Apple rolled it out Tuesday, along with an updated, full-size iPad (surprise!) That model has dominated the tablet market, and with the Mini, Apple looks to engage its competition in the 7-inch format. The three major players there -- Amazon's Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and Google's Nexus 7 -- have sold about 15 million units combined.
So how does the iPad mini stack up?
Leading up to Apple's announcement, the big mystery was how much it would cost. Some analysts thought Apple would price the Mini competitively, in the $249 range. But the Mini's starting price tag is $329, for a 16 GB version with Wi-Fi. With those same specs, the Kindle Fire HD is $199, the Nook HD is $229, and the Nexus 7 is $249. (If you really want to blow it out, the max version of the Mini -- 64 GB with a cellular connection -- is $649.)
At 7.9 inches, the iPad Mini's screen is bigger than the competition, all of which have 7-inch displays. But while it's bigger, the Mini also is thinner and, consequently, lighter; it weighs just 10.88 ounces, a shade less than the Nook (11.1 ounces) but a featherweight compared to the Kindle (13.9 ounces.) The Nexus 7 comes in at 12 oz.
This is where you really see a difference. The iPad Mini sports a 5-megapixel camera and records video in 1080p HD. The Kindle's camera is 1.3 megapixels and records video in 720p. The Nexus 7 has a 1.2 megapixel camera. The Nook doesn't have a camera.
Longer battery life is on every gadget lover's wish list. Here, the iPad Mini doesn't stand out, going 10 hours on a full charge, same as the Nexus 7. The Nook's battery lasts 10.5 hours and the Kindle will go for 11 hours before running out of juice.
The other Apple announcement
Remember that iPad 3 you bought six months ago? It's obsolete. While everyone was distracted by the Mini, Apple also introduced a new 10-inch version of the iPad. The big upgrade here is the new A6X dual-core processor, which Apple says is twice as fast as the previous model and has better graphics. It starts at $499 for a 16 GB version with Wi-Fi.
What's right for you?
The 7-to-8 inch tablet is a strange beast -- bigger than a phone, smaller than a full-size tablet. It's not for everyone. And if you've already got an iPad, do you need the Mini?
HLN money expert Clark Howard's take? If you're an Apple fanatic and you've got to have anything that starts with "i", then the Mini is for you, along with the new iPad. Of course, for just the base models, that'll run you $828.
If you're more budget-conscious and less brand-conscious, and you want a tablet in both sizes, Clark recommends the 8 GB Google Nexus 7 for $199, and the iPad 2 for $399.