It’s easy to get excited about iPad mini because it’s a different kind of iPad. Smaller, lighter, and thinner than every previous model, it’s surprisingly good for playing games. Its downsides are related to its tech, which is for the most part borrowed from the iPad 2, but it's still an incredibly capable device and its distinctive physical features have me preferring it over my full-sized iPad based on my time with the device thus far.

A device is nothing without software, though. So, over the weekend, I tried out a lot of games on my iPad, moving from control method to control method: tilt, swipe, one-tap, and even button heavy games. For the most part, it was smooth sailing. Games just feel different on iPad mini.

Out of the box, my biggest concern with iPad mini was with games that use virtual buttons. All iPad apps run on mini, but shrinking down controls that were originally designed for an OG iPad screen could theoretically create problems with UI elements being too small to use. Most games work because you can move the UI around, which is the case with a button-heavy title like Street Fighter X Tekken, but others don’t offer such options.

Super Crate Box, for example, doesn’t. On the iPad mini, the buttons are just too low on the screen for me, and I found that when the action started to get intense I would miss some buttons altogether, almost always resulting in death. I had a similar experience with GTA Chinatown Wars which does allow you to choose an iPad-friendly option that places the controls higher up on the screen, but they're a bit too high and the default placement too low, and again found myself mis-tapping when it counted most. Neither game is unplayable because of this, just a bit frustrating at times, and the ability to move the controls around would likely fix those issues immediately.

As for games that use single-tap controls or just a couple of buttons, like Jetpack Joyride and Super Hexagon specifically, they work like a dream on the iPad mini. That's true of touchscreen games in general, though -- synthesizing them down to the bare essentials of just simple taps usually makes for the most reliable control schemes.

Tilt-based games work great too. On the full-size iPad, and especially with the iPad 3 which is noticeably heavier than previous models, tilting games can wear you out in no time flat. On the new iPad mini this isn't even an issue. It's so light and small that holding it and tilting at length is much less fatiguing. Vertically-oriented games like Doodle Jump can even still be played with one hand, and driving games that use tilting for steering like Need For Speed Most Wanted feel fantastic on the mini.

Unfortunately, I did run into a couple of problematic games on the iPad mini. Intense games like GTA III and True Skate either (a) don’t run in the case of the former or (b) don’t run well in the case of the latter. It’s hard not to get disappointed with this, iPad mini’s lack of a strong enough GPU... but the convenience of this device is worth the trade-off.

So when it comes right down to it, the biggest advantage of the iPad mini is that it's small and light. Much like the iPhone 5 and new iPod touch, it's almost disconcertingly light, like a prop device you would find in a department store. That doesn't mean it feels cheap, though. In fact it feels luxurious. This is easily the sexiest and sleekest iPad I've ever held in my hands, but it feels solid enough to toss into a bag on your way out the door and not think twice about, and the modest weight means you can game for a very long time before wearing yourself out. It should also be mentioned that the battery life is excellent in the iPad mini, taking me a full day and a half to run it down completely even with heavy use.

As great as the portability of the iPad mini is, though, I can't help but long for a Retina Display screen and some beefier internal hardware. The iPad mini screen is far from terrible, after being spoiled with Retina Display on my iPhone and iPad for so long it's hard not to immediately notice the pixels right from the Apple boot-up logo on the lower definition screen. On the flip side, if those are the tradeoffs needed to get the iPad mini as light as it is with an insane battery life, then those are things I'm more than willing to compromise on, and chances are we'll see those upgrades in next year's model of iPad mini anyway.

If you already own an iPad 2 or newer then it might be hard to justify splurging on the smaller model, though once you actually hold an iPad mini in your hands it's nearly impossible not to want to just start throwing money at the register. It really is a device whose purpose becomes clear when it's actually in-hand. However, if you don't yet have an iPad or other tablet and aren't concerned with being on the bleeding edge of technology, the iPad mini is an easy recommendation. It has a staggering number of apps and games, it starts at a lower price than any other iPad model, and it's just plain fun to use.

As a side note: we’ve got a great list of games that feel great on iPad mini if you're new to iPad gaming and are looking for somewhere to get started.

  • 1337brian

    I love my mini but I'm dying to see an update for TrueSkate, if it can run flawlessly on my 1st gen iPad I don't see why this should be any different. The full size iPad is definitely portable but this thing is in another category comparatively it's so light and the size is perfect! While retina would be super nice It's not a dealbreaker for me and seeing as I saved almost $200 I'll definitely sacrifice retina display for the smaller form factor.

