Last year Apple went where I never thought it would, with the iPad mini bringing the Apple tablet experience to a brave new budget world.
Now usurped by the new iPad Mini 2, the older tablet is still on sale at a wallet-friendly £249 for the basic version, with 16GB of storage on offer for the Wi-Fi version on Apple's site (although it can be had slightly cheaper if you shop around).
You can also add 4G cellular, which brings the price up to £349. This entry-level model comes in a single 16GB capacity, while the iPad mini with Retina display goes up to 128GB, costing a whopping £659 for the top model which also includes 4G.
Then again, the first generation iPad mini isn't about top-end specs with a whopping price tag – it's about beating the likes of the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD in the budget stakes.
The two competitors have been getting plenty of column inches thanks to their super-cheap prices and the impressive specs on board. But with both offering only a 7-inch screen compared to Apple's 7.9-inch display, the Cupertino company is confident its device will win over budget-conscious consumers.
However, more frugal shoppers may not agree with this idea, as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD cost quite a bit less. When faced with a choice between the three, they might opt for the familiar Amazon brand or the sheer power of the Nexus 7, with its impressive spec list and legions of Google apps.
That said, Apple fans need not worry too much when it comes to whether the iPad mini is a worthy addition to the iBrand. It comes with enough power and is Ive-inspired enough to make it a worthwhile addition to the range. This isn't a shrunken-down iPad, it's a whole new product all over again.
Be it the larger screen size, impressively low weight or alternative design compared to the competition, there's a lot to chew over when it comes to the iPad mini. But is it worth spending your hard-earned cash when a handful more will get you larger version of Apple's tablet? And how does it stack up next to the second-generation mini with its higher resolution display and faster hardware?
Features and design
The iPad mini exists because the market started to dictate its presence…but that doesn't mean Apple doesn't want to put its own spin on things.
To that end, the border has been reduced and the screen is larger at 7.9 inches relative to the dimensions of the original iPad. Additionally, the design is completely different to the likes of the Google Nexus 7. In fact the whole ethos has been created from the ground up, partly under the stewardship of Sir Jony Ive, according to Apple.
None of that really matters though. What is important is the fact that it's a superbly designed device that gives a measure of why it costs so much more than the likes of the Kindle Fire HD.
The aluminium chassis shares the same colouring as the iPhone 5S, with the darker black slate and white silver options both bringing a touch of class to proceedings.
At 308g it's twice the weight and then some of the iPhone 5S, but compared to other tablets on the market (and combined with the aluminium chassis) it feels lightweight in the hand.
The screen is something of a worry though – with the 1024x768 resolution in the expansive display, you only get a sharpness akin to the iPhone 3GS. While the display quality is better than that thanks to improved IPS LCD technology, it's still light years behind the Retina display on the bigger iPad Air and the second-generation mini.
If you own a modern iPad, you'll notice the difference straight away. But then if you have one of these, then you won't want an iPad mini.
The tablet will struggle to impress iPhone users, as it doesn't have the wow factor of Apple's smaller devices.
In a side-by-side test of the same movie running on the iPad mini, the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, the iPad looked the least impressive (although the contrast ratio was certainly more than decent in my eyes).
Then there's the issue of holding the actual tablet. As Apple says, it's as light as a pad of legal paper, and there's definitely no risk of it causing wrist strain. However, the iPad mini doesn't really lend itself that well to any manner of grip.
The most comfortable and secure way to hold a tablet is to grip right around the back – something Apple thinks you can do easily according to its promotional materials.
Well, you're wrong there, Cupertino-gadget-people. It's just too far to stretch around with average-sized hands. Instead you're forced to hold it in the corner, covering part of the screen. It's good that Apple has chucked some technology in there to distinguish an intentional touch from an accidental one, but it's not the most comfortable way to use the device.
In landscape orientation using two hands, the iPad mini is a much nicer device to hold, with the aluminium covering giving it a nicely textured back. However, the aluminium covering similar to the iPhone 5 has led to another design problem: scratching.
The handsets have been getting criticism for exposing the silver metal below with minimal scratching. This started to happen within a day on the iPad mini – which is all the more confusing seeing as it doesn't live in the pocket with keys and coins.
It's something we hoped Apple would have changed in the manufacturing process, and means you'll need to keep an eye on how you look after the tablet or invest in a protective case immediately.
The top and bottom of the bezel are wide enough to comfortably rest your hands on, while web browsing and accelerometer-based gaming in landscape orientation is excellent.
The rest of the design is predictably ergonomic. The volume rocker keys are close but not too near to the mute switch on the top right-hand side.
