The enemy has many disguises!

Christ! I have an iPad!

I have been known to make the odd barbed comment about Apple devices and those who use them, so it may come as a bit of a shock to you, and indeed to me, that yesterday I quite willingly acquired an Apple iPad Mini 2. So willingly, in fact, that it took a lot of whining before my partner-cum-coblogger would let me.

What is less shocking is that I am writing this article using my Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard and Microsoft Word from my Office 365 subscription.

A real, useful app on an iPad!

I did not realise I had always wanted an iPad Mini 2 until a friendly Three salesman told me I could get it as an upgrade for a mobile broadband contract which was up for renewal as we visited the store to get a Micro-SIM for Dani’s new Microsoft Lumia 535. Like most people, I find that getting something now and paying for it later very attractive. Effectively I got the iPad Mini 2 for about half price, payable over 24 months.

Of course, the Beyond the PC team are far from iOS virgins; Dani purchased a grey import of the very first iPhone, which he describes as revolutionary but practically useless, from a scary looking bloke living in a slum in East London. Once he learned of the collection location he dragged me out to come with him and be the heavy in case things got nasty!

Dani enthusiastically bought every new iPhone up until the iPhone 4. He claims his happiest technology related moment is when I finally let him buy me an iPhone 4. This replaced a Toshiba Windows Mobile 6.5 phone (the last smartphone ever without a capacitative screen). I must admit it was amazing to have a smartphone I could actually use, and that did not require spending all my time fiddling with so it could continue to perform tasks like making and receiving phone calls. I was chuffed as ninepence with the iPhone 4 – it seemed like a proper pocket computing device as opposed to the computer in your pocket that was Windows Mobile.

The Toshiba TG01 - probably the worst phone I've ever owned

Both of us later purchased iPad 2s as well, and were perfectly happy with them. Then, being technology seers of the highest order we sensed where the future lay, so we sold them and bought Windows Phone devices instead. The future may indeed still turn out to be Windows Phone and Windows, but with hindsight we were bloody stupid in adopting Windows Phone at version 7.5 – two years early.

We have largely stuck with Windows Phone since then, but dabbled occasionally with frighteningly expensive and always disappointing Android phones (HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, Xperia Z1). Our experience with Android tablets has been a lot more positive however and at least I have always tried to have the sexiest Windows 8/8.1 tablets that have been on the market at any time (which all too often has been about as sexy as a Grandmother dressed up as a Christmas tree).

Now I find myself with an iOS device again! Christ, what was I thinking! I knew full well what I was thinking: Firstly, as THE honest tech writers and analysts we are we feel a duty to keep ourselves abreast of developments in ALL platforms, not just through playing with our least favourite one (cough, iOS) in mobile phone shops from time to time. Secondly, as Dani develops responsive, mobile-enabled websites and apps for paying clients another good justification was that he would be able to test them on every major platform.

Finally, my guilty admission that I did not dare tell Dani about. After getting thoroughly hacked off with every Android music creation app (apart from G-Stomper) and failing to overcome the sense of bewildered terror every time I opened Sonar on my Surface Pro 3, I wanted to play with GarageBand again, which is the only Apple app I have truly loved.

There are lots of things to like about the iPad Mini 2. The Retina display is the same resolution as my Nexus 9, only slightly smaller in size. This means that everything looks just a gnat’s crotchet more crisp and sharp than on the Android flagship – the tiny text I like to set my devices to display is clear, not blurred or smeared (well, unless someone brings me something a bit richer in goodness than the Coke Life I am drinking for blood sugar maintenance reasons). In general, the device is light whilst being reassuringly solid; there is no suggestion of creakiness as there is with the Nexus 9.

Like Windows Phone, iOS can manage to keep itself, all the background processes apps demand, plus whatever app you actually want to use, perfectly well in but one gigabyte of memory. Running the web browser Chrome on this 1GB memory, 1.3GHz dual core 64-bit processor is an infinitely more rewarding experience than the bastarding horrible one of using Chrome on Google’s 2GB memory, 2,3GHz dual core 64-bit processor, Lollipop flagship Nexus 9. The iPad has no inexplicable pauses, unnecessary page reloads, form data disappearance or other vexatiousness. It very definitely feels that the iPad Mini 2 is simply better at running Google’s own browser, than is Google’s flagship tablet that runs Goggle’s own operating system – and the iPad delivers that better experience with half the RAM and a CPU that is 1GHz slower!

Indeed, it is not only Chrome that loses its random pauses and low memory issues, but the whole set of Android irks relating to launching, switching between and quitting applications simply do not exist on the iPad Mini 2. There are no huge pauses whilst you wait for icons to appear in the Launcher when you quit an app on the iPad, the Home Screen/Launcher always appears with buttery smoothness when you hit the Home button.

Switching applications is not only less irritation inducing, but is actually an aesthetically pleasing experience. Rather than Android’s endless pile of stacked, barely unrecognisable apps, iOS 8.1.3 gives you a good-looking, horizontally scrolling view of each application you have used recently shown in the state you left it when your ways parted. The task switcher is one of the seriously pleasing steps forward iOS has made (that are not purely hardware-related) since our ways parted in 2011.

I will tell you more about iOSes general state of advance when I have played with more than Chrome and Office 365 apps – I may even have had a go with GarageBand in time for me to tell you about that, as well as everything else, before we go away at the crack of dawn on Thursday. I already feel I have more to report to users more used to Windows or Android, but not now.

One thing is sure, even though Apple’s products have a reputation for being purchased by smug hard-of-thinking-types, even a previous generation device is meritorious in several ways. The external hardware quality is high and internals are speedy, an impression helped by a resource frugal and parsimonious operating system. The operating system has made steps in the last four years and there is proper software you can get to run on it. Indeed, if you are using Word and a decent mobile keyboard (sadly, the onscreen keyboard remains as it was in 2011: excessively irksome), you could easily find yourself thinking you were using a small, neat, proper computer!

Is this a functional computing  device I see before me?

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