Lets’ face it. Mini is hard to resist. From mini dog breeds to mini cars, and even mini doughnuts, you might say big things come in small sizes. Early James Bond films played a large role in creating a culture fascinated in mini gadgets, such as the miniature flare gun featured in Thunderball that fits in the palm of your hand (theoretically), and the mini-rocket cigarette used in You Only Live Twice capable of hitting a target at 30 yards.
One of my favorite mini gadgets was the Pentax Auto 110 SLR with interchangeable lens and flash bracket mount. 110 film was hard to find at the time I acquired the Auto 110 kit, but still it was cool to have spy-sized camera on the shelf just in case.
This year we find no shortage of mini gadgets too choose from, with tablets and mini smartphones popping up everywhere that boast all the features of their larger siblings. On the mobile device front, the iPad mini was a trend setter. Gartner research showed the iPad mini sold more units than even the iPhone and larger 9.7-inch iPad in Q1 2013, accounting for over 60% of the sales of Apple iOS-platform mobile devices.
Other electronics manufacturers have been trying to tap into Apple’s “mini” discovery, such as the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 tablet, Acer Iconia B series tablets with 7-inch screen size, and Google’s Nexus 7 tablet which CNET claims is “Pound for pound, …the best small tablet you can buy.”
But recent reports say smaller tablets manufactured to compete with the iPad mini have been disappointing. According to Taiwan-based manufacturers of tablet components, sales of Samsung and Acer 8” tablets have fallen short of expectations (although, the reduced demand for parts may have to do with Apple’s upcoming release of a new iPad mini with Retina display). However, the Google Nexus 7, which some reviewers have said is a better deal than the iPad mini, is a very popular alternative and costs $100 less than the iPad mini.
Is “cuteness” a selling factor for these mini tablets and phones? Or, is it lower price? Technology market researchers point to the affordability of the smaller products, with the value add moving from hardware to software. For example, if a consumer can get all the features of the larger iPad in a smaller design for close to a $100 less, why not go with the smaller display?
Maybe the trend in mini can be attributed to much more than smaller price tags. It’s impressive to think that a thumb-sized flash drive sold today can hold more data than a typical PC hard-drive 10 years ago. Digital still and video cameras have reduced in size so drastically that helmet-mounted cams are almost required gear for mountain bikers and extreme athletes these days. And, what were once large set-top boxes required to watch TV are now smaller devices such as the DirecTV Genie mini, Roku streaming video players, and the USB-powered Google Chromecast dongle.
The ability to fit “more” into a given piece of hardware can clearly be seen in the history of the microchip, which in its early days could only fit a few transistors. Today, billions of transistors can be fit onto a single microchip, allowing product designers to work smaller than what was previously impossible. As a result, manufacturers are able to replicate their products in smaller scales, hoping to double dip into the design and features of an already launched product.
In the last year we have seen no shortage of new mini devices. Here’s a look at 8 of the best mini gadgets released late 2012 through the present.
1. iPad mini
Released just in time for the holidays on November 2, 2012, the iPad mini offers everything great about the iPad 2 but in a compact size. The 7.9-inch display is about two inches smaller than the iPad 2’s 9.7-inch display, and the 16GB model costs about $70 less than the 16GB iPad 2. The mini can be purchased in six different configurations, with up to 64GB of RAM and optional cellular connectivity, ranging in price from $329 to $659. The mini may bow to the iPad with Retina given its inferior 1024×768 (163 PPI) display compared to the Retina’s 2048-by-1536 (264ppi) resolution, but Apple is expected to announce an iPad mini with Retina display on Oct. 22.
Released Nov. 2012
2. Mini Jambox
Jawbone’s Mini Jambox is a smaller version of the 10-inch Jambox. The $179 device is constructed from a single piece of extruded aluminum with dimple design, measuring only 2.28-inches high and 6.06-inches wide, just an inch taller than an iPhone 5. The Mini Jambox is available in several different colors, and is compatible with Bluetooth-enabled iOS and Android devices, as well as PCs, Macs, and other devices with a headphone jack or audio line out. You can also use the Mini Jambox as a wireless speaker phone, as it comes complete with a built-in 360-degree omnidirectional microphone with echo-cancellation. Read more about the Mini Jambox here.