This is near the power button, which is intuitively placed to be easy to hit when you want to reactivate the iPad mini… although many will just hit the home button to achieve the same thing.
The traditional Apple home key remains, although it's shrunken somewhat to fit into the smaller chassis. However, during testing I found it just as easy to hit, despite the dinkier dimensions.
It's interesting that Apple has popped the headphone jack at the top of the iPad mini, given it's put so much effort into repositioning it at the bottom of the iPhone 5S and 5C... but I do prefer it staying above the screen.
The speakers sit at the bottom of the iPad mini, flanking the Lightning connector, which offers faster speeds of data transfer and can be connected either way round. This is handy when you're charging before bed and can't be bothered to put the light on.
The speakers provide decent enough sound, but in landscape mode they create a distorted sense of audio because of their mono-directional firing.
The processor inside is Apple's last-generation A5 effort, which may worry some, but it's likely to be enough for most actions, coupled as it is with 512MB of RAM. It's still miles away from the raw grunt of the new Google Nexus 7 or the iPad Air with its A7 processor, but Apple reckons it helps it hit a sweet spot in terms of price.
Apple also has expertise in optimising iOS to run as well as possible on older hardware, and iOS 7.1 certainly restored a lot of the snappiness that had been lost with the move from iOS 6 to 7.
Interface and performance
Onto the iPad mini interface. iOS 7 was a complete redesign that ditched the gradient-heavy look that had been around since the introduction of the first iPhone.
While it was a bit of a shock at first, the general consensus is that it was a much-needed shake-up by Jony Ive who replaced the ousted Scot Forstall as interface designer.
Gone are most of the shadows in favour of a much flatter design. Since iOS 7 runs on all recent iPads, iPhones and iPod touches (I'm currently testing version 7.1 here), it should be a familiar experience to anyone with an existing Apple device.
Holding the iPad mini in portrait mode is easy enough thanks to the weight. Prodding the icons on screen isn't too difficult, nor does it feel like you're going to push the tablet out of your hands and onto the floor.
The iOS interface is simplicity itself. Any users not familiar with Apple's mobile operating system will pick it up in no time. The icons are presented in a 4 by 5 layout, and unlike on the iPhone they rotate when you move the tablet into landscape format.
The ability to place icons in the bottom dock means you can have the apps you want on the home screen. Dragging and dropping said apps on top of one another allows you to create folders with ease, which you can rename to anything you want.
With iOS 7, Apple has greatly improved the number of controls you can access directly from the Home screen, and indeed from any screen.
To enter the app switcher, simply double-click on the Home button to see a Cover Flow-style view of all your app windows. Swiping left and right lets you see all the apps that are open but in a 'suspended' state, while tapping on one launches it.
Swiping on the screens themselves scrolls them normally, but swiping on the app icons moves them more quickly, which is great if you have lots of apps open that aren't currently in use. Force quitting apps is done in this view by swiping upwards on an app window, and you can use two fingers to quit two apps at once.
As iOS matured, there were increasingly loud grumblings about the fact that many commonly used controls were buried in subsections of the Settings app, with only volume, brightness and AirPlay available via quick controls. Thankfully Apple has addressed this with a new control overlay that you call up by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen.
There are buttons here for volume and brightness, AirDrop and AirPlay, music or video playback, as well as shortcuts to the clock, timer and camera functions. Perhaps best of all, a row of five buttons in the centre provides quick on/off switches for Airplane mode, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb mode and rotation lock.
These were almost all available in iOS 6 but much more fiddly to get to, requiring drilling down into various different Settings menus. Do Not Disturb is a new, handy mode that stops all notifications except for any you choose specifically to allow.
The Lock screen will show the cover art of any music track that's playing and also gives you playback and volume controls as well as a shortcut to Camera mode. Handily, the Control Centre overlay can also be swiped in from the Lock screen.
Searching your iPad is done using Spotlight and this is revealed from any Home screen by swiping downwards form the centre of the screen with one finger.
It searches pretty much all the content on the device, though you can exclude certain things like Notes or Messages from searches in the Settings. If you search for something that isn't on the device you get an option to run the search on the web or Wikipedia.
However, Apple is still catering for the iPad owners with some handy gestures to make things easier to move around. Instead of double tapping the home button to switch apps, touching the screen with four fingers and swiping left and right will move you through the most recently-used apps, and pinching all digits together will return you to the home screen.
This is really helpful when using the tablet on the move, as it means you don't need to shuffle the palm around to hit the home button - and it's really cool too. It's an even more intuitive system on the iPad mini than the iPad 'proper', as it somehow fits the screen size better.
