Apple's iPad Mini Proves Less Is More (Review)

The new pint-sized version of the company's popular tablet computer excels as an e-reader with books, scripts and comics, making it the perfect choice for on-the-go Hollywood professionals.

The original iPad is ubiquitous in Hollywood. Whether on set, in an executive’s office or just sitting in a coffee shop, Apple’s tablet computer has proved to be a popular work/play device.

Now the company has released the iPad Mini, which offers the power of a full-size iPad in a smaller form.

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How does the Mini stack up to the demands of Hollywood’s creative and business community? Is less more?

The Hollywood Reporter tested a Mini with an eye to how many in Hollywood would use it -- as an e-reader for books, as a digital script reader (and occasional script writer), as an on-set tool and as an all-around tablet computer. 

The basic technical specifications of the Mini fall between the iPad 2 and the retina screen iPad, all packed into a smaller and lighter package that measures 7.8 x 5.3 inches (about the size of a squat paperback book) and weighs just .68 pounds.

For comparison, the iPad 2 is 9.5 x 7.3 inches and 1.33 pounds. Apple’s top-of-the line iPad with retina screen offers a faster processor and double the resolution (2048 x 1586) in a package slightly heavier (1.44 pounds) than the iPad 2.

Technically, the Mini features the same A5 processor as the iPad 2 but with a better screen and upgraded front and rear cameras. 

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Both feature a 1024x768 resolution screen, but the Mini packs 163ppi (pixels per inch) versus 132ppi for the iPad 2. (The higher the ppi the clearer and more crisp the screen). 

The Mini also sports upgraded cameras. The front-facing FaceTime camera now does HD video. The rear camera can take the same high-resolution 5-megapixel photos as the iPhone 5. 

The Mini also features much-improved stereo speakers. The sound volume on the original iPad always underwhelmed. But the Mini is much louder and clearer (though headphones are preferred if there's much ambient noise). 

Apple has also put its new smaller lightning connector on the Mini (replacing the familiar rectangular dock connector).

The lightning looks thin and flimsy in pictures, but in actual use the connection feels solid and strong. The biggest drawback to the lightning is the need to purchase dock-to-lighting adapters ($29) for existing peripherals like speakers.

Tech specs only tell part of the story. Here’s a look at how the iPad Mini fares with Hollywood’s popular uses.

As an ebook and digital magazine reader
The iPad Mini is simply the best and most versatile e-reader on a tablet computer. 

If you only plan to read e-books, we slightly favor a traditional e-ink Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Glow for battery life, weight and the readability of text.

But if you plan to do any other kind of reading -- magazines or daily newspapers or comics -- step up to the iPad Mini.

As an e-reader, it excels because the small size and weight make it more comfortable to hold in one hand or for an extended time than the full-size iPad.

The Mini offers more e-reader options than other small tablets.

Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble make iPad apps, meaning one can read books purchased for the Kindle or the Nook on the iPad, in addition to anything bought for Apple’s iBooks. For those who already own a Kindle or Nook, it is possible to seamlessly switch between those devices and their iPad app counterparts. 

The Mini excels with other reading material, ouptacing the Nook and Kindle. The New York Times custom app is fantastic. Combined with the Mini, it is the best digital news reading experience ever.

Custom magazine apps available on  iTunes for the iPad are superior to what is found on Android-based devices like the Nook and Kindle.  

A good example is The Hollywood Reporter’s iPad app, which is much more than just a digital version of the magazine, offering a layout sized for the iPad and added content. 

Other great magazines with outstanding digital apps are The New Yorker and The Economist

As a digital script reader and writer
The small size of the Mini makes it ideal for reading digital scripts. It is possible to do things with the Mini that are unwieldy with a full-size iPad -- reading lines with a partner while standing up, for example. Mini is also able to handle PDF files, either in Apple’s own iBooks program or a stand-alone app. (For those interested in what a screenplay looks like on an iPad, start with the list of these current awards contenders, which have been made available as PDFs for free by studios and producers.)

Final Draft is the one professional-grade screenwriting program that offers an official tablet version. The company offers both a reader app (free) and a writer app ($49.99) for working with scripts. The reader app allows a user to view Final Draft scripts in the native .fdx file format. With the writer app, it is possible to draft an entire screenplay from start to finish or edit an existing one.

Writing a whole screenplay on a Mini would be a cramped experience, but it is great to have the ability to edit  something on the fly, and the iPad Mini is just small enough that it's possible to hold it in two hands and thumb-type.

The Mini is the perfect iPad for actors looking to store a lot of scripts digitally but also have a device small enough to use to run lines anywhere.

As a digital comics reader
Digital comics are the wave of the future, but the experience of reading them on tablet computers has been mixed. 

The full-size iPad can be a little heavy for extended reading. The smaller Kindle Fire and Nook are a nice weight, but the screens can feel tiny and the reading experience is a disappointment.

After our experience with other smaller tables, we worried that the iPad Mini would also seem small for everyday comics reading.

But after a month of hands-on use, the Mini turned out to be an excellent comics reader.

The screen is just big enough to keep a full page on the screen and have it still be readable, and its light weight make it comfortable for extended reading.

The Mini was a great choice with either Comixology’s dedicated app or using an open source reader (we like cloudreader). Some great public domain comics (using the standard open source .cbr format) can be found here and here.

As an on-set device
The iPad has proved a popular on-set device to pass around headshots of potential casting choices and to share images of costumes or set design.  

The smaller size and upgraded camera make the Mini an even more practical on-set device.

As a video player
If there is one area that the Mini’s smaller screen feels like a compromise compared to the full-size alternative, it is in watching videos.

The small screen isn’t bad, though the 4:3 ratio means that precious space is eaten up with black letterboxing bars.  We thoroughly enjoyed watching two movies and two TV shows on a recent cross-country flight with the Mini. But next to the bigger 9.7-inch screen on the full-size iPad, the Mini’s screen does suddenly look small.

If watching videos is your primary focus and portability isn’t a concern, the full-size iPad is probably the best choice. But for most users, the Mini still makes an excellent video player.

With the Mini, less is more. It combines all the strengths of the full-size iPad -- a polished and intuitive user interface, robust selection of apps, gorgeous screen -- in a smaller, more portable package that in some ways makes it more useful than a full-size iPad. For reading books, scripts and comics, the Mini can be a better choice for many. The Mini’s smaller size and weight make it an ultra-portable tablet to use on the go.

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