thin and light devices like these were meant to come with you when you leave the house, and you shouldn't leave high-speed data behind.
So, we're very glad to now be testing the $459 LTE version of that very tablet, this one Verizon-flavored. It's every bit as thin and very nearly as light as its WiFi-only predecessor but can send and receive your precious (and also your more disposable) data with way more oomph than before. Is such freedom of connectivity worth the $130 price premium? And, just how bad is the hit to battery life? Let's find out, together.
Apple iPad mini cellular
The hardware here is just what we saw on the WiFi-enabled mini -- other than a little opening for the nano-SIM tray on the lower-right, it's identical to that version we reviewed before. And that's a good thing. We love the thin, light, aluminum-backed design that bears a strong resemblance to the latest iPod touch. It measures 7.87 x 5.3 inches (200 x 135mm) across and is 7.2mm thick. Up front is the same 7.9-inch, 1,024 x 768 IPS LCD, which has a far lower pixel density than the full-sized Retina iPads, but will still impress with its brightness, contrast and color accuracy, all noticeably improved over the iPad 2.
The WiFi version hits the scales at 308 grams but this one came out just a tick heavier, at 315. Presumably that's because of the extra wireless circuitry inside. With that you get GSM/EDGE, UMTS/HSPA+, DC-HSDPA on the GSM model and CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and B for the other. Both models support LTE, with the American AT&T model handling bands 4 and 17 (for Bell, Rogers and Telus in Canada) and the Sprint/Verizon model covering bands 1, 3, 5, 13 and 25, thus taking care of the rest of the international properties.
The cellular iPad mini also adds something many thought was a crucial oversight in the WiFi model: GPS. Full locational awareness is available now in the cellular model, even GLONASS support for those really traveling abroad.
iPad mini vs. iPhone 5 and iPad 3rd-generation (photo gallery)
|Geekbench||Results (higher is better)|
|Apple iPad mini||751|
|Apple iPad (late 2012)||1,763|
|Apple iPad (2012)||720|
|Apple iPad 2||721|
|Apple iPhone 5||1,628|
|Apple iPhone 4S||623|
In terms of performance there's no difference here, with the internals otherwise being functionally identical to the WiFi mini. That means you can basically expect things to run about as well as they do on the iPad 2, in some cases faster. Its performance falls short of the breakneck fourth-generation iPad with Retina display, but everything still loads quickly and responds smoothly.
It's battery life we'd expected to take a hit and we're happy to report that's not the case. In fact, this iPad mini was within spitting distance of the WiFi model, despite having both LTE and WiFi enabled during our standard video run-down test, in which we set the display to a fixed brightness and see how long the machine lasts. The mini on LTE managed 12 hours and 31 minutes.
|Apple iPad mini (Verizon LTE)||12:31|
|Apple iPad mini (WiFi)||12:43 (WiFi)|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7||12:01|
|Apple iPad (late 2012)||11:08 (WiFi)|
|Apple iPad 2||10:26|
|ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime||10:17|
|Kindle Fire HD (7-inch)||9:57|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||9:55|
|Apple iPad (2012)||9:52 (HSPA) /
|Google Nexus 7||9:49|
|Microsoft Surface for Windows RT||9:36|
|ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700||9:25|
|Kindle Fire HD (8.9-inch)||9:01|
|Motorola Xoom 2||8:57|
|Lenovo IdeaPad K1||8:20|
|Acer Iconia Tab A200||8:16|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus||8:09|
|Galaxy Note 10.1||8:00|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet||8:00|
|RIM BlackBerry PlayBook||7:01|
We checked out the LTE speeds as well and they matched an iPhone 5 (also on Verizon) that we tested from the same location. Download speeds typically fell in the 15 - 20 Mbps range, with uploads running 12 - 15. Of course, your speeds may vary -- and they probably will.
The camera module is unchanged, a 5-megapixel shooter on the back and 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera up front. Pictures here are generally quite good, but don't quite match the performance of the 8-megapixel unit in the iPhone 5. The fun new Panorama mode is also lacking -- a shame for those who really want to wave their tablets around.
iPad mini sample shots
The WiFi iPad mini starts at $329 for the 16GB model, while the cellular version steps up to $459, with no contract (like all iPads). That makes it $70 cheaper than the 3G iPad 2 and without a doubt we'd save the cash and get the smaller one. It's thinner, lighter, has better battery life and a better display and, of course, has LTE. Meanwhile the 32GB model will cost you $429 and 64GB $529. Those prices are $170 cheaper than their fourth-generation iPad with Retina display counterparts, and that's a tougher decision. Shoppers fretting between models here will have to prioritize performance and resolution against portability.
The addition of LTE to the iPad mini makes it all the more compelling. Is on-the-go connectivity worth the $130 premium over comparable WiFi iPad mini models? With no contracts involved we're inclined to say yes, especially since we think people will find themselves taking their minis out and about far more often than full-sized iPads. Regardless of which model you choose, rest assured you're getting a great little tablet.