By default, iOS 7 does quite a lot of animation when you open and close apps, and has a slightly space-age "parallax" effect that uses the built-in gyroscope to move the wallpaper slightly to the left or right depending on how you tilt the device.
This isn't to everyone's taste: indeed some users reported it gave them motion sickness. Luckily it can be disabled by going into Settings > Accessibility and choosing Reduce Motion, where you will also find options to increase contrast and reduce transparency effects.
Disabling these settings lightens the processing load, so they are worth looking at if you're not particularly partial to zooming.
The Notification Centre, revealed by swiping down from the top of any Home screen, can show notifications from any supported apps and you can enable or disable these using the Settings app.
By default you'll see a Calendar view with a weather summary, but you can also see messages, emails, eBay notifications and much more here if you choose to switch them on.
Apple might be criticised for bringing older technology to the iPad mini, as the A5 chip with 512MB of RAM doesn't sound like a lot when you can buy the quad core Google Nexus 4 smartphone with 2GB of RAM for the same price as the mini, and with the same amount of storage too.
However, in practice it's really rather hard to fault Apple's interface performance when using the device in day to day use. It's definitely not got the grunt of the larger new iPad Air or even the iPad mini 2, but the performance of iOS 7.1 even on this older hardware is still perfectly acceptable.
The only real gripe, and it's one you'll hear time and again from me throughout this iPad mini review, is the fact that the screen is too low-res.
It simply saddens me to see menus we're used to on both iPads and iPhones not having the same sharpness as before... and we're certainly not used to seeing Apple take a step back in quality.
If you've never used a top end smartphone or tablet, this won't be an issue as the display is fine, and technically still HD in terms of pixel count. But the Retina display on the mini 2 is unquestionably superior and once you're used to Retina quality the lower resolution of the older screens is very noticeable.
Messages and contacts
The way the iPad mini handles messages is two fold: through the impressive email client and now with iMessage on board. When it comes to emailing, there aren't many better clients on the market, with an expansive view and the ability to see your messages differently in both portrait and landscape mode.
You can have multiple accounts set up on the device, be it through Exchange or a web-based service like GMail, and then you're able to see these individually or together in a unified inbox. Either offers an excellent view of your message, with it being easy to delete emails as a batch or as single missives.
But it's the little tweaks that make this option a decent choice for a work-based tablet, if you're one of those types that move around a lot when doing business things.
It's not going to change the world, but there's a lot to like here: the power draw of the email client is relatively minimal compared to older Apple products, you can easily manage folders and see specific emails through the search function and it just makes everything easier than competing products on Android.
The keyboard on the iPad mini was an area I was interested to drill into, as given the smaller proportions of the device I wondered if it was going to be any easier to type on than the larger iPad.
Well, in normal portrait and landscape modes it's a little bit odd. With its bigger brother (and most large screen tablets) you can place them on your lap in landscape mode and rattle out messages at a fairly rapid rate thanks to the bigger display.
That's not possible on the iPad mini really, and holding the device in portrait means you can't type one handed either. However, if you use Apple's clever split dock keyboard, the whole system is much better. This feature is available on the bigger 'Pad, but with the larger size the weight made it hard to hold and type with.
For the iPad mini, typing on the move is an excellent experience once you spend some time practicing - entering text on tablets has always been hard, but this is as easy to use as the impressive SwiftKey on Android, bar the clever auto prediction of text.
It's obvious Apple would include iMessage on this device, allowing you to send messages between other Apple devices for free (in most cases, depending on how lenient your network is) in the same manner as RIM's BBM.
It's a simple system, and without the extra confusion of a phone number to worry about it doesn't get in way of actual SMS messages, which was a problem on the iPhone 5.
If you're someone who has others in the family set up on an Apple device, you'll find yourself using this feature out and about a fair amount, especially if you've picked up the LTE iPad mini.
One of the 'magical' features for the iPad mini is the ability to call people using FaceTime, which won't come as a shock to many of you, given Apple is certain people need to see their cats before saying goodnight when away on business trips.
The service is much unchanged on this model of iPad, although the HD front-facing camera is an excellent choice for chatting with people using your head rather than just your mouth.
The service was slick (with a strong enough Wi-Fi connection) and although we wish the contacts menu made it clearer who was rocking an Apple device and would thus be ready for FaceTime, the overall experience was smooth and the on-screen power impressive.
When it comes to contacts management, Apple has never been the most impressive, and that continues on the iPad mini. While the service is perfectly acceptable in terms of storing names and numbers, the rest of it isn't too intuitive.
For instance, with the involvement of Facebook on iOS 6 you can now see your buddies with phone numbers in your Contacts list, as well as those from iCloud and other services you've connected in, like Exchange.