Released Sept. 2013
3. Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 Mini is a smaller counterpart to the larger Samsung Galaxy S4, and successor to the Galaxy S III Mini. The Super AMOLED display on the S4 Mini is 4.3 inches (540×960, 256 PPI), just slightly smaller than the 5-inch full HD (1920×1080, 441 PPI) Super AMOLED display housed by the bigger S4. The Android-based phone features a dual-core 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of expandable storage (up to 64 GB).
Released July, 2013
4. Samsung Galaxy S III Mini
A predecessor to the Galaxy S4 mini, the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini houses a 4-inch Super AMOLED Display at 800×480 (233 PPI). The overall height of the S III Mini measures 4.78-inches, compared to its bigger sibling at 5.38-inches in height. The S III Mini features a dual-core processor running at 1 GHz with 1 GB of RAM and up to 16 GB flash memory. In March, Samsung released a more powerful S III Mini called the Galaxy Express, with slightly larger 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Display and upgraded 1.2 GHz Dual-core processor.
Released November, 2012
5. UE Mini Boom
The UE Mini Boom is a 4.4-inch length wireless speaker that looks a bit like a compact alarm clock. It differs from the cylinder-shaped 7.1-inch UE Boom, and so it would seem a stretch to call it a smaller sibling. The Mini Boom can stream music from Bluetooth-enabled devices from over 50 feet away, and claims up to 10 hours of usage on one charge. One of the cooler features of the Mini Boom is the ability to pair up two Mini Booms to create a stereo sound. You can also double up two Mini Booms to create a larger sound. Like the Mini Jambox, the Mini Boom can be used as a speakerphone with a Bluetooth phone. But unlike the Mini Jambox, it does not appear to have a built-in microphone. The mini speaker from UE boasts sound levels up to 86dBC.
Released Oct. 2013
6. Droid Mini
The Android-based Droid Mini is a successor to the Droid Razr M released in Sept. 2012. The Motorola smartphone (model# XT1030) features a 1.7 GHz dual-core Qualcomm 8960 Processor, 2GB Dual-channel RAM, and 16 GB internal flash memory. The 4.3 in (110 mm) screen has a resolution of 1280×720 and 342 PPI, a huge improvement over the ‘Razr M’ with just 256 PPI.
Released July, 2013
7. Sony Xperia Z1 Mini
Sony just revealed videos showing the Xperia Z1 Mini smartphone, a smaller version of the Xperia Z1 that started shipping last month. With a 4.3-inch display (compared to the Z1’s 5-inch display), the Mini boasts all the specs of its larger sibling including a quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of flash storage. The Z1 Mini is currently only available through the Japanese wireless carrier NTT Docomo, but worldwide release dates are expected soon. The phone, it is said, is best compared to the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.
Released in Japan, Oct. 2013
8. HTC One Mini
HTC’s One Mini was designed to be a smaller version of the 5.4-inch HTC One with 4.7-inch display. The HTC One Mini houses a smaller 4.3-inch display, and barely cuts the overall height of the smartphone down to 5.2-inches. The phone features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 1.4 GHz dual-core Krait 300 CPU, 1GB RAM, and 16GB storage capacity.
Released August, 2013
9. TiVo Mini
The TiVo Mini is a 6”x6” device that can take the place of large cable set-top boxes throughout your home. It’s a nice looking device to have on display, but can also be hidden behind a TV or mounted somewhere inconspicuous. The TiVo Mini requires a main TiVo DVR to deliver programming to additional TVs, and can be connected via Ethernet, cable outlet, or via MoCA network (Ethernet over Coax). Ports on the reverse side of the Mini include HDMI, USB, and 3.5mm jacks for composite video/audio or component video, although you’ll need special cables for the mini jacks. Supported video output modes include 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.
Released March, 2013
10. Bose SoundLink Mini
Released last summer, the $199 Bose SoundLink Mini speaker weighs 1.5 lbs and measures 7.1-inches wide. The SoundLink Mini connects wirelessly within 30 feet to devices via Bluetooth, and plays up to 7 hours on a full battery charge. The stylish unibody aluminum design can be housed in an optional protective bumper case ($25), and the included charging cradle can be left plugged in while in use. In Bose tradition, a row of buttons on the top of the speaker includes power, mute, volume up & down, Bluetooth, and auxiliary input. The downside of the Soundlink Mini, however, could be its lack of speakerphone capabilities.
Released June, 2013
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.