I did not buy an iPad Mini today. However, I did stop by my local Best Buy (no Apple Store in town) and test drive theirs. If they had a 16GB white or black version in stock, I would have bought it, I'm weak. While I walked out of the store empty handed, I had the opportunity to spend a good 20-30 minutes of hands on time with the iPad Mini and here are my initial impressions.
I loved it. This is the Star Trek PADD, the device that you can carry around in one hand and type commands in with the other. Although the iPad I demoed was tethered to a display table, the portability and lightness was obvious. I could easily palm the iPad in my left hand and command it with my right. It would easily slip in to almost any bag or medium to large purse. It would probably fit in any large jacket pocket. I don't carry around my iPad as often as I thought I would, it's mainly an "around the house" or travel device. But I think the iPad Mini would be something I would more frequently take out and about.
The fit and finish of this iPad is top notch, just as you'd expect from any other Apple device. It's solidly built and really is an iPad, only smaller.
I never owned an iPad 2 so I have no basis of comparison. But from an everyday use standpoint of browsing the web, email, App responsiveness, etc. I found the iPad Mini to be on par with my third generation iPad. I'm sure for processor or graphics intensive tasks there will be some slowdown, but that's not what I use my iPad for so it's not a concern. For all the things I, and I suspect most people, do on an iPad, the Mini was more than capable.
This was the one area where the Mini was distinguishable. I can't be clear if the problem was the smaller screen or the lack of a retina display, but I found that the reading experience, at least as it pertained to webpages, on the Mini was not comfortable unless I zoomed in. I rarely do that on my current iPad. For example, when browsing articles on sites like CNN or The New York Times I found a page loaded at full screen was slightly uncomfortable to read. It was doable, but better if I zoomed in. This could be attributed to a number of things, the size of the screen and thus the smaller type face when the pages are zoomed out, the lack of the retina display so the text seemed not quite sharp enough, or the fact that my eyes aren't quite perfect. I'm guessing the biggest factor was the size of the display making the overall text smaller.
The stock Mini I played with had limited applications so I couldn't test out apps like Instapaper or Kindle. However I found that reading on non-webpages was easy. iBooks, email, notes, etc. were all fine on the iPad Mini. Given the size and weight I think the Mini is going to be an ideal reading device. Again, here the lack of the retina display was noticeable at first, but as I spent more time with the Mini, even with my limited experience in the store, I found the lack of a retina display to be less and less of an issue. At some point you forget and it just becomes normal. While I desperately hope we'll see a retina iPad Mini sooner rather than later, I suspect it will be at least a year and it's possible costs and power constraints may push that back further.
One of the major reasons I wanted to hold an iPad Mini in hand was to evaluate the typing performance. I found that in portrait mode the keyboard was easily usable with the "two thumbs" typing method similar to what most of us do with our iPhones. Surprisingly, portrait mode is probably how most people will use the iPad Mini most of the time, which is opposite of how I use my current iPad. In landscape mode typing is a bit more difficult but it was also harder for me to evaluate in store. Normally when I type in landscape my iPad is either resting on a stand or laying on a flat surface and I use a slightly modified typing style with two hands where I can almost touch type. With the iPad Mini, it's not going to be possible to use two hands in landscape mode to type. Instead I found myself holding the iPad in my left hand and using all five fingers on my right to type. I couldn't clock my typing speed but I would say in landscape mode it's a good bit slower than typing in landscape on my current iPad while in portrait mode just slightly slower than typing on my iPhone. I'm sure increased speed will come with time.
After my brief hands on stint with the Mini I'm more convinced now that the iPad Mini will be my next iPad. I'm still uncertain whether I will buy this generation Mini and replace my third generation iPad or wait for a Mini with retina display. I currently have an offer from Gazelle to buy my third generation iPad that would cover the cost of the 16GB Mini and an inquiry from a work associate. But as any good geek knows, there's more to the cost of a new device than just the device itself. With the lightning port means new accessories including a Smart Cover ($39), extra USB cable ($19), USB Camera Adapter ($29),VGA Adapter ($49). Throw in $99 if you want AppleCare (which I usually don't buy on iPads) or an Invisible Shield to protect against scratches ($39) and very quickly you add another couple hundred bucks to the price.
All in all, Apple is going to have no problem selling a ton of Minis and I think like the iPod Mini before it, the iPad Mini will quickly become the best selling model of the iPad lineup. Most people, myself included, don't need two iPads, so the decision of which iPad to buy will primarily be made going forward based on form factor and price.