However, while on other devices (mostly Android) there are clever suggestions to help you link them together, and automatic options in many cases, there's no such thing on the Apple front.
You have to dig into the contact, edit the listing, then tap a tiny '+' icon to call up another list of people to join together. It's not a huge problem, and if you can't be bothered with it you'll just end up with a messy list of associates, but it's irksome when it's so much better implemented on rival platforms.
The app itself isn't the most attractive out there either, simply because in portrait mode Apple hasn't stretched it out to take up the full amount of the screen. It seems curious that the company that prides itself on such elements of design would take this approach, rather focusing on the landscape version of the app, but at least the UI is attractive.
A special mention should be made for the list of letters on the left-hand side, allowing you to skip to the people you want to get hold of easily. This part is really sensitive but also manages to register the letter you're after time and again. It's the little things that please, and make Apple products so attractive to so many people.
One nice touch is that for any given contact you get shortcut icons that let you instantly start a new iMessage to that person, start a FaceTime video and now a FaceTime Audio chat with them, provided of course they have at least one device registered that supports one of these protocols.
FaceTime Audio is particularly cool since it works a bit like Skype, providing free calls to other Apple devices and Macs running OS X 10.9.2. The call quality is excellent – in fact it's so good it's initially a surprise, being much clearer and more natural than a regular cellular call.
Apple led the way when it came to mobile browsers back in 2007, and five years later the same structure is still giving a decent mobile experiences on a multitude of screen sizes.
The iPad mini Safari browser is an excellent implementation, despite its age; while it lacks some of the impressive bells and whistles of its competitors, the simplicity of being able to scoot between web pages with ease is enough of a trade-off for many.
The browser is fast enough too, although the A5 processor isn't able to match the speed of the bigger iPad Air or mini 2 over the same Wi-Fi connection, which can render pages a few seconds faster in my tests.
It's no slouch, but in the pantheon of top-end devices (including the Google Nexus 7) can chuck the text and pictures we want to see together in a much more impressive time.
The display resolution isn't too bad for the browsing experience; with the low-res effort I was worried that zoomed-out text might look illegible until double-tapped or pinched to get closer. But it's good enough for those without eyesight problems to be able to see effectively.
As mentioned, the iPad mini browser is fairly feature-light, but what it does have is useful. For instance, sharing a web page, printing it out (as long as you have an AirPlay printer connected) and sending the link via mail, Twitter or Facebook is a simple as tapping the icon, and the integrated nature of the tablet means there's no confusion over what it's doing.
There's a great feature called iCloud Tabs, which shares any currently open browser tabs with all the other Macs or iDevices registered with your Apple ID.
So if you were reading on your iPad at home and then go out, you can jump straight to the pages you were looking at on your iPhone too.
Another great feature is the unified URL bar. There's no more separate search field: just type your search term into the address bar and hit Go to run a Google search for it.
Similarly, I loved the offline reading function. While, again, this isn't a new feature on a mobile device or an Apple product, the portability of the iPad mini puts it in a lovely spot between the iPhone (which can be too small for reading longer articles) and the larger iPad (which can be a hassle to get out on the train compared to the reduced size of the iPad mini) for reading things later when you don't have time now.
The list is easy to view when trying to find the article you want to read, and the icon to save for offline reading is again easy to hit (in the sharing section).
The other feature, and one that's been around for a while, is the Reader option. Tagging a feature in the URL bar will give you a cut-down version of the article you're reading without all the unnecessary features that mobile advertising brings.
Again, the iPad mini is the best device for reading the articles you really care about on the go, and beats the budget tablet competition hands down in this area.
Apple should be commended here as well for sticking to its guns in the mobile video arena and eschewing Flash. While its reasoning for not including it previously in its web browser was suspect, the upshot is we now have a cleaner video format for mobile devices that isn't as convoluted to use.
The video experience isn't as good as it could be on the iPad mini because of the screen resolution, but for web video and clips it's excellent, and the speed of loading is more than acceptable. It means sites like the BBC's show nearly all their online content with ease, rather than presenting you with frustrating 'Flash is not supported on your device' messages that we used to experience.
Little irks me about the browser experience on the iPad mini apart from the slower speed, which isn't down to the software given that the £150-cheaper competition is able to provide a much speedier experience.
But when you're running on 4G LTE, even this doesn't niggle quite so much. Speeds sometimes actually run faster than over Wi-Fi (just by a few split seconds, mind) and for the most part pages load nice and fluidly, without much of the awkward shuffling of page furniture that often happens when browsing on tablets at slower speeds.
Overall the iPad mini web experience, while rather last-gen, is still one of the best around. It brings ease of use and acceptable speeds while providing an excellent wide screen size to actually see and read the things you want to, either on the sofa or on the go.
