iPad mini buyer's guide: Purchasing your first 7in tablet

You can't click through more than two hyperlinks on the web right now without coming across predictions, speculations, rumour-mongering, and leaked information about Apple's big iPad mini event tomorrow. (And yes, we're guilty as charged on this score, too).

Although the iPad mini (or indeed iPad Air, as it could be named) is predicted to cannibalise up to one million iPad sales during the quarter, Apple could sell up to five million of the new devices in total. We're willing to bet that a number of these purchasers don't own iPads themselves. And, for many, it might be their first foray into the 7in tablet space.

We caution – as we'd caution with any 7in tablet launch – that there are a number of factors worth considering before you plunk down however much Apple plans to charge for its TinyPad.

Apple? Android? Other?

For starters, it's worth considering whether Apple's the best environment for you. If you're a stalwart Apple aficionado, skip this section. If you've never owned an iDevice in your life, it's worth comparing Apple's iPad mini to the general experiences on the other major tablet platforms – tablets strictly based on Google's Android, such as the Nexus 7, as well as the heavily modified tablets from Amazon (the Kindle Fire family) and Barnes & Noble (the Nook family, with the Nook HD incoming in November), to name a few.

A tablet might be a tablet – and Android might even be Android – but you're going to want to pick up a device that's tailored to your technological lifestyle, whether you're big on e-reading and little else, a total shill for Google or Amazon's online services or, as we hinted, you blow half of your wages on apps for your existing iOS devices.

Sizing up

If you've settled on Apple, then you'll also want to consider whether the 7in form factor is ideal for your needs. Lighter and smaller, yes – and ideally more navigable and typing-friendly than the full-size iPad – but that's a claim you'll likely want to test in person before you choose between the two tablets.

Additionally, you might lose the benefit of Apple's retina display on its current 10in iPad. If you can't tear your eyes away from that admittedly lovely screen, then a lower-resolution iPad mini might not on the cards – at least, not a first-generation model, if Apple doesn't kick up the pixel density on the iPad mini.

It remains to be seen how Apple will address other issues like device performance (processor and graphics) and battery life, two subjects that tend to go hand-in-hand. The big question remains: Will Apple stick to its A5X processor or jump up to the iPhone 5's A6?

Cost of ownership

The next biggest motivator is going to be price. It's easier to balk at picking up a £400 tablet, the entry-level price of Apple's latest iPad, than it is for a more competitively priced device around the £200 mark (assuming that's where the iPad mini will sit, as has been rumoured). That sort of saving is a pretty compelling argument in itself.

You're also going to have to make a decision about your add-ons: In the case of the iPad mini, that's expected to touch on issues of colour, storage, and connectivity.

While it might be tempting to buy the biggest, prettiest, most connected iPad mini you can get your hands on, consider the following: Are you more interested in storing files on your device (like music), or streaming your media? Increasing the storage on Apple's iDevices comes with a hefty premium. If you've converted your musical life to Spotify, for example, all that extra storage might not be necessary.

Do you envision your tablet as an on-the-go device that'll likely replace your need to check the game scores on your smartphone, or are you totally fine with using your home's wireless connectivity for your chained-to-the-sofa reading device? That'll help you pick between a Wi-Fi-only device or one that (allegedly) supports 3G or 4G connectivity – for a monthly price via your carrier of choice, of course.

As for colour, that's an easy one: Are you thinking about buying some kind of protective case for your device? Why pay the Apple surcharge (if there is one) for colour you might rarely even see?

We could go on, and on, and on: Lightning connectors, the quality of the iPad mini's (assumed) built-in camera, etc. The launch of the iPad mini is a big deal – for both the market as a whole, and for Apple, which is just now sticking its neck out into the "medium" form-factor tablet battleground. Resist the urge to get caught up in the hype over this tablet, or any tablet, and consider some of our suggestions when you're trying to decide which handheld device is right for you.