The latest addition to Apple's iPad lineup is the iPad mini. With its 7.9-inch display and slim design, it's spectacular at being portable and is discrete enough to hold in one hand -- but it's marred by a lack of retina display. Its high price, in comparison to the similarly sized Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD (both £159), is also a major problem.
The iPad mini starts at £269 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model and is due to go on sale from 2 November.
Whether or not you think it's too pricey, the iPad mini feels genuinely luxurious to hold. Its 7.9-inch front is dominated by a single piece of glass with the small, round home button sitting at the bottom.
It measures 200mm long and 135mm wide. That's exactly the same length as the Nexus 7, but adds 15mm onto the width. We found we were just about able to slide the Nexus 7 into our jacket pockets, but we're not convinced you'll be able to do the same with the iPad mini -- it's more of a purse or small bag-sized device.
The mini has a much slimmer bezel than the Nexus 7, or even the larger iPad, so the bigger screen hasn't pushed out the size of the chassis any more than is necessary.
We worried that the slim bezel would cause us to accidentally start an app or turn a page, but Apple has baked in some finger-rejection tech that seems to counter this problem. When reading books, holding onto the side of the tablet wasn't a problem, but when we started typing, the entire edge-to-edge surface became sensitive to our touch.
The iPad mini takes design cues from the new iPod touch, down to the curved wrap-around aluminium casing and flat back. The white model has an aluminium rear, while the black version has a slate-coloured anodised-aluminium back, like the black iPhone 5.
It's only 7.2mm thick, making it thinner than the iPhone 5. The Nexus 7 is 10mm thick, which seems positively portly by comparison -- indeed, this is the slimmest and lightest small-size tablet around. It also weighs around 310g, making it about half the weight of the iPad 3.
Construction feels solid, and the mini is fun to wrap your mitts around. The home button clicks crisply and despite being cheaper than a full-sized iPad, it doesn't feel any less well-built.
The smaller Lightning dock connector sits at the bottom, and although it's easier to connect than the earlier 30-pin charger, it won't fit with any of your existing iPad speaker docks and peripherals unless you buy an adaptor.
The iPad mini's neatest trick is that it handles all the larger iPad's duties despite the smaller size. In CNET's tests, ebooks and magazines, media-editing apps, virtual board games with tiny buttons and games that have on-screen touch controls were all usable and comfortable.
To type, you can hold the mini in portrait mode and use two thumbs, as you would on a smart phone. Typing in the traditional style works better than expected in landscape, but takes some getting used to, as the 7.9-inch display isn't as wide as your average laptop keyboard.
At the top of the mini you'll spy an HD camera for FaceTime and there's a 5-megapixel camera around the back, which can shoot video in 1080p.
We found this snapper is an improvement on the dodgy camera inside the iPad 2, but doesn't measure up to the lens on the latest iPod touch. Photos snagged using the mini are better than most budget tablets can muster, and the small size makes this gadget more practical (read: less embarrassing) than the larger iPad for taking photos in public. Be aware that some features are curiously absent however, including HDR and iOS 6's new Panorama mode.
The iPad mini's 7.9-inch display offers a resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. That's the same resolution offered on the old iPad 2, although its smaller screen size means its pixel density is higher, at a middling 168ppi -- significantly less dense than Apple's retina displays.
Based on CNET's experience, how you feel about the mini's screen will depend on how many retina displays you've been exposed to. In other words, if you've spent much time with a recent iPhone or third-generation iPad, you'll think the mini's screen is blurry.
It's a lower resolution than the Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, despite being slightly larger than those tablets. Competition aside, this is the least impressive screen in Apple's clutch of iOS gadgets, with the iPod touch, iPhone 5 and latest iPad all brighter and crisper to look at. The viewing angle is impressive though, so you'll be able to crowd more than one person around this tablet.
Like the iPad 3, the mini has a 4:3 aspect ratio, rather than a stretched 16:9 display like the iPhone 5. That means all the 275,000 iPad-specific apps on the iOS app store will fit perfectly on screen.