Movies, music and books
When it comes to the iPad mini, it's clear Apple is doing what it has always done by making it into a multimedia hub for the 'modern user on the go'... which in today's terms is the same as every tablet out there.
However, very few competitors can cope with the raw power and breadth of offering available in the iTunes Store, which brings a smorgasbord of music, video and books to the device - and that's before you even get into the subject of using third-party apps to extend the experience.
TV and Movies
The iPad mini suffers from the same thing that all the other iPads do: namely that the 16GB version, which is the only model left of the first generation mini, is too small to really pack it with the movies and apps that you want.
With the release of the Retina-imbued iPad Air and mini 2, the size of apps like iMovie has soared. Combine that with a whole series of HD video or your favourite movies, and you can see why it makes sense to pay a fair bit more to get extra storage on your tablet (with upgrading the only option here).
It's a pretty big issue that plagued the first 'new' iPad, and although the lower-res display of the mini doesn't need as many pixels, the sizes of downloads are still the same.
Comparing a TV download through the iTunes app in SD and HD quality shouldn't be that different – or so you'd think. In reality, the HD quality videos are much more impressive on the iPad mini with Retina display, meaning you'll always be tempted to fork out a little more to get the extra sharpness.
And there's another problem: the cost of downloading things through the iPad mini. An HD TV series can be purchased for around £35, but in 'real life' (as in, on the shop shelves) it can be over half that for the Blu-ray version of the same episodes.
It's not just Apple that charges these high prices, but it's still an issue – you want to power up your new tablet with loads of video, and unless you find a way to get access to files without heading through the iTunes store (which many won't) we can see many new iPad users being frustrated by this limiting access.
There's another issue here: a lack of file compatibility. The iPad mini will play MP4 files fine, but chucking on a DivX or AVI video is out of the question if you stick to using Apple's own Videos app and iTunes. There are third-party applications you can use however, and truthfully even the free ones – or those that offer decent free functionality with optional paid extras – can be pretty good.
But that's the griping out of the way. As a video player, the iPad mini is excellent. It's just the right size and weight to hold two-handed in landscape mode, and if you're okay with it not feeling as secure in one hand, it's a decent heft to hold with a single set of digits.
The headphone jack is also well-placed – holding it with the Home Button to the right will keep the any wires away from your hands, and if you choose the other direction you'll find it's just clear enough to not get in the way all the time.
I'll admit that not being able to hold it in one hand securely will be an issue for some, and Apple shouldn't be pretending that it will be a comfortable experience for many.
But the wider screen is so much better than on the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD that we can't really be annoyed too much.
The ability to fine-tune how you slide through the video to get to the section you want, the ease with which you can jump in and out of episodes or movies, and the simple one-touch option to fire the movie out to a bigger screen through AirPlay are all intuitive and impressive.
There might be an issue getting the media you want onto the iPad mini, but once it's there it's one of our favourite devices to use for video.
Music is also well-placed on the iPad mini, with a simple-to-use interface and a much better price range for new songs, should you want to keep up to date with the latest and greatest tunes.
Before the first iPad made its debut we wondered how Apple would increase the size of the interface to make use of all the space on the screen.
While it's a little expansive on the larger version, the iPad mini revels in the larger amount of room to display albums and tracks, but it also makes it much easier to hit the buttons on the screen.
As with the video option, the AirPlay function is easily accessible when it's available. This makes it much easier to use if you want to pump your tunes around the house.
The sound quality through headphones is, as ever, excellent. Playing sound through the speakers isn't so good however because of their position at one end of the device, especially if the device is placed with the connector facing downwards.
The sound is rich enough to get away with should your DJ be taken ill an hour before the (small) party, but it's not going to win any audio quality contests.
Overall though, and especially with wireless headphones, the iPad mini is great for tunes. Choosing new songs through the store from the Music app or having high-res album art playing on the lock screen are both fantastic experiences – as are using the aforementioned widget controls on the multitasking menu.
With the smaller screen size, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this may be an e-reader above all else. But atually the iPad mini is no better for e-books than its larger brother.
It's certainly superior in terms of portability and ease of holding, but the main advantage dedicated e-readers like the Kindle PaperWhite have is their use of passive displays, which doesn't cause half as much eye strain.
The iBooks app is decent enough, with an easy-to-use interface that means you can swipe or tap to head through the tomes. However, given many people now have Kindle accounts, the dedicated app from Amazon is superior in my view.
It's odd for iBooks not to come pre-installed on the iPad mini, as it seems to be a core feature of the device at this screen size. Still, you'll be prompted to download it when you head into the App Store for the first time.
