​iPad Mini - Welcome Home

A comparison between the iPad mini 5 and the iPad pro.

I was a mini user. Big time. I bought the first one on the day it came out and it became my default device at the time. My cellular, retina, iPad mini 4 was the best portable computer I’d ever owned. I know that for many folks that designation goes to their phone but for me, the phone has never been big enough to get everything done on it. When I start triaging email, reviewing diary requests, calendar planning, working through my to do’s in Things3, if I’m on my iPad - I get to inbox zero. But, if I am on my phone, sooner rather than later, I decide to leave things incomplete until I’m back at my desktop computer (or iPad).

I have always immediately gone with the biggest iPhone I could get but they are never quite big enough. Flicking between screens to sequentially access apps always feels like a hack and a hassle. Which set of dates was the email asking me to check? By the time I have navigated to calendar, I have forgotten. Although the plus sized iPhone helped push my old iPad mini towards redundancy, it never effectively replaced it.

The mini was the device that was just big enough to make the cut. Big enough to multitask and have Fantastical in split screen with my email, with Things floating over as the third app being pulled from the right. But it got old, slow and out of date.

My connection to the mini 4 did not end abruptly, it faded slowly as the device became relegated by the iPad Pro’s. The pencil was and is a very big deal for me at work. I prefer to take notes in handwriting in meetings, I find it puts the other participants more at ease. It’s more human, more engaged. This meant that the pro became my default choice. I spent a lot of money on man bags and messenger bags to allow me to carry the bigger Pro around London Town. Over time the mini started being left at home and eventually became my ‘night time’ device. Next to my bed. Used when I need to finish some work while my wife slept.

I thought it was dead. I even once, a couple of years ago, emailed Tim Cook with a plea to bring back the beloved device. Its battery started to wain, losing charge within a day despite no real use. My daily driver evolved through 3 or 4 iPad Pros to become the new 11 inch which, with it’s square edges and it’s thin bezels, was kind of cool. I pretended that I was content but I wasn’t truly free.

Then the iPad mini came back. Like an old friend you thought you’d never see again. In it’s five designation, with pencil support and a fast A12 chip, it can do everything I do on my Pro - albeit with last years pencil and slightly thicker bezels. I would have preferred if apple had re-engineered the case to the new industrial design and allowed me to use pencil 2 but I don’t really care because I have my mini back and it’s super power, the thing that beats all - is it’s size. It’s brilliant size. This is a device that sets you free.

When I’m at my desk, I still prefer to use the iPad Pro but when I’m on the move the mini is in a different league. It fits in my suit jacket pocket, it fits in my jeans back pocket. It’s like having a note book and pencil that I can have with me at any time, without a bag or any other incumbrance and yet it’s a fully functioning, always on the grid computer. It sets you free in a science fiction, living in the future kind of way.

When I’m eating alone or waiting for guests in a posh restaurant, it’s like a hard back novel, discrete whilst being read without being visually a computer. When I’m on the tube I can hold it in one hand and read it like a kindle. When I’m walking across a work space and someone makes a point, I can take it out of my pocket, like a note book and write some notes or to dos with the pencil. When the sun shines and I decide I’d rather be cycling than sitting at my desk, I can zip it into the pocket of my cycling shirt, safe in the knowledge that I can stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere and do some work for an hour.

When I want to write something, like this post for example, I can hold the mini in portrait and use my two thumbs. I find this as quick and more accurate as hunting and pecking on the glass screen. If I want to write anything more than a few lines on my iPad Pro (where thumb typing is not an option) I need to use the keyboard cover. With this attached, it moves toward the weight and size of a small laptop. With the 11 inch Pro wearing its keyboard, you are getting 85% of the functionality of a MacBook for about 85% of the mass of a MacBook. What makes the iPad mini magical is that you are getting 85% of the functionality of a MacBook for what feels like 15% of the bulk.

Not having to carry an additional keyboard sets you free.

Although I prefer the newer design of the pro, the mini continues that physical illusion of feeling thinner than the 11 inch iPad pro. Something to do with it’s lightness and curved edges. It also allows me to discard one more item from travel bag. My kindle. I find that the mini works perfectly fine as a kindle substitute whereas my phone is too small and the 11 inch pro is too big to read a book for a couple of hours. Whilst the stats say that the mini is 1mm thicker than the pro, if you lay them side by side on a desk, the mini sits about 1mm lower - probably as a result of the lack of a camera bump.

Whilst the old form factor does mean that this perfect screen sized device is 15 to 20 mm bigger than it needs to be in it’s portrait dimension, the old form factor does have a few advantages:

  • Touch ID - let’s face it, it’s lot more reliable, quicker and easier than Face ID particularly when using Apple Pay or laying down.
  • Headphone jack - This means I don’t have to be courageous about the battery life of my Bluetooth headphones on this flight I’m on right now from London to New York.
  • Lightning not USB C - whilst ever the iPhone is still lightning it’s just easier to have one charger requirement. On short overnight trips, I can carry one battery that has a built in watch charger and lightning tip. No cables, no adapters, no plugs. Simplicity and minimalism.
  • No camera bump and therefore no accompanying desk wobble, is a brilliant feature which didn’t get much air time when the mini 5 was launched.

Come September when the next iPhones land. For the first time since 2007 I don’t need to buy the biggest one. My mini will be carrying that weight. I will probably get the ‘X’ sized phone safe in the knowledge that the iPad mini is so uber portable, having it with me whenever I need to do some work will be an inconsequential burden.

If you want an iPad to use primarily at your desk, I’d recommend an iPad Pro. If you want an iPad as a portable computing device, an infinite notebook ready to capture your scribbles, a feather weight window into the web that’s always with you but never weighing you down, then I would strongly recommend you buy an iPad mini.

It’s a computer that sets you free.