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  • http://twitter.com/theplotlessplot Henrique Sousa

    The fact that games like GTA III are unable to run on the iPad mini is most likely related to the fact that they have to be updated. GTA III ran flawlessly on my iPad 2 so I expect the iPad mini to handle it.
    I think it might be related to the hardware identifier of the iPad mini. Some games can't tell the hardware that they're running on and they just don't work.
    Updates are seriously needed!

    • iamPro

      I'm running GTA3 flawlessly on my iPad mini.

      Am I missing something or miss a memo??

      • jez

        Me too. I've been playing GTA 3 on a mini with no problems.

      • jez

        Maybe the 'Aus' version of GTA has looser device requirements?

      • http://twitter.com/bjornkeizers Bjorn Keizers

        Working just fine on the version bought in the Dutch app store. Runs great in fact.

      • http://twitter.com/killianbell Killian Bell

        Same here — I can play GTA 3 just fine.

        I've also been using the iPad mini for other intensive titles like Need for Speed Most Wanted, Modern Combat 3, Infinity Blade II, and Sky Gamblers, and they all play flawlessly, too.

      • http://twitter.com/theplotlessplot Henrique Sousa

        I haven't been able to test it, 'cause my mini still hasn't arrived. I was just referring to what Jared said in the review about it not running/not running well. I guess there's no problem then!

      • yorkmon

        I figured out why it kept exiting to springboard after a while during the game. It's the screensaver that makes the screen go black. I had it set to 2 mins so if I left stopped playing for 2 mins it'd go to the black screensaver and that's the same as exiting the game. So I just disabled the screensaver in General settings and now it's fine. Maybe all I had to do was change it from 2 mins to something higher but I don't really care for now.

      • yorkmon

        Have you played it for more than 5-10 mins. without it crashing randomly? Mine seems to respring or go to a black screen where I have to slide to unlock and I'm at the springboard/desktop so I have to restart the game and then the same thing happens over again. This is a cracked version and I've tried a couple of them and they all do the same thing. Any ideas?

  • http://twitter.com/russclarkewins Russell Clarke

    I'm surprised that people are surprised the mini is good for playing games.

    • MidianGTX

      I'm surprised the difference in size has people raving about portability to this extent. If Apple bring out another iPad 1 inch bigger next year, that'll probably be even more perfect. If they bring out one 1 inch smaller, that'll be perfect too.

      • 1337brian

        I'm surprised you keep judging it so harshly seeing as the only amount of time you've actually spent with it was "at the apple store"... For someone who has depended on their iPad for a few years at school for textbooks, notes, etc. I most definitely appreciate the smaller form factor and less weight in my backpack.

      • MrAlbum

        I'm surprised "I'm Surprised" hasn't turned into a meme yet XD

        I'll most likely get this in a month or two; kinda half-broke at the moment :

      • JohnDoey

        iPad mini is less than half the size of the big iPad. It is not a fraction smaller. It is dramatically smaller.

        Look at the volume, not the screen size. The thickness and weight are very important.

  • http://twitter.com/ezonecom Simon Edis

    I totally agree - in my opinion it's the best iPad yet and the form factor is perfect. I won't buy another 'full' sized iPad.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/HR3TJBH4DKDZ247EQXTF3YG4NQ Montgomery

    Wait - what? GTA III even runs on my iPad 1. Did the iPad 2 get slower than the iPad 1? Is that why I can't run iOS 6 because my iPad 1 is so fast?

    Let me know when the logic train arrives.

    • http://profiles.google.com/fleshman1992 Laszlo Tuss

      Actually GTA3 is crashing on the iPad 1 all the time (mostly at saving)

    • JohnDoey

      Your iPad 1 has too little memory for iOS 6.

      Some apps will have to do a tiny update to better support te mini screen. The CPU/GPU is not an issue.

  • http://twitter.com/TeslasTesticles Tesla

    Apple makes $138 profit per unit it sells. I still think it's a gaffe by leaving the window open for Google and Amazon by going north of $199 - and I don't really care seeing as how I'm wealthy. The real problem is - 7 months from now we'll see a retina screen, better camera, and and A6/7 chip under the hood. Don't see the point buying an iPad 2 mini when we all know an iPad 4/5 mini is coming in March.

    • Dpad

      This is true...... I'm looking at you ipad 3 !!!!!!

      • Superatomic

        Do we know for sure that they will release another version in march?

