Everything you need to make your 7.9-incher a perfect reading machine
Hey new iPad mini owner. I know how you feel. Other people have written about it and they agree. The iPad mini is cool despite the half-baked hardware components it packs. At this point, your mini has probably taken over whatever you used before, be it a bigger iPad, a 7" Android tablet, your laptop… Although you're being told this magical device is capable of the same the iPad 2 could do and you don't really get it, I'd like to show you around.
Since the launch of the first iPad, I've been downloading, testing and loving some of the apps exclusively available on HD, this is, only on the iPad App Store section. As a result, I have written about some of the apps that work for me and make the device special.
For this round-up of iPad mini essentials I'm changing the game slightly. Rather than dropping some names you might be already be familiar with, I'm going to put them in groups and explain how they compare and, in some cases, complement each other.
Essential iPad mini apps for reading
The original first generation iPad was touted as a content creation machine but my real-life used showed it was an excellent machine for consuming content. Steve Jobs didn't introduce it sitting on a Le Corbusier leather sofa and a coffee table for nothing.
I want to think the same is true for the iPad mini. Sure, this thing is more portable but I want to think it's a great choice for reading at home as well as commuting, trips, and the great life outdoors.
If I'm talking about reading, we should start with the Google Reader client Reeder by Silvio Rizzi. This has been my app of choice to manage, read, share and save to read later all my RSS feeds for the last three years. While Google Reader ensures everything is in sync behind the scenes, Reeder is the front end client that gives you a very characteristic experience on your iPhone, iPad and Mac.
The key element that makes Reeder great is the thin black strip running vertically on the left of the screen. The conveniently placed buttons allow you to access the main actions really quickly. For instance, you can move to the next article tapping on the triangle that happens to be very close to your thumb if you hold the iPad mini with your left hand.
Simple things like this help to go through the feeds quickly, actioning them with other buttons meant to be used with your right hand — sharing on Twitter, emailing and saving to Instapaper in my case. To access the full version of an article on its website, Reeder opens a browser window within the app, saving you a lot of time switching apps. Tapping and holding on a link opens a pop-over menu with common actions. Another great time saver.
More articles to learn about Reeder:
Of course, all the content you're saving goes to my favourite read it later service. Instapaper by Marco Arment is a must-have app that changes the way I consume the web. I think of it as time shifting reading. During the day you come across website articles and blog posts you would like to read but don't have the time right now.
Instapaper can remember these articles, strip them from the unnecessary bulk of the website and present them to you later with a unified, simple view that you can customise to your taste. The iPad version is perfectly adaptable to the 7.9" display of the mini, giving you the option to change font size, type and background theme — look out for the dark mode for bedtime reading.
More articles to learn about Instapaper:
Apple's own ebook reading app iBooks doesn't come pre-installed on iOS so you'll have to download it from the App Store yourself. I've never been a big fan of the experience but seeing the amount of people I see using it every morning on the Tube in London, this is a popular app.
Although this sounds like something exclusive for books, you can chuck some PDFs in there too. iBooks becomes then default PDF viewer once installed if you were wondering. I prefer using the native ePub format — what you get purchasing something from the iBookstore — as the text isn't constrained to the pages, allowing you to modify font size, type and background theme accordingly (similar to what Instapaper does really). By the way, all the gimmicky things such as the realistic page turning can be disabled, so please go through the settings before you start your book.
A direct competitor to iBooks is Amazon's Kindle app for iOS. I do a big deal of my reading on a Kindle Paperwhite so I figured I could include this app explaining why the iPad mini and the e-ink reader can play together. The primary reason is that I don't want to bother transferring my books bought at Amazon to iBooks. Then, the Kindle app remembers the last page read on a given book, meaning I can catch up with that sci-fi novel on any device, any time.
Kindle for iOS feels inferior than the experience on a Paperwhite or a Fire. There's no way to change the margins, for instance. Settings like the two column view on landscape more don't work for me, but I still encourage you to tinker with them in case they make sense for you.
When it comes to comic books and graphic novels, the App Store has plenty of options to go around. In fact, if you're planning to use the mini mainly for Western comics, I suggest you read what Jason Snell from Macworld and Rene Ritchie from iMore have to say.
I'm more into manga and out of the options available, I go with the free Cloud Readers. The app has support for CBZ and CBR files, has support in the native contextual menus of other apps (like Mail) and can sync wirelessly. The WiFi sync can be a bit convoluted. I usually wait to have several chapters of Dragon Ball and transfer them all in one batch.
Then you get apps that are readers with their own storefront. ComiXology is the standard here with Comics. The big American publishers DC and Marvel use the same system with their impressive libraries rather than everything in one app.
Apple includes a folder/store called Newsstand for periodical publications such as newspapers and magazines. Here you can probably find some of your favourites such as Wired or The New Yorker plus other special initiatives such as The Magazine — which I reviewed before.
The experience using these Newsstand 'apps' can be a hit or miss depending on the skill of the developers laying out the content for multitouch devices like tablets. You'll soon see that some are mere PDF copies of the print version with no interactivity at all. I recommend you download the free copy they usually have available and judge yourself.
Home screen website bookmarks
We all have websites we check daily that might not fit into an RSS routine or "Instapapering". The websites of some local newspapers or sports sites I usually visit could go in these group. The publish a lot of news articles I'm not going to be interested in, so I'd rather go to the website directly instead of dismissing tediously every headline on my RSS reader.
Maybe you're lucky and your favourite newspaper has an awesome app. This is rarely the case. What I like to do and it only takes five seconds, is to create a bookmark directly on the home screen for easy access. This is an icon that looks like an app, but upon launch it opens the website bookmark on Safari. Most publications have a custom icon for iOS devices so these improvised icons look fine sitting next to real apps. To create these, simply go to Safari, open website in question and tap that arrow coming out of the box icon (it normally indicates "sharing"). One of the options there will be to "Add to Home Screen".
This is everything you need to consider to get started using your iPad mini as a serious reading device. Remember the App Store has plenty of apps, here I'm highlighting the ones I could not live without.