The new iPads: What you need to know

Between Apples presentation at its Tuesday press event, the press releases and spec sheets that followed, and our all-too-brief hands-on session, weve been able to get a pretty good first impression of the new iPad mini and, to a lesser extent, the fourth-generation iPad. So while we wait for our review units to arrive, heres what we know so far.

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The iPad mini

How small is it, really?

The iPad mini is 7.9 inches tall, 5.3 inches wide, and 0.28 inch thick. For comparison, note that the new fourth-generation iPad measures 9.5 by 7.3 by 0.37 inches. The iPad minis volume is less than half of the big ones. Obviously, the iPad mini is lighter, too, weighing 312 grams (11.0 ounces) versus 662 grams (23.4 ounces). For the sake of further comparison, Googles Nexus 7 tablet is roughly 7.8 by 4.7 by 0.4 inches and weighs 340 grams (12.0 ounces), so the iPad mini is a bit smaller.

What about the screen?

The iPad minis screen is 7.9 inches on the diagonal, compared with 9.7 inches for the full-size iPad. Although its smaller than the regular iPads display, its diagonal measurement is twice that of the iPod touch (4 inches).

The iPad minis display provides the same resolution as the original iPad and the iPad 2: 1024 by 768 pixels. Thats much lower than the 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution of the Retina display found on the third-generation and fourth-generation iPads. The new taller iPod touch models have 1136-by-640-pixel resolution.

However, keep in mind that while the first two iPads offered 1024 by 768, they did so on 9.7-inch screens, whereas the iPad mini has the same pixel dimensions on a 7.9-inch screen. As a result, the pixel density of the iPad mini is considerably higher than that of the old iPads, working out to 163 pixels per inch on the iPad mini, versus 132 ppi on the iPad 2. Thats not even close to the 264 ppi of the third- and fourth-generation iPads or the 326 ppi of the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5. But next to the iPad 2, this is a significantly sharper screen. One other consequence: The on-screen keyboard could be pretty tight. Well find out more when we have more-extensive hands-on time with the device.

Does the screen change mean that developers will need to create yet another version of their apps?

Thankfully, no. Because the iPad minis screen has the same resolution as the screen on the first two iPad models, iPad apps that work with those modelsmeaning the vast majority of iPad-optimized appswill work with the iPad mini without any developer tweaks.

On the other hand, everything will be smaller on an iPad minis screen. If a particular app uses especially small interface elementsbuttons, for examplethose items may be more difficult to tap on the iPad mini. We suspect that some developers will need to adjust their apps to be more usable on the iPad mini.

So does the iPad mini look like a full-size iPad, just smaller?

Not exactly. Although the overall design is similar, a few significant differences make the iPad mini unique. The most obvious is the color scheme. Apple has adopted the iPhone 5s color options for the iPad mini: You can get one with a silver-aluminum back, a white screen bezel, and shiny silver buttons and switches. Or you can go with the black/slate model, which has a slate-black aluminum back, buttons, and switches with a glossy-black screen bezel. Like the iPhone 5, the iPad mini has chamfered edges between the body and the glass display.

Instead of tapering to a thin edge where it meets the screen, the back of the iPad mini is more squared-offlike that of the original iPhone and iPod touch. And on the longer sides, the bezels framing the iPad minis display are much narrower than those of a full-size iPad, allowing Apple to squeeze in as much screen area as possible in the iPad minis smaller package. One touch were looking forward to testing: Apple says that the iPad minis screen intelligently recognizes whether your thumb is simply resting on the display or whether youre intentionally interacting with it.

What about the other specs? How do those compare to the full-size iPads?

Though many people expected the iPad mini to be essentially a smaller version of the iPad 2, with much the same inner hardware, its actually somewhere between the iPad 2 and the current full-size iPad. The iPad mini uses a dual-core A5 processor, like the iPad 2. (Because Apple doesnt publish clock speeds for its iPad chips, we cant compare them directly.) It has the same FaceTime HD (720p) front camera and 5-megapixel (1080p-capable) back camera as the fourth-generation iPad; compare that to the VGA-resolution front camera and 960-by-720-pixel back camera we got on the iPad 2. Similarly, the iPad mini offers Bluetooth 4.0, with optional LTE wireless data; the iPad 2 included Bluetooth 2.1, with only 3G connectivity as an option. (The iPad mini with LTE uses the same LTE chip as the fourth-generation iPad does, so its compatible with more carriers than the third-generation iPad was.) And like the fourth-generation iPad, the iPad mini sports a Lightning connector and includes Siri.

Apple says the iPad mini offers battery life similar to that of the full-size iPad: up to 10 hours of Wi-Fi Web surfing, watching video, or listening to music; or up to 9 hours of Web surfing over a cellular-data connection.

In one regard, the iPad mini actually uses newer technology than the latest full-size model: The iPad mini accepts the same nano-SIM card as the iPhone 5 does, whereas all full-size iPads use the older micro-SIM card.

How much does the iPad mini cost?

The iPad mini is available in the same configurations as the fourth-generation iPad, but each model is $170 less. In other words, the 16GB Wi-Fi model goes for $329, 32GB is $429, and 64GB is $529; adding LTE cellular data ups the price to $459, $559, or $659, respectively. You can order one starting on Friday, October 26. Apple says the iPad mini will start shipping November 2.

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