I have a big exam in a week, and so I’ve been stuck in front of my iPad mini for most of the day lately. Storing and reading textbooks is one of my primary uses for an iPad, and also a major factor in deciding to get the iPad mini.
The size and weight of the iPad mini really comes into play when you read on it. It’s a completely different experience, closer to using something like the Kindle than it is to using a full size iPad. I can hold it for hours without getting tired, and without having any sharp edges dig into my palms.
The resolution is going to be an important point for many. The iPad 3 and 4 have four times the resolution, so if you’re used to that level of detail on text, the mini is going to be a problem. I came from an iPad 2, so it’s the same resolution with better PPI, leaving me quite happy with it. I even run two pages on the screen at once sometimes, which basically halves the resolution, but I still find it readable. It’s not that I don’t like higher resolution text, it’s just that I don’t consider it that important.
Speaking of the resolution, there’s a misconception going around out there about the resolution difference between the iPad mini and the Nexus 7. The iPad mini has a 1024 x 768 screen, while the Nexus 7 has a 1280 x 800 resolution. On paper, the Nexus 7 has a significantly higher resolution, and also a much higher PPI since the screen is smaller. In practice though, it really depends on the content you’re viewing. If you’re viewing anything that’s fullscreen on both, the Nexus 7 wins hands down (resolution-wise, though tablet-optimization for apps is a whole other story). If you’re viewing something in widescreen format, the Nexus 7 wins with an ever greater margin, as the iPad mini has a 4:3 ratio screen that gets black bars on widescreen content. However, if you’re viewing 4:3 content, like a lot of content that’s formatted for paper, the resolution difference is very small. Held vertically, a Nexus 7 displaying 4:3 content will have massive black bars on the top and bottom, and be restricted by the 800 pixels in the short side of the screen. This is only 32 more pixels than the iPad mini, so when you have something that display fullscreen on the iPad mini, it will only display at 1066 x 800 pixels, compared to the iPad mini’s 1024 x 768.
Since I handle a ton of PDF files on the iPad, this screen ratio issue comes into play a lot of times. I used to have a 7-inch Android tablet, and the difference between viewing a document on part of a 7-inch screen compared to all of a 7.9-inch screen does not work in the favor of the 7-inch device. Especially not when all 7-inch Android devices are thicker and heavier than the iPad mini to begin with, and I gave up on finding any PDF handling software for Android that’s as good as what’s available for iOS ages ago.
When it comes to textbooks, you’re also starting to have quite a few digital providers on iOS, least of all Apple itself. I’ve yet to find books I need on any of them, which is fine, since I prefer PDF anyways. Digital textbooks is becoming more and more common in schools, and I think the iPad mini is a big step forward when it comes to the higher education levels where a book is something you pick up and read, not put down and draw in.