It may have the same aspect ratio as the larger iPad, but thanks to the slim bezel the screen feels extra-wide. We found the mini was at its best when tested with ebooks, magazines or textbooks, which are rendered without being unduly compacted.
The bookish dimensions and access to lots of different digital shops make the iPad mini a strong ebook reader, even if it's not the best for pure text. In CNET's tests, magazines and books were enjoyable to read on the mini, even if a sharper resolution would have helped -- especially with comic-book apps.
Ebooks may get a pass, but the 4:3 aspect ratio is a stumbling block for video. Movies and TV shows will be displayed with large black bars at the top and bottom -- something that affects 16:9 gadgets like the Nexus 7 or the iPhone 5 much less.
We found most TV programmes looked okay, and the lower resolution is slightly balanced by the fact the iPad mini has access to so many video-specific apps. Indeed, if anything gives the mini an edge, it's the wealth of apps, services and software it has access to.
Two speakers on either side of the charging port pump out a decent amount of noise. We think they're good enough to listen to music or hear video through.
The little chap is running on a dual-core A5 processor -- the same chip you find inside the iPad 2. It's disappointing not to see the A5X processor unveiled in the iPad 3, or indeed the A6 chip from the iPhone 5. It's therefore miles behind the A6X processor in the latest iPad, which delivers stonking performance.
In CNET's tests, apps loaded and operated at the same speeds you'd get on the iPad 2, and generally started a few seconds slower compared with the latest iPad. Similarly, Web pages loaded several seconds slower than the most recent iPad devices.
The iPad mini scored 752 in the Geekbench performance-testing app, compared to the iPad 2's 755. The mini's score pales next to the iPhone 5, which managed around the 1,600 range, while the fourth-generation iPad scored above 1,700. The difference in actual app performance isn't so dramatic, but the mini is no speed demon.
The mini is running on the latest version of Apple's mobile software, iOS 6, which debuted on the iPhone 5. It brings the ability to tweet and post Facebook updates from all over the interface, an updated notifications bar and various other tweaks -- including a Maps app so bad it forced Apple boss Tim Cook to issue a public apology. The Nexus 7, by contrast, has the latest Android Jelly Bean software and Google's own excellent maps.
In terms of battery life, Apple reckons you can get around 10 hours of use from a single charge. We always take battery claims with a fistful of salt, but CNET's tests saw the mini surviving well beyond a full day's use, even with games, streaming video and downloads in the mix.
The iPad mini will be offered in Wi-Fi only and 4G versions. It uses the 1,800MHz band for 4G, which is only used by EE. That means if you want mobile Internet on your tiny tab, you'll have to go with EE.
Although other networks are yet to announce their plans for 4G, we do know they won't be using this part of the spectrum. So if you buy an iPad on EE now, you won't be able to use it on a different 4G network next year.
EE recently unveiled its pricing for its 4G contracts, none of which are cheap. SIM-only deals start (from 9 November) at a staggering £21 per month. Instead, it's probably better to get a healthy data-only 3G contract from someone like Three, which offers all-you-can-eat data for very reasonable prices. It might not be as blisteringly fast, but at least you'll still be able to, you know, buy food.
The iPad mini boasts the same functionality and wealth of tablet-specific apps we've come to expect from its big brother, but in a smaller, lighter and more hand-friendly design. It's especially good for magazines and illustrated books, but it's not as cheap as we were hoping for, and it doesn't offer the super-high resolution of its bigger brother.
With iOS proving popular, the mini is just another size option and price-tag with which to get involved with Apple's platform. It would suit the budget-minded, or children, or even someone who wants to snap up a second iPad, but you shouldn't consider it an essential purchase or necessary upgrade. Indeed, if you're mainly going to use your tablet for Web browsing and the occasionaly film, the Nexus 7 is much better value.
Editor's note: Our colleague Scott Stein reviewed the iPad mini for CNET.com, and the star rating above is the one he bestowed upon it, based on his experience and testing. We'll be reviewing the tablet with more UK perspective very soon, and may change the score based on what we find.
Additional reporting by Luke Westaway.