Software, Camera

In what won’t come as a huge surprise to anyone, the iPad mini with Retina display comes with iOS 7 without any specific modifications to the software. As you can get iOS 7 on many of Apple’s tablets, as well as many of Apple’s smartphones, I’m not going to spend much time explaining what advantages iOS 7 has on this tablet. I most frequently use Android- and Windows-based tablets, so I haven’t had much time to play with iOS on iPads.

Compared to Android and Windows, I was pleased with how everything just works on iOS, no mucking around necessary. There’s not a huge amount of control in applications and the OS, but there’s enough so that you can generally get things working as you’d like. The Control Center is extremely useful and the multitasking pane is much improved, and although the notification center isn’t as mature as Android’s, it’s not of a huge concern on a tablet.

By far the best aspect of getting an iPad is the massive selection of tablet-ready applications in the App Store, which blows both the Google Play Store and the Windows Store out of the water. There are well-built, high-quality, tablet-specific, first and third party applications for nearly everything you want, alongside a slew of fantastic games. Yes, some things are cross-platform, but the best of the best still remains on iOS.

It’s still clear that iOS is designed for multimedia over productivity, with Windows 8.1 having the one-up in areas like multiple applications on the display at once, and the capability to run full Microsoft Office. However an 8-inch tablet like the iPad mini isn’t the best for getting work done, and is more suited to the multimedia functions that iOS really succeeds at. That’s not to say you can’t use the iPad as a note-taking device or a word processor – you certainly can and there’s plenty of apps for it – but you’ll get the most out of the mini if it’s primarily play you’re after.

Camera

It’s unlikely you’ll be using the iPad mini’s camera as your everyday shooter, so it’s more of an accessory rather than an essential component of the device. Apple has included a 5-megapixel sensor on the back of the iPad mini, paired with an f/2.4 lens and the capability to take HDR images and 1080p video. The front sees 1.2-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 lens and 720p video capabilities.

In good lighting you’ll be able to get some surprisingly wonderful shots from the rear camera, with accurate color reproduction, perfect white balance, and decent dynamic range. Even though the photos from the iPad are only five megapixels large, at full-size the results are sharp with great detail, meaning you do have some room to crop. I still definitely wouldn’t recommend using the mini as your holiday camera, but it’s capable for the occasional snap.

Indoors, the relatively small f/2.4 aperture means the camera needs to boost ISO to get usable, sharp images. Color quality and white balance still remain quite good, but the introduction of grain in moderate lighting conditions makes the iPad unsuitable for a lot of standard shooting conditions. It is possible to photograph whiteboards and projected slides with the iPad mini in a somewhat dimly lit room, but ideally I’d want a larger sensor for a higher megapixel count and better quality.

Needless to say, without any sort of flash and already average performance indoors, the second-generation iPad mini is completely unsuitable for low-light night photography. This is perfectly fine, as there’s no time where you’ll need your iPad for night photography.

I was disappointed to see virtually no camera settings other than changing the aspect ratio from 4:3 to 1:1, enabling the video mode and switching to the front camera. There is an HDR mode, which takes images much faster than your average HDR mode, however the results are not as pronounced as the impressive Galaxy S4 and LG G2 HDR modes. And of course Photo Booth is installed out-of-the-box, for all those crazy selfies that everyone likes to take.

Again, the iPad mini’s rear camera is decent in the right conditions, but it’s no substitute for a decent smartphone or point and shoot camera, and should be used sparingly.