Using the iPad mini as a phone

Last week I left home and headed to the airport, on my way to Macworld|iWorld 2013. My flight was delayed thanks to freezing rain, so I sat at the airport in Montreal for a couple hours, finally made it to Toronto, and then got smacked with another 8 hour delay. With my iPhone 5 at 20% and dropping, thanks to the poor quality Rogers reception at Pearson, I reached for one of the several Lightning cables I'd packed for my trip... only to find not a single one. I'd left them all at home.

Of course, neither the iStore (airport electronics shop) nor the Best Buy vending machines had Lightning cables. I was stuck. I needed my iPhone for when I landed in San Francisco, so I had to conserve as much power as I could. But I also needed a phone to use while I was at the airport all day.

So I reached for my iPad mini.

Don't laugh. The 7.9 inch vs. 9.7 inch screen size difference might not seem like a lot, but when you're walking around an airport for hours, the ability to hold a device in one hand with something even approaching a phone-like grip makes a huge difference. I could stand in line at customer service or at the food court or coffee shop while checking iMore, playing Letterpress, and sending and receiving iMessages just about as easily as I could with my iPhone. And when they changed gates on me four times, and changed them back again, and I had to haul ass through terminals and even between them, I could keep my iPad mini in my hand while I ran, something I could never do with a full sized iPad, not comfortably, not without the fear it'd fly out of my hand.

When I had to make calls, to make sure I could check into my hotel even after midnight, for example, I used Skype. No, I didn't rock the iPad mini on my shoulder like a 1980s beatbox, trying to line up the speaker and mic to my head. I used my in-ear headset, and it worked as well as it's always worked with the iPhone. I received calls the same way, though I wish Skype was easier on the battery, even in background. Next time I might just stick to FaceTime.

But then, I seldom use my iPhone as a phone anyway. Those things, the things I do on my iPhone all day, every day, while I'm out and about, the social networking, the iMessaging, the gaming, all worked just as well on the iPad mini as they do on the iPhone. And thanks to the beefy pockets on my Canadian winter jacket, the iPad mini was just as easy to carry around when I didn't want it in hand. Also, running iMore's Drupal 7-based CMS remotely is much easier via the iPad version of Safari than the iPhone version.

When I finally arrived at San Francisco airport, some 19 hours after I'd left home, my iPad mini and its beast of a battery was still at over 30%, and I was able to switch back to my iPhone and make all my arrangements while on my way to the city. (iPad roaming is $1 a MB, no way was I using it for a second in the U.S.). The next day I bought a couple extra Lightning connectors and an extra usb-to-Lightning adapter from the Apple Store, and I was good to go.

Using an iPhone as a phone is still a far more mobile, far more convenient solution than using an iPad mini. It's what I use 90% of the time I'm walking around my home town. But now, sometimes, when I want a more expansive, more IMAX iOS experience, I find myself reaching for my iPad mini, holding it one handed, going about my same business, and enjoying it tremendously.

John Gruber has said the iPad mini was the best computer ever made. I'm still enslaved by OpenVPN, Final Cut Pro X, Photoshop, and other software to my MacBook Pro. But even lacking and a proper mouth and earpiece, the iPad mini might well be one of the best phones I've ever used.

And that makes the whole 5-inch iPhone line of speculation even more interesting...

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.