The reading experience is fine, but as with many LCD screen-based e-readers, longer sessions aren't as pleasurable as they are on the e-ink devices, simply because the screen quality causes more strain on the eyes.
The lower resolution means that words aren't displayed as sharply on the screen, which is a shame, but it's not the end of the world… just another area where the cost savings have been met.
The gaming prowess of the iPad mini has been called into question slightly, as the onboard chip certainly isn't the most powerful Apple has ever cranked out.
That worry was confirmed when firing up some higher-power games, such as Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy, which looks phenomenal on the newer iPad mini 2.
Graphics were much blockier, although the gameplay was smooth enough and the three-axis gyro made playing shooting games a little more fun. This coupled with the smaller dimensions of the device but with a larger screen made some games a lot more playable than before.
Apple has crafted the iPad mini to attract the casual gamer; while other titles will work fine on the device, don't expect to be wowed by the gaming prowess.
Apps and camera
There are now over a million apps on the Apple App Store, with nearly half that number available that are dedicated to the iPad itself.
However, it's worth taking note of the fact that the likes of iMovie aren't as impressive on the iPad mini, as the lower spec processor and the less-sharp screen mean that rendering movies takes a bit longer than we're used to nowadays.
Of course, if you've never really used a more powerful device then you won't feel the difference, but then you probably wouldn't be that bothered about iMovie or its speed or its app-brethren anyway.
You've probably heard about the Apple Maps fiasco with iOS 6. With iOS 7, Apple has made some significant upgrades to its own Mapping system, making it much more accurate and reliable than it was at launch.
It's a similar system as that seen on the iPhone 5S. Flyover is an option for many cities, and the rest of the things you'd expect, such as traffic information, are also present and correct.
We're not going to get into the accuracy of the app – it's still a long way off in terms of getting things in the right place and shops aren't listed where they are on rival services – but things are improving every day as faults are reported and updated.
Google Maps (and Nokia Maps) are arguably superior options, but Apple Maps at least looks impressive and continues to get better and better.
The navigation option is also good on the iPad mini, with the larger screen making it a very easy tool to use in the car. It's also impressive that it still works without a connection (as long as you've set the information before you leave) so you can even get away with doing things without the LTE version.
However, given there's no GPS chip on offer in the Wi-Fi only version you'll have to be really happy with having some pretty sketchy directions read out to you on the way, although they do work on the lock screen as well, with the iPad mini coming out of sleep mode when you approach your next turning.
But on LTE, the mini becomes a truly trusty navigator for when you're lost around the city.
Offering more clarity than your phone thanks to the bigger screen, it's still compact enough to slip into a coat pocket and whip out when you need to check you haven't strayed too far from your path, something that the iPad 'large' doesn't quite do so well.
Overall, Apple has some way to go in terms of putting the confidence back into its mapping function, but the app is far from horrendous aside from that.
The gallery app on the iPad mini is as good as it's always been, with the smaller screen size making it very easy to manipulate images, such as being able to crop and enhance what's on offer.
I found the speed of doing this to be more than acceptable despite the lower-spec processor, with the smaller screen making cropping photos even easier than on the iPhone. You get red-eye reduction, a selection of filters and an auto-enhance tool to help you improve your snaps.
There are a number of other features, such as being able to geo-locate photos and see them on a map within the app. It really brings your snaps to life.
And as before, the Twitter and Facebook integration is right there, so sharing photos is as simple as if you were doing it on a website.
Photos can be viewed as grouped by year, location or Collection, and there's a nifty zoom feature where if you hold your finger on a group of small thumbnail images you can see a quick preview of each one and slide around to locate a picture easily.
Oh, hello Siri – what are you doing here? Given the iPad 2's processor is the same as in the iPad mini, surely it can't handle Siri? So however did it find its way onto this device? (Yes, I'm looking at you, Apple.)
But, there it is, and nicely incorporated too. The little pop-up window that gives access to the voice recognition is nicely unobtrusive. The accuracy is much improved over the first iteration of the software, and the range of functionality also enhanced.
With its ability to tell you how your football team is doing, what the weather's like in Paris and to open an app on command, the iPad mini has the same implementation as the iPhone when it comes to Siri…and therefore as much use.
There's no way you'll ask it to book an appointment for you, because a) it doesn't always work, and you'll wish you had just typed it in, and b) you're likely to be with someone, and the risk of failure and looking stupid in front of them is too high to try it.
The Google Now cards on Android are much better when it comes to information, as being told what's going on with your team is easier than having to ask for it. Both are different systems, but Siri is never going to gain mass appeal until it finally becomes almost unerringly accurate at recognising what you're saying.
