Last year Apple went where I never thought it would, with the iPad mini bringing the Apple tablet experience to a brave new budget world.

Now usurped by the new iPad Mini 2, the older tablet is still on sale at a wallet-friendly £249 for the basic version, with 16GB of storage on offer for the Wi-Fi version on Apple's site (although it can be had slightly cheaper if you shop around).

You can also add 4G cellular, which brings the price up to £349. This entry-level model comes in a single 16GB capacity, while the iPad mini with Retina display goes up to 128GB, costing a whopping £659 for the top model which also includes 4G.

Then again, the first generation iPad mini isn't about top-end specs with a whopping price tag – it's about beating the likes of the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD in the budget stakes.

ipad mini review

The two competitors have been getting plenty of column inches thanks to their super-cheap prices and the impressive specs on board. But with both offering only a 7-inch screen compared to Apple's 7.9-inch display, the Cupertino company is confident its device will win over budget-conscious consumers.

However, more frugal shoppers may not agree with this idea, as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD cost quite a bit less. When faced with a choice between the three, they might opt for the familiar Amazon brand or the sheer power of the Nexus 7, with its impressive spec list and legions of Google apps.

iPad mini review

That said, Apple fans need not worry too much when it comes to whether the iPad mini is a worthy addition to the iBrand. It comes with enough power and is Ive-inspired enough to make it a worthwhile addition to the range. This isn't a shrunken-down iPad, it's a whole new product all over again.

Be it the larger screen size, impressively low weight or alternative design compared to the competition, there's a lot to chew over when it comes to the iPad mini. But is it worth spending your hard-earned cash when a handful more will get you larger version of Apple's tablet? And how does it stack up next to the second-generation mini with its higher resolution display and faster hardware?

Features and design

The iPad mini exists because the market started to dictate its presence…but that doesn't mean Apple doesn't want to put its own spin on things.

To that end, the border has been reduced and the screen is larger at 7.9 inches relative to the dimensions of the original iPad. Additionally, the design is completely different to the likes of the Google Nexus 7. In fact the whole ethos has been created from the ground up, partly under the stewardship of Sir Jony Ive, according to Apple.

iPad mini review

None of that really matters though. What is important is the fact that it's a superbly designed device that gives a measure of why it costs so much more than the likes of the Kindle Fire HD.

The aluminium chassis shares the same colouring as the iPhone 5S, with the darker black slate and white silver options both bringing a touch of class to proceedings.

iPad mini review

At 308g it's twice the weight and then some of the iPhone 5S, but compared to other tablets on the market (and combined with the aluminium chassis) it feels lightweight in the hand.

The screen is something of a worry though – with the 1024x768 resolution in the expansive display, you only get a sharpness akin to the iPhone 3GS. While the display quality is better than that thanks to improved IPS LCD technology, it's still light years behind the Retina display on the bigger iPad Air and the second-generation mini.

iPad mini review

If you own a modern iPad, you'll notice the difference straight away. But then if you have one of these, then you won't want an iPad mini.

The tablet will struggle to impress iPhone users, as it doesn't have the wow factor of Apple's smaller devices.

In a side-by-side test of the same movie running on the iPad mini, the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD, the iPad looked the least impressive (although the contrast ratio was certainly more than decent in my eyes).

iPad mini review

Then there's the issue of holding the actual tablet. As Apple says, it's as light as a pad of legal paper, and there's definitely no risk of it causing wrist strain. However, the iPad mini doesn't really lend itself that well to any manner of grip.

iPad mini review

The most comfortable and secure way to hold a tablet is to grip right around the back – something Apple thinks you can do easily according to its promotional materials.

Well, you're wrong there, Cupertino-gadget-people. It's just too far to stretch around with average-sized hands. Instead you're forced to hold it in the corner, covering part of the screen. It's good that Apple has chucked some technology in there to distinguish an intentional touch from an accidental one, but it's not the most comfortable way to use the device.

In landscape orientation using two hands, the iPad mini is a much nicer device to hold, with the aluminium covering giving it a nicely textured back. However, the aluminium covering similar to the iPhone 5 has led to another design problem: scratching.

iPad mini review

The handsets have been getting criticism for exposing the silver metal below with minimal scratching. This started to happen within a day on the iPad mini – which is all the more confusing seeing as it doesn't live in the pocket with keys and coins.

It's something we hoped Apple would have changed in the manufacturing process, and means you'll need to keep an eye on how you look after the tablet or invest in a protective case immediately.

The top and bottom of the bezel are wide enough to comfortably rest your hands on, while web browsing and accelerometer-based gaming in landscape orientation is excellent.

The rest of the design is predictably ergonomic. The volume rocker keys are close but not too near to the mute switch on the top right-hand side.

This is near the power button, which is intuitively placed to be easy to hit when you want to reactivate the iPad mini… although many will just hit the home button to achieve the same thing.

iPad mini review

The traditional Apple home key remains, although it's shrunken somewhat to fit into the smaller chassis. However, during testing I found it just as easy to hit, despite the dinkier dimensions.

It's interesting that Apple has popped the headphone jack at the top of the iPad mini, given it's put so much effort into repositioning it at the bottom of the iPhone 5S and 5C... but I do prefer it staying above the screen.

The speakers sit at the bottom of the iPad mini, flanking the Lightning connector, which offers faster speeds of data transfer and can be connected either way round. This is handy when you're charging before bed and can't be bothered to put the light on.

The speakers provide decent enough sound, but in landscape mode they create a distorted sense of audio because of their mono-directional firing.

iPad mini review

The processor inside is Apple's last-generation A5 effort, which may worry some, but it's likely to be enough for most actions, coupled as it is with 512MB of RAM. It's still miles away from the raw grunt of the new Google Nexus 7 or the iPad Air with its A7 processor, but Apple reckons it helps it hit a sweet spot in terms of price.

Apple also has expertise in optimising iOS to run as well as possible on older hardware, and iOS 7.1 certainly restored a lot of the snappiness that had been lost with the move from iOS 6 to 7.