The iPad Mini: Deal or no deal?

Can a small tablet make you as productive as a big one?

That's the question of the hour now that Apple's iPad Mini is officially on sale, as many users are trying to decide if the new tablet is a worthwhile purchase or an overpriced letdown.

Price, of course, has never been the big factor when it comes to Apple products, as customers have perpetually demonstrated their willingness to pay a premium for MacBooks, iPhones, and, of course, iPads.

However, the Mini is a different beast; it came on the scene facing stiff competition from the likes of the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Barnes & Noble Nook HD, and Google Nexus 7—tablets of similar size and design, but with considerably lower price tags. In fact, all three of those models start at $199, versus $329 for the entry-level Mini.

To be fair, the Mini does have a slightly larger screen: 7.9 inches to the competitors' 7 inches. That may not sound like much, but Apple is correct that it affords about 35 percent more viewing area—which could prove important for certain kinds of productivity apps.

For example, many users rely on their tablets for remote access to their desktop or laptop, with apps like LogMeIn Free allowing them to run programs, retrieve files, and so on. Obviously that's a major productivity plus for anyone who travels regularly.

In theory, a bigger screen would make this kind of access more practical, as it would require a less zooming and scrolling around the remote desktop. Advantage: Mini.

However, there's also the question of screen resolution, and here the Mini would appear to come up short. Unlike its Retina-enhanced big brothers, the iPad 3 and 4, the Mini packs just 163 pixels per inch (PPI). The Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, meanwhile, deliver 216 PPI, while the Nook HD tips the pixel scales at 243.

For something like remote access, a higher pixel count can offset a smaller screen size, because the added sharpness reduces the need to zoom and scroll quite as much.

Needless to say, it's easy to get bogged down in spec comparisons. The reality is that the iPad Mini, like its bigger siblings, offers mobile workers a lot of value, as it can run all the same travel- and work-oriented apps.

It also offers a 4G connectivity option that you can't get from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Google in the same-size tablet. You'll pay an even higher premium for that, yes, but if you're looking to maximize your productivity on the road, there's a case to be made that it's worth it.

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