I still like the little pop-up window, though, and you can now hold down the home button for as long as you need to speak to Siri which makes the process a little easier.
The camera on the iPad mini is a fairly standard affair, coming in with a 5MP camera sensor on the rear of the device.
It's not the strongest camera on a tablet by a long way, but does come with some features to help bolster its performance, such as backside illumination to improve the light sensitivity of the sensor and the same five-piece lens that helps filter the light more efficiently.
But in practice, well, you've guessed it: it's an average camera on a tablet, and people shouldn't really be using such a device for photography unless it's an absolute emergency. Simple as that.
There's an HDR mode, which is often necessary to help enhance the quality of your snaps on the go – and you can take pictures in the standard widescreen format or choose a 'square' option.
There's no flash here, so while the low light sensitivity is improved, it's a long way from usable in the real world. The same autofocus elements are in place though, so face detection and focus/exposure locks are available (the latter by long-pressing the portion of the picture you want in focus and brightest).
The front-facing camera is actually a little more usable, as the 1.2MP sensor helps take some above-average profile pictures, if that's what you're into. It's obviously better for FaceTime frippery, but it's a surprisingly high-spec sensor in a budget Apple tablet.
The video capabilities of the iPad mini rate alongside the camera in impressiveness. While it can take 1080p video and stabilise it as you go, the lack of video light makes it a little hard to use in many situations.
You can at least focus the scene during the video shooting, which helps improve snaps in a constantly moving scene… but that's about the most impressive thing we can say about it, other than that it's a decent alternative when you've got nothing else to shoot with and you can rest it securely on a surface to minimise judder.
The Photos app does at least let you trim the start and end points of any video you shoot, and save it either as a new version or to replace the original clip.
Battery and connectivity
Apple devices have historically had issues with battery life, but in recent years the iRange has been stepped up in terms of power performance, and the iPad mini is following in that trend.
The battery life was a hot topic at launch, as many suspected that the lack of a high resolution screen was to help manage the power consumption as much as give Apple the specs for the iPad mini 2 next year. In practice this seems to have worked, as the battery life is pretty darn good.
I tested two usage scenarios: one with full brightness, high power apps running constantly and movies being played over and over, with downloads running in the background. In this case the iPad mini managed to last nearly six hours, which was more than acceptable in our eyes.
In low power mode it was a whole different case. Powering the display right down to the minimum brightness, keeping it turned off and locked and jumping onto Airplane mode from time to time led to an pretty low battery consumption by today's standards, with the unit lasting well over two days with 50% still remaining (on the Wi-Fi only version).
Given that the device will mostly be in the bag or pocket (at a stretch) we can see you'll only need to keep the charger handy every two or three days to keep things juiced - barring a marathon gaming session or email reply storm.
The story is much the same with the LTE option, which is just a fraction more draining than the Wi-Fi-only. That said, with the temptation of instant streaming that comes with 4G, it's likely that you'll find yourself drinking through the power juice a fair bit faster - especially with services like Netflix at your fingertips wherever you are.
But all in all, the battery life won't ever give you any nasty surprises. Although iOS 7 initially seemed to hurt battery life a bit, the 7.1 update has helped and brought things back around to normal. As with any mobile device, the more you use it, the shorter the battery life will be.
The iPad mini has three specifications – 3G, 4G LTE and Wi-Fi only. The latter is pretty sparse, with only dual-channel Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 on board.
I say 'only', but in truth that's quite a decent option for the things you'll want to do with it.
3G has everything under the sun: most LTE bands, DC-HSPA for sub 4G speeds that still impress, GPS and GLONASS for on-the-go mapping (providing you get the courage to do use such a function with Apple Maps).
But the mini reaches its true potential with 4G LTE, allowing the tablet to show us what it's really made for. Opting for the cellular option certainly makes more sense on the mini than with its older sibling, and we found that it made a whole world of difference when using the tablet in day-to-day life.
The 4G option makes the mini perfect for those journeys where you want to catch up with a couple of episodes of your new favourite series. It's even small enough that – with 4G on board – you might find it usurping your iPhone as the chosen device for checking emails and suchlike.
4G LTE speeds on the mini, when tested in London, were impressive though varying, with the device hitting downloads of around 10-15 Mbps a lot of the time. Songs streamed over Spotify instantly, and Netflix took only seconds to buffer with a decent connection. Of course, the mini can also be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, with up to five devices able to connect and share the love at the same time.
The Bluetooth 4.0 integration is also one that's impressed me over time, as it means low power sensors (such as those in healthcare or fitness) can be used with the more portable tablet, which will be great news for doctors who can't convince their patients to buy an iPhone or lug around a larger tablet.
