Thoughts on the iPad mini 4

After a vast amount of soul-searching, and considering I might well have to stop using a Mac at work (very long story which I’m not really comfortable with yet), I caved in and ordered an iPad mini 4.

Since I’m not in the business of minting money, the best compromise between price, storage and connectivity turned out to be the 64GB Wi-Fi model, which has enough room to pack most of my books, the entire Microsoft Office suite and enough of my photos to have a sane photo workflow of sorts (mostly culling and editing the keepers without a laptop).

As far as accessories are concerned, Apple‘s ludicrously expensive pricing didn’t help, so I decided to stick with just a revamped SmartCover for the moment – nothing to write home about, really.

Connectivity-wise, I don’t feel like paying for a standalone data subscription and can piggyback onto my iPhone (or whatever else I’m eventually forced to use) when I’m out and about. Most of what I do besides e-mail and editing is mostly SSH/Remote Desktop connections (none of which are much of an issue for any data plan), so I’m pretty comfortable with that decision.

Plus this is going to be essentially a personal device. I’ve been using my original mini as pretty much my “most personal” computer for a couple of years now (the iPad is the first thing I pick up in the morning and the last I switch off at night), and although I haven’t bought into the iPad lifestyle the way Federico Viticci has, I’m pretty close.

The Size Fits (Me)

What I am unquestionably very comfortable with is the form factor – it’s small enough to carry everywhere, has exactly the same screen real estate as an Air 2 (only tighter) and is still light enough to use as an e-book reader for extensive periods of time.

For work/writing/creating stuff, and taking into account that both my work and hobbies revolve around cloud services and remote access to stuff, it’s good enough – it’s not an iPad Pro, but I never have time to use it for more than one or two hours at a time, and as usual I’d rather wait until Apple does at least a couple production runs and irons out any teething issues.

And so far I’m pretty happy with it.

It’s fast (hardly indistinguishable from an iPad Air 2 in general use), the new multitasking features are a godsend (I’m typing this in Editorial and fishing topics out of OneNote, after spending a half hour with OneNote and Slack side-by-side discussing work stuff), and I can finally juggle five or six apps without the thing stuttering or reloading application state (which was a big problem on the old mini).

It’s all I ever needed an iPad to be.

Just That Little Extra Bit Taller

There are, however, a few kinks – as usual.

It took me a while to catch on, but as it turns out the most annoying thing about the iPad mini 4 is that it is 3mm taller than the old models, which means every single case out there is essentially useless (including my Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio).

If you’re using a more chintzy cover or a cheap folio you can probably squeeze it in, but in my case nothing fit properly – older SmartCovers fall just short enough that they expose the edges, and the iPad just wouldn’t fit into my folio’s retainers.

Keyboards Wanted

Using the new software keyboard in iOS 9 is a pretty decent experience for note-taking and even some long form writing, but not when you’re working on remote machines – wasting half the screen real estate is simply not an option and the mini is too small for typing accurately in portrait orientation, so there’s just no comfortable way to, say, have a usable SSH connection to a remote server that lets you do more than type a half dozen commands before you start frantically scrolling up and down.

And, of course, the virtual keyboard lacks tactile feedback and home key nubs to reposition my fingers quickly. I’ve found that the absence of both slows me down when typing.

So I dusted off my Origami Workstation, hijacked my Mac mini keyboard and am using that (with a little extra padding) until Zagg or Logitech ship something I can use1.

The full-sized keyboard helps a lot, and finally, three years later, I can use Command-Tab to switch between apps with ease.

  1. Incidentally, if you’re in that business, I’m willing to try out your stuff and do a fair review. Ping me to set it up. ↩︎