Should you get an iPad Mini? Which one?

It’s the question I’ve been asked most in the past few months (and one I’ve been forced to ask myself): Should you get the new iPad Mini when it becomes available in South Africa (or from overseas friends or family who are visiting this month)?

Surely this device, which seems to be little more than an oversized iPhone, is pointless and designed purely to get rabid Apple fans to buy yet another product? That’s the knee-jerk reaction.

Except, its wrong.

Having played with the device a few times in the past week, one thing is clear: the iPad Mini is perhaps the perfect tablet. It’s infinitely more portable than the iPad (or other similar 9- or 10-inch tablets). To get an idea of the size of an iPad Mini, put three iPhones next to each other. Despite what it seems, the 7.9-inch mini is a big difference from a 7-inch tablet (the size of rival tablets in the category).

Plus its perfect to use for reading in bed (have you tried holding up a full-size iPad while horizontal or even semi-horizontal?)

And it’s a lot more useful than trying to read everything on the screen of your smartphone. Even on the bigger-than-anyone’s-hand 4.5- (or even 4.8-) inch phones like the Nokia Lumia 920 and Samsung Galaxy S3. Plus a phone is not a tablet (and a tablet is not a phone).

For most people, the choice is relatively simple: iPad (or similar device) or iPad Mini (or similar-sized device). And if you already own an iPad, the decision on whether to get an iPad Mini depends almost solely on what you want to use the tablet for. Do you want it to be ultra-portable? Or does your tablet need to be more of a pure (“pro”) laptop replacement?

In the case of the former, get the mini; for the latter, the normal iPad. If you’re mobile (or travel) a lot and practically live online, you might need both. But this is the exception, not the rule. For families, getting a mini for the kids to use as an education/gaming device (that you could repossess every so often when you need to) would be a good idea.

(And, all the existing apps for the iPad run perfectly on the mini. It’s the exact same resolution as the iPad 2, just a physically smaller screen.)

iPad and iPad Mini
iPad and iPad Mini

Now the real conundrum (if you do decide to get a mini): WiFi or WiFi with cellular?

There are pros and cons to both.

WiFi should suit you fine. The extra R1 400 for a WiFi with cellular model (or R1 500 in the case of the 64GB one) is overkill. But, “there’s not much WiFi coverage in South Africa”, is the common kickback. True, but if you have WiFi at home and the office, then it’s a definite no-brainer.

What if you’re often mobile and need to be online? Chances are you already have a smartphone which you can set up as a WiFi hotspot and tether to. Most importantly, this lets you consolidate your data bundle spending. It makes no sense to have your primary cellphone contract with a data bundle, a SIM and data bundle for your tablet (possibly another if you already have an iPad) and a 3G dongle for your laptop!

There’s another option which may make more sense (especially budget wise). You could buy a mobile WiFi hotspot (there’s the well-known MiFi devices and Vodacom has its own branded device. This would cost you under R1 000 cash, and allows for five devices to connect to it.

The bonus is you can load it with a good value prepaid data deal (don’t get locked into a 24-month contract!).Then you wouldn’t need a 3G dongle or a SIM and bundle for your tablet (or possibly even a data bundle on your phone contract). The downside is you have to carry this mobile hotspot with you (and keep it charged). Even getting this extra mobile router works out way cheaper than the extra R1 400 for the cellular option on the iPad mini (there is a similar steep price difference on the normal iPad).

iPad Mini photo
iPad Mini photo

But this solution is not going to work for everybody. If each of your devices gets used very independently and it’s critical to be online while mobile (your wife, for instance may end up using the mini on some days, kids on others), and you need the flexibility, then the WiFi with cellular makes sense.

The important thing is the “there’s-not-enough-WiFi-coverage” justification for spending an extra 25% is not as true as it seems.

And as for the 16GB or 32GB or 64GB question, that’s easily settled. Unless you’re going to use this as a primary device (ie, you have a large music/media collection, or tons of games and no laptop or PC), 16GB is more than sufficient.

* Incidentally, I’ve decided to buy an iPad Mini even though I have an iPad because I’m tired of squinting at my iPhone in bed (where I do a lot of reading). I’ll be opting for the base model (16GB WiFi) and doubling my data bundle on my smartphone to solve the connectivity problem when I’m mobile. By the time my contract is up for renewal in the middle of next year (and I most likely port), I’ll probably ditch my separate SIM and data bundle on my iPad too, if not sooner should it make financial sense.

*Hilton Tarrant contributes to “Broadband”, a column on Moneyweb every Wednesday covering the ICT sector in South Africa.

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Should you get an iPad Mini? Which one?