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.

  • I think that as phones get bigger and bigger ( and people continue to use phones to, you know, make calls ) bluetooth headsets will be used more and more in lieu of holding a door to your ear to make a call. Devices such as the Pebble Watch with be very useful to determine who's calling. ... @Richard_Hansen
  • As I read the first couple of paragraphs the first thing that came to my mind was "I guess the galaxy note idea isn't that bad after all" ... Then the last line of the article confirmed I understood what you were hinting at all along.
  • I just got paid $6784 working on my laptop using these simple steps leaked on this web page. Make up to $85 per hour doing simple tasks that are so easy to do that you won't forgive yourself if you don't check it out! Weekly payments! Here is what I've been doing
  • I haven't shared officially on my youtube channel yet and a few people are aware of this but not many.
    I won't go into too much detail but I decided to switch from the iPhone 5 to iPad mini on verizon, great surprise was that (On verizon) I did NOT had to pay an ETF, so I sold our 2 phones for $600 each and bought 2 minis ($460) and I got "TalkaTone" from the app store, it uses google voice over wi-fi or LTE, this service is NOT very reliable but it gets the job done to my usual few calls a week, and I do mean few! using a bluetooth headset.
    Best part was that Verizon will let you change your share everything plan to Data only, so my bill went from $160 a month to $60 (6GB a month) if the iPad mini had retina display I would be extremely happy but saving $1,200 a year still makes me smile every time i think about it.
  • If it had retina display, it probably would have a far shorter battery life than the phone.
  • My 2¢ on Talkatone v. Skype: I decided to pay the difference for Skype because Talkatone plus Google Voice was unreliable. Added to that, Talkatone has awful UX. The quality difference with Skype is very much worth the 4$ a month. I still use Google Voice for call routing.
  • Along those same lines elo228 if you download the Google Voice App (free) and Pinger App (free) and use your Google Voice number to call your Pinger number (free incoming calls) you can use your iPad Mini or iPod touch to make free incoming and outgoing calls. Just a tip for American users. Rene mentioned they do not have Google Voice in Canada.
  • Re: "iPad roaming is $1 a MB" OUCH. Great story Rene. But next time, make sure your iPhone is charged and bring your Lightning-to-USB cable!
  • Yeah. I was wondering why he didn't just get a plan in the US – not roaming. It should not cost much more than $30 and would've been pretty convenient, I would think.
  • I dont think internatiopnal data plans are very cheap. not from what i have seen
  • Not to mention, an unlocked device and an AT&T or T-Mobile SIM. Now that T-Mobile is completing a lot of the 1900 PCS refarming to HSPA+, T-Mobile is also a viable option the next time you travel south.
  • Phablet!
  • just curious. you were able to call the hotel with skype?
  • I was hoping we'd get a shot of you like Dieter Bohn did forever ago, holding what I believe was the Samsung Galaxy Tab to his head. That would've been hilarious. But I'm with you Rene, the mini is compelling. Can't can't can't get past the lack of Retina, it's a non-starter, and that's after playing with one for hours and owning one briefly. Give me Retina on a mini and it's a done deal.
  • Rene, i think your right as well as what Leo Laporte has said, apple might eventually have to come up with an ipad mini capable of phone useage. however they need to fix the issue with the screen which might not be long from what i read on articles.
    if apple can pull off a 5 or even 5.5" iphone plus or whatever you like to call it apple will seee a huge increase in users.
  • What a great wallpaper! Could I have it too? Share a link please.
  • I'm new to the iPad, and iPad + Rogers OneNumber = Awesome. I can only imagine if I had LTE...
  • Rene, You need a battery pack...
  • I had two mophie power station duos with me. Useless without Lightning cables.
  • When I was down in aruba I used wifi and Line2 on both my iPhone and iPad. Never missed a beat.
  • I have an iPhone, but I moved my home phone over to Line2 and use it as my phone on the iPad mini LTE. I did so to keep the phone number i have had for over a decade. Works well. I also use Skype. The iPad mini could works well as a replacement for someone that does not want an iPhone contract, but it definitely requires a Bluetooth headset. When I see these people hold those large Samsung phones to their head, I just cringe. It is ridiculous.
  • You don't need Google Voice to make and receive phone calls in Canada on any iDevice. You just download an app called Fongo and sign in. You select a mobile phone number and, presto, you can receive calls from anywhere and make free calls to just about anywhere in Canada. I use it on the iPad mini LTE and on my iPod Touch. Linking the Touch to the mini's hotspot allows me to leave the iPad in