There are other devices that have the same functionality, of course, but Apple always likes to put in the minimum amount of technology when designing devices, so this shows it really believes in the technology.
The GeekBench score is what we usually use to tell if any new Apple product is up to much, and you'll be glad to know that it's… exactly as powerful as the iPad 2 and the iPad 3, though not the newer iPad Air or mini 2, which benchmark almost five times faster.
The latter isn't really a fair test as they have got a much improved GPU running the show to help power all those pixels, but it shows that in terms of CPU grunt there's not a lot to worry about here, especially if you are on a budget and will use it mainly for less processor-intensive tasks.
However, it is under half as powerful as the new iPad Air, which is able to ripple through web pages and apps in a much shorter time… Apple always gives you something to update to, right?
Hands on gallery
I often struggle to sum up an Apple product. I can ask the same question of the iPad mini that I'veasked of nearly every mobile device that Apple has made: how much more should consumers pay for a well thought-out OS and a more impressive design than the competition?
Usually, the answer is 'not as much as is being charged'... but in this case that's not as true as normal. Yes, the iPad mini is once again too expensive. It's more for a device with lower specs than the competition, and Apple is making at least a decent profit on each device, according to iSuppli.
And it's especially irksome how Apple has pointed out that it's making a lower profit margin on this device. Rather than make us say 'well done' for taking the hit to enter a new market, it just makes us think the company should charge less for other devices and stop its cash mountain threatening to topple over and kill Apple employees.
It is worth noting here that the likes of Google and Amazon – while both haven't explicitly said so – are making no money or even using the likes of the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HD as loss leaders to claw back money on apps and content. This is a strategy Apple has no intention of deploying, but it may give consumers pause on the high street.
But forget all that for a second, and focus on this: the iPad mini was the best budget iPad Apple has created to date when it launched, and although the price drops aren't stellar it's still good.
I fell in love with its design, the way the screen seems so much more expansive than the Google or Amazon competition, and the way the smooth aluminium feels in the hand. The iPad mini 2 with Retina display is significantly more powerful and has a much crisper screen, but then it costs more too.
I liked a lot, a whole lot on the iPad mini, and although the price is a little high, Apple has just about justified it with the way the device sits in the hand.
The larger screen might not fit fully in a single palm, but from the smooth back to the Smart Covers designed specifically for the model, I'm a fan – pure and simple.
The speed of the processor is adequate for all tasks, the UI is actually better-engineered for this 7.9-inch screen compared to its bigger brother, and I'm chirpy indeed about the battery prowess through harder use.
4G LTE is good too see, although not a new trick any more, and if you can afford the data it's worth the investment.
The lack of a Retina display is so, so frustrating, because that's the killer feature (along with, perhaps, a slightly faster processor) that would have meant we gave the iPad mini a really high score.
But the screen is too fuzzy at times compared to the likes of the iPad mini 2 or iPhone 5S / 5C to consider it a dazzling display, and that's a real shame.
The low-power GPU is also sadly lacking, even for the price point, and while I've long given up on looking for expandable storage or a removable battery on these devices, 16GB of storage isn't enough for the plethora of large apps and HD content I'm interested in downloading onto this device.
Can I see someone owning an iPhone 5S, an iPad mini and a new iPad Air? Actually, yes...and not just the pointlessly rich. The iPhone is the perfect device for hopping in and out of content, giving you the internet all the time and generally allowing you to play more simple games.
The iPad mini is perfect for a train ride: it's just the right size for a few TV episodes when you're packed nose to nose with fellow commuters, before slipping it back into a bag or pocket to leap for your platform.
The new iPad Air is great for longer sessions and more involved gaming - air travel is so much more improved by its presence and no matter what game we were playing or which content-rich website we wanted to view, it was always the larger device we reached for.
The iPad mini 2 is a better device all around than this one, despite being higher in price, so you'll really need to want to save some cash to put up with the fuzzier screen and low internal storage.
We've said it already, but we'll say it again: the iPad mini was the best iPad Apple has ever created. It offers adequate value for money, sits more pleasantly in the hand and can handle all the tasks you want at least adequately and many times better than you'd expect.
If you're thinking about which tablet to buy a loved one and money isn't an issue, we'd recommend the iPad mini 2 or iPad Air every time, for it's more impressive design compared to the swathes of plastic offered by its competitors.
It's still overpriced compared to what you get from the competition, the CPU and display aren't as strong as they could be and it's showing its age now - but it's not a horrendous choice if you want an iPad no matter what, as this is the cheapest model you're going to get and the new iOS 7.1 update makes it just fresh enough to warrant a purchase.