Delivery delayed ... Apple's iPad mini.

Photo: Bloomberg

How does the iPad mini fit into the big picture?

The range of 10-ish inch tablets from the likes of Apple and Samsung have a multitude of uses, but they can be a bit too cumbersome to lug around. Regardless of how thin and light they are, their 10-inch footprint just isn't travel-friendly. This is the sweet spot which 7-ish inch tablets such as the iPad mini are targeting, offering a device which easily slips into a small travel bag or even a large pocket. But these mini tablets won't appeal to everyone.

I'd still lean towards an old iPad 2 rather than an iPad mini for using around the house. 

After spending the weekend with the Apple's new 7.9-inch iPad mini I don't think I'd recommend it as a budget tablet for using around the house. If it's only going to sit on your lap, or on the kitchen bench, you're better off spending the extra cash on the extra screen real estate of a full-sized iPad. If you're on a tight budget then I'd still lean towards an old iPad 2 rather than an iPad mini for using around the house.

For me, I'd say the iPad mini comes into its own as you walk out the door. It's the first iPad which actually fits in my jeans pocket, although it is a tight fit. As such the iPad mini is handy for popping out to a cafe to do a little reading or get some work done, when you're looking for more screen real estate than a smartphone but don't want to carry a larger device in a bag. The iPad mini would also slip into many jacket pockets -- an appealing prospect if you catch the train to work every day. This improved portability alone could be enough to convince some people to own both a full-sized and mini tablet, even though Apple hasn't added or removed features from the iPad mini to position it as a companion device to the iPad rather than a competitor.

Of course the iPad mini certainly isn't the first mini tablet, it's clearly in response to the successful 7-ish inch Android offerings. To be fair, it took Android a few goes to get it right. The original Samsung Galaxy Tab was a slow, cumbersome and expensive beast which wasn't worth getting excited about unless you were busting a gut to be an early adopter. Both hardware limitations and the phone-centric Android 2.2 share the blame. Even this time last year, offerings such as the Acer Iconia A100 left a lot to be desired. But the latest crop of 7-ish inch Android offerings such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire have come a long way, finally forcing Apple to retaliate with the iPad mini.

As someone who tends to work on the go, and isn't wedded to any one vendor or ecosystem, the big question for me has been; what's the best size for a tablet as a portable productivity tool? Your answer will depend on what you do for a crust -- for me it's all about typing.

When it comes to typing on the screen with two thumbs, holding it in portrait mode, I find Apple's 7.9-inch iPad mini is still a fraction too wide for my liking. I actually find the slightly narrower 7-inch tablets more comfortable for this task -- assuming they're not too heavy. Weight was an issue with the early 7-inch Android tablets but it's hard to complain about the Nexus 7 at 340 grams, not far off the iPad mini's impressive 308 grams. Of course at this point it's also worth entertaining thoughts of the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II, if you're looking for the convenience of only carrying one device. 

If your idea of productivity is related more to how much you can see, rather than how fast you can type, then the 7.9-inch iPad obviously becomes more attractive. If you're a spreadsheet jockey you might find that extra inch is exactly what you needed.

Perhaps a more important question here is not which is the most productive tablet size but whether you can actually be all that productive with a tablet. Again your mileage will vary depending on what you're trying to do. Typing on a tablet, not to mention editing, can be slow going compared to a notebook. Even if you've got a travel keyboard, multi-tasking on a tablet is also cumbersome compared to a full desktop OS (yes, I know about the four-finger swipe). It will be interesting to see how the Microsoft Surface stands up as a productivity tool, it shows a lot of promise although at 10.6-inches it's even less travel-friendly than a full-sized iPad. I think I'd be more interested in the Surface Pro, or a third-party tablet running Windows 8, rather than a Windows RT device.

As portable as the iPad mini might be, if I really needed to get a lot of work done I'd still bite the bullet and throw my small notebook in my bag. How about you -- can you get much work done on a tablet? What's the best size for your needs?