First moments with the 2013 iPad mini “R” (Retina, 32GB)

Two posts within twenty-four hours!  Looks like I’m off to a good start already!

Rather than create an “unboxing” video that would join the hundreds of thousands already available on YouTube, I figured that giving a little expose regarding why I chose this specific model and the accessories would be just as entertaining while not being as predictable.  Hopefully you’re not disappointed as the internet doesn’t need another nobody showing thousands of viewers how white the box is, but if you were expecting videos then perhaps another time.

Why the iPad mini?  Why not a Windows laptop/Surface/Macbook Air/Macbook Pro/new Mac?

I chose a late 2013 iPad mini over all of the other appliances for three reasons:  a) weight, b) lack of distractions (besides the games anyway), and c) accessibility.  I explained briefly in my last post how I hurriedly switched to a Mac (it was an emergency purchase, trust me) due to a Windows error that I couldn’t override, and despite a few games that remain Windows exclusives on Steam I haven’t looked back since, even though Windows machines (both laptops and desktops) have greatly increased their power-versus-price ratio.  While a 2013 value-priced laptop can soundly beat a 2008-era value-priced machine, the nightmares of dealing with missing .dll files, mandatory Windows updates, defrags, registry correction…it’s just too much.  I don’t have time for the stress as I need a machine to do homework, not a machine to do both homework and home PC work.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve witnessed other students using 11-inch Macbook Airs.  While they look light, compact and easily portable, the screen basically represents (in a minuscule size, mind you) what can be shown on my desktop.  It’s true that the same can be said of Windows desktop monitors versus laptop screens, but  there aren’t that many 11-inch Windows-based laptops (and to me that’s a bad idea).  A new Mac is coming as the Mac that I’m typing this on is a five-year-old machine (torn apart and upgraded by me, mind you), but I’m waiting for Apple to finalize their plans for either Haswell or Broadwell-based Mac minis (please grant us Iris Pro for the mini at least).  And any Macbook Pro would be prohibitively expensive as I have other things to consider along with the purchase.

iPad mini with Retina Display (32GB)

That leaves iPads as the viable purchase.  Then a new question arose:  which one to get, the iPad Air or the iPad mini with Retina Display?  After searching through about six or seven sites, rationalizing what uses I would have for the device besides the games, and cost-versus-value-versus-comfort, I chose the smaller of the newest offerings.  I thought that I had the choice settled, but after all of the decisions I made, one final question arose:  32GB or 64GB?

64GBs of flash storage would definitely future-proof the device in addition to the tech already included.  After remembering my usage patterns with my previous Apple-branded mobile device (a late-2009 32GB third-generation iPod Touch) I decided that the $499.99 USD 32GB iPad mini “R” (for Retina, which I’ll call the device for here onwards) would be the more worthwhile purchase as I could add/remove playlists, podcasts, videos and apps as needed.  Not only that, but the $100 saved would go towards other accessories such as cases, headphones, iTunes Store credits and anything else that I’ll need.  UPDATE:  after loading up all of my apps (and there were a lot of them), I still had 14.1 GBs remaining, making my 32GB purchase a wise decision.

The iPad mini “R”

2013 iPad mini - wolf-approved
2013 iPad mini: wolf-approved.

I braved Midwestern single-digit temperatures, suspicious stares from several salespeople and annoyance at bluetooth device pricing, but I managed to grab the 32GB slate-grey model of the iPad mini R, along with some additional items to round out the package.  You’ll probably know the specs already, but just in case, here’s a short list:

Screen: 7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution, 324 pixels per inch

Processors: 64-bit A7 Cyclones (x2) @ 1.3 GHz, M7 co-processor (measures gyroscopes, motion sensor activity)

Graphics: PowerVR G6430

RAM:  1GB

Storage: 32GB flash, 26.6GBs available

Unboxing the iPad mini R

After tearing off the shrink-wrap, lifting the cover of the box brought me face-to-face with my new friend.  My long-lasting impressions of iPads visually being larger versions of iPod touch units hasn’t changed, especially in the case of the iPad mini R:

Hello

The iPad mini R looks smaller than even Apple’s website promotions suggest, but once I lifted it out of the box I was surprised by the weight of the unit.  It may look fragile enough to shatter if held the wrong way, but when holding it I was struck by how solid it felt.  It’s a svelte device, but the construction of the unit feels like a solid, classy piece of kit.

Besides the iPad mini R, the box includes a Lightning-USB cable for wired synching with a Mac or PC running iTunes, an AC adapter box for easily recharging the battery from the wall socket, a colorful thick-stocked card with a visual instructions, legal documentation, the mysterious Apple stickers (why?) and that’s it.

The iPad mini, AC adapter and cable

It’s rather perplexing that Apple doesn’t include a pair of earbuds like the iPod and iPhone line, but perhaps it’s because they want you to enjoy the speakers at the base of the unit.

Rather than spend $40 to get a name-branded Smart Cover, or $70 for a Smart Case (what the frick, Apple?) I chose to get an accessory that could both cover the device on all sides during transport and prop it in landscape mode during content viewing, so I opted for Targus’s $30 soft-cover case with included stand.  I noticed that other students were using this same case during evening classes to access professors’ lecture slides as they taught, and even if I won’t use the stand functions, at least it’ll protect the unit.

Along with a set of $10.49 JVC earbuds (which came with a remote and microphone and supposedly interface with the iPad’s functions), I used the money saved from (unfortunately) not being able to find a suitable bluetooth keyboard and went for a $50 gift card.

Additional necessities

Turning it on for the first time

While taking off the protective plastic wrapping from the device itself, I found myself unwittingly holding it claw-like, just like Apple’s promotional materials have shown.  Though my hands aren’t really big, others felt nervous when holding it, which again brings forth that “solid yet fragile” feeling.

iPad mini R (front)

iPad mini R (rear)

*Please note:  the following images of the iPad mini R’s screen are blurred due to my Logitech’s HD camera not being able to focus well enough to take proper shots.  Rest assured, the retina display is INSANELY sharp, and the below shots just don’t do the iPad mini R justice.  My apologies, and since the iPad mini R has more powerful cameras and I’m working on getting screen-recording software, blurry images will soon disappear altogether from this site.

Now I’m finally at the point where I can turn the iPad on.  The all-too-familiar logo appears:

Here we go

Next, just like new Macintosh hardware boot-ups or major OS X upgrades, the iPad mini R displayed “Hello” in various languages and continued to do so until I started the preliminary setup process.

It keeps saying hello until you get to work

After entering my network information, Apple ID, location and other option, I saw the home screen for the first time:

It's alive!  IT'S ALIVE!
It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!

The first thing I did was test out all of the professional reviewers’ statements regarding text displaying on a retina screen.  Again, forget how blurry the camera shots are (stupid Logitech webcam!) and believe me when I say this:  Oh.  My.  God.

Macworld's web site.  My Logitech camera can't even display the crispness of the iPad mini's screen.  It really has to be seen to be believed.  CRAP!
Macworld’s web site. My Logitech camera can’t even display the crispness of the iPad mini’s screen. It really has to be seen to be believed. CRAP!
Here's a familiar site.  The Lone Wolf Blog conforms rather well on the mini's display.
Here’s a familiar site. The Lone Wolf Blog conforms rather well to the mini’s display.

iPad + iTunes

When I finally tore my eyes away from the screen to connect the iPad to my five-year-old Mac, I expected the old girl to throw a fit and finally give up (I know, I still have nightmares about troubleshooting Windows PCs).  Admittedly there were problems with getting the two machines to recognize each other over bluetooth, and I was confused by a message on the iPad stating “not charging”.  It took several tries to get them to finally shake hands as I’ve never used the 2009 Mac mini’s bluetooth modules except to test a Dual Shock 3 with Steam’s Big Picture Mode compatibilities.   I also found that the iPad doesn’t charge while connected to the Mac unless it’s idle (asleep), and only then does it charge up.  That makes sense.

What surprised me (and it shouldn’t have) was that while there were some communication troubles, iTunes 11.1.14 immediately saw the iPad and got right to work:

Meeting and greeting.
Meeting and greeting.

Because I only had less than 26.6 GBs of space to work with, I could live without automatic syncing despite the iPad demanding that I do so.  What I did try to do, which took me over twenty minutes to figure out  and undo,  was have the systems sync over wifi.  All of a sudden my downloading of Janetter (a multi-feed Twitter app, thanks goes to Dan for the recommendation) showed an estimated download completion time of over sixty minutes, for a 14MB file!  Once I went to iTunes, and went to the iPad’s drop-down list to disable the “sync over wifi” option, the download from iTunes took about eight seconds.

Now that's better!
Now that’s better!

Games, games, games!

We’re at the end of the post, because I’ve yet to take any of the apps for a spin.  It looks like I’ll be spending the rest of the night purchasing, downloading and syncing all of the apps that I want/need on my new device.  Of course I’ll be using the free iWork apps for schoolwork between classes as well as draft posts, but I plan to relax with it as well.  I’ll leave you with a short list of the games that I’ll be trying out over the weekend (after studying hard  for a Philosophy exam, that is):

iPad apps wishlist

*Note, all images below are promotional materials owned by the respective developers and publishers, however due to my busy iTunes/iPad traffic I went to TouchArcade for the images.

From left to right (in order of how recent they were added to my wish list):

N.O.V.A. 3 (Gameloft) – first-person space shooter:  I’ve played a watered-down version of N.O.V.A 2 when it became available for the Mac App Store, and the game was so bad it was good.  N.O.V.A. 3 does the exact opposite (so good that one wrong thing would mess it up), with beautiful environments, better gameplay, and…well, the voice acting is still cheesy.

NOVA 3

Chronus Arc (Kotobuki Solutions/Kemco) – role playing:  Kemco has a knack of publishing Legend of Heroes-like RPGs, and supposedly this is one of their better efforts.

Chronus Arc

Minecraft: Pocket Edition (Mojang) – action/role-playing:  a friend kept going on and on about this for weeks, and since I’ve yet to touch Minecraft (any of the previous releases) I decided to give this one a look.

Minecraft Pocket Edition

Block Fortress (Foursaken Media) – tower-defense/first person shooter:  It’s Minecraft, with GUNS!  Build and defend your fort using unlockable defenses and tools from ever-increasingly deadly waves of “Goblocks”.  This is one of the games that put Foursaken Media on the map, and even IGN gladly gave BF the nod.  That’s right.  IGN.

I’ve been jumping from site to site and YouTube vid to YouTube vid regarding this one.  This will be the first one that I’ll try on the iPad mini R.

Block Fortress

Deus Ex: The Fall (Square Enix) – action/role-playing:  You may think of this release as a direct sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PS3/360/Wii U/PC/Mac), but this action/stealth game regarding human evolution and man’s alternatives (based on one of the later Deus Ex novels) supposedly has the same amount of action, more choices, stealth and hidden files on iOS as the non-portable consoles’ release.

Deus Ex The Fall

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars HD – 2013 update (Rockstar Games) – action.  Originally developed for the Nintendo DS in 2009 and ported to the Playstation Portable a mere few months afterword, the game finally found a home in iOS with higher-resolution graphics, dynamic lighting, an expanded soundtrack, custom soundtrack support and the “Lions of Fo” unlockable missions available without logging into the Rockstar Social Club.  I enjoyed Huang Lee’s hunt through Liberty City to avenge his father’s death, and despite the touch-based controls I can’t wait to play through the journey once again.

GTA Chinatown Wars HD

Puzzle Quest 2 (Infinite Interactive) – puzzle/role-playing – the first Puzzle Quest was addictive despite it’s heavy reliance on Bejeweled’s gameplay due to the number of weapons and spells to discover and unlock.  Puzzle Quest 2 scales back the adventuring but the gameplay is still addictive.  Instead of a horizontal adventure (exploring a vast continent in order to defeat a demon and his army), the adventure is more vertical (exploring a deadly tower).

Puzzle Quest 2

Repulze: Phase 3 (Pixelbite) – action/racing: Sony may have shut down Psygnosis/Studio Liverpool (the makers of the Wipeout series), but Repulze looks to be a decent temporary replacement.  What started as a few small tracks in which players defeated timed runs has expanded into a racing/vehicular combat game.  Being a Wipeout fan, this is one that I can’t wait to try out.

Repulze Phase 3

Sonic the Hedgehog CD (Sega) – action-platform:  it’s the game that derailed my legal ambitions…and I thank Sega for it.  Chris Whitehead’s high-res update includes the (better) Japanese soundtrack as well as the original, along with the past/present/future hopping, Metal Sonic-chasing and Amy-dodging  action that Sonic CD is well-loved.

Sonic CD

*One final note:  newer Mac and iDevices receive free copies of the iWork suite of apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote).  I was either informed via a prompt or by searching for it myself via the iPad – I can’t remember which. The iLife and iWork apps downloaded at the same time that I was synching my purchased games, so traffic was heavy for a while.  As of this writing, I’ve been at it for almost six hours writing, taking photos, syncing and troubleshooting.  Everything’s now finished, and I have a full free day to try these apps out.

Hope you enjoyed the iPad mini R post.  Until next time.

Jay

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