    • John Henson

      You can wait if you want to, but don't expect to see any updates to the iPad mini or iPod Touch lines before this time next year.

      • thegauge

        What, just like nobody expected any updates to the iPad 3 for at least a year?

      • oblivionrpg

        Imo they wanted to sync their releases with chrismas. That is all. They will not be updating every 6 months. They got criciqued for this a lot and they will not be doing it again. It wold hurt them more. Look at how long were the lines at launch now. Do you think they want to repeat it?

      • John Henson

        The people who actually had 3rd-gen iPads and noted that they ran no better than the iPad 2 for gaming because of the criminally underpowered processor were certainly expecting an update (even more obvious with Apple trying to get all their devices using the same new connector). That drawback no longer exists with the 4th-gen iPad, nor with the four other devices (existing and new) that all possess the same A5 chip and 512mb of memory.

      • JohnDoey

        That is the way computers have always worked. There will always be newer and better. iPad 3 owners have nothing to complain about. They have Retina when almost nobody else does. They have touch and no viruses when almost nobody else does.

        Apple could have sold iPad 2 until September 2012 and introduced the 4 as the 3 — then iPad 3 users would not even have Retina. So you make zero sense.

        iPad 2 is still much better than any non-Apple tablet today. The 3 was a bonus, an extra, and you are complaining about it. Sad.

    • SourceFox

      I think it's more likely to come in June since it has been reported that mass production of 7" retina displays will start in march

    • JohnDoey

      No, their margin might be $138, but that is not all profit. Some will go to Genius Bar and some to future software updates and many other things you simply don't get from anyone else. Those are big reasons why people buy iPads.

      Google and Amazon together account for less than 1% of tablet use. Apple's sole competitor with iPad is Windows PC's, which almost all sell at iPad price points. iPad and Windows have PC class apps. Kindle and Nexus run baby Java apps. That is why the majority of Kindle owners buy iPads the next time out.

  • http://twitter.com/hungarianhc Kevin Hanson

    I played with an iPad mini today at an Apple store. Wow. The screen is awful. I'm an Apple fanboy all the way, but the screen on my nexus 7 is WAY better, and I prefer the size and the material of the Nexus 7 over the iPad mini. Hopefully rev2 gets a retina display.

    • luxetlibertas

      Your opinion: "The screen is awful". To see a professional opinion search for "ipad mini shootout" (links are apparently not allowed here at TA). In particular look at the "Overall Assessments" part, and the grades there.

      So far for being an "Apple fanboy", a self-introduction that is paradoxically often followed instantly by less than credible criticism nowadays.

      Next year Apple will have the retina version probably, if they can manage it in combination with other requirements (form factor, running time, cost).

    • luxetlibertas

      Your opinion: "The screen is awful". To see a professional opinion search for "ipad mini shootout" (links are apparently not allowed here at TA). In particular look at the "Overall Assessments" part, and the grades there.

      So far for being an "Apple fanboy", a self-introduction that is paradoxically often followed instantly by less than credible criticism nowadays.

      Next year Apple will have the retina version probably, if they can manage it in combination with other requirements (form factor, running time, cost).

    • JohnDoey

      The iPad mini screen is standard, not awful.

      Nexus 7 has no apps and no Retina option and is not PC class. Also, Nexus 7 has viruses, while iPads do not. The idea that you are seeing a better picture on a Nexus 7 that does not even color manage the display is absurd.

  • JPhilipp

    I've checked it out in the store, thinking that may be it's close enough to retina because of the shrunken size with same resolution, but it's not -- the texts in the browser seemed visibly fuzzy and blurred, a step backward (to the iPad 2, of course). To truly impress people maybe they should have waited for Retina -- and making it a true, true lightweight?

    • JohnDoey

      What would be the point of foregoing 2 years of iPad mini in order to wait for iPad mini with Retina?

      Retina is NOT standard. There is no other low-end PC with Retina other than iPad. People who are spending $329 on a PC and getting iPad mini are doing much better than if they bought from HP or Dell or Google.

      iPad mini is meant for original iPad and iPad 2 owners, as well as people who do not yet have an iPad. If you have an iPad with Retina, STFU.

      • Philipp Lenssen

        You alright man?

  • xepiczx

    This or an iPod touch 5th gen

    • nomster

      Either, both, or neither.

      Sorry I'm not being more helpful but I don't think I know your tastes as well as you.

      However, your favourite colour should definitely be purple - an don't let anyone tell you different.

    • B3nlok

      It all comes down to personal preference (obviously), but to me Ipod hands down. Cheaper, HD display and most important its in my pocket.

    • JohnDoey

      That's easy — do you need a PC or a phone?

      iPad mini is a PC. iPod touch is a phone. Choose the apps you require. iPad mini runs PC apps — iPod touch runs phone apps.

  • http://twitter.com/tweetinginabox Phil Tyndall

    There is an issue with both True Skate & GTA 3. Both games are not identifying the new iPad Mini as an iPad 2 and are not therefore scaling back the shaders etc as they would on an iPad 2 which has resulted in poorer performance. The issue is the same for the iPod touch 5th gen. Both developers are aware of this, I contacted both and emailed / replied that they were both looking to issue an update to rectify this issue.

    So lets not start to get panic struck already folks.

  • http://twitter.com/Stitchpunk Stitchpunk

    Well I'm sorry for those of you who don't like the Mini screen but jeez...just wait for the next one if it bugs you that much. Next to my iPad 1 the Mini screen is pretty impressive...not to mention that the Mini doesn't weigh a metric crapton and I might actually be able to carry it around in my handbag. That's good enough for me...and for everyone else who can't afford to upgrade every year or 2...

  • http://www.facebook.com/mmatzat Michael Matzat

    I love the fact that the iPad mini has the same power the iPad 2 has, giving the device at least another yea rof high app compatibility. 

    • JohnDoey

      The mini is outselling the full-size, and iPad 2 is still being sold. The apps will be there for the lower-powered tablets for more than a year.

  • http://twitter.com/MaXGTS911 Manny S

    Once the iPad mini hit's Apple's refurbs page, I'm in for one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.high.165 Jason High

    Apple fanbois amaze me. For the last year and half...they have lambasted every other mobile device as unusable because of the lack of a Retina display. Countless reviews proffering that the display is of first and foremost important part of mobile devices. They are in your face 24/7 and integral to your ability to enjoy the experience. Along comes the iPad Mini with a turd of a display by current mobile display standards. Displaying obvious pixelization. Rendering letterboxed video (most TV and Movies) at a resolution of 1024x576...just barely SD. A 62% color matrix resulting in poor color reproduction. And a screen with a high reflective index. And should we be surprised to see reviews that say the display is not "horrible" and better than iPad's 1 and 2. Apple FUD at its best (worse?)

    • JohnDoey

      Have you seen how small the mini is? That is what makes up for the lack of Retina.

      The fact that Apple offers a non-Retina track of iPads (2, mini) doesn't excuse the fact that NO OTHER MAKER HAS RETINA. iPad buyers can choose if small size or Retina is of key importance to them.

      iPad 2 still sold well all year, so obviously, not everybody prioritized Retina.

      BTW, saying “fanboys” is stupid, but saying “fanbois

  • stormchild

    "…the iPad 3 which is noticeably heavier than previous models…"

    False. The iPad (3) is heavier than the iPad 2, but lighter than the original.

  • http://twitter.com/iosStrategy iOS Strategy Games

    Checked out Battle Fleet on the Mini, and it looks and works great. In fact it even seems to look better than on any other device :)

  • Sid

    Anyone also be using the Nexus 7 to compare it with? What are your thoughts. Deciding which one to go with. I do own an Android phone.

    • SourceFox

      if you own an android phone go for the nexus, in my opinion it's better than the mini. plus you can sync the stuff around from them which will will not be able to do if u get mini seeing the fact that you have android already ^^ will save ya a lot of headaches and make your life easier

      • Sid

        Thanks. I actually got an iPad mini and really enjoying it and it is great when I connect with friends and family as well on Facetime. The screen display is not perfect, but not so bad either. I can still return it if  I want, but so far so good and might just keep it.

  • SourceFox

    lol, not worth buying this iPad. I will w8 till next year because there will be a retina display. Plus probably a descent camera.

  • greenyoga

    I got my red iPad mini case from slickfans.com, front triple folding,i enjoy the ultra slim hand feeling when using it...

  • Th3R3n3gad3

    Yay! Infinity Blade Dungeons is coming!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nayuki.tran Nayuki Tran

    omg. i've just got used to the iphone 5's retina screen for a month but i could clearly notice the low resolution screen on the ipad mini. the bad display is...really noticeable and it's awful, i have to say. although i love the ipad mini because of its portability and well-built quality, i am gonna return it and get a ipad 4 or wait for the ipad mini 2, regardless of it might be a bit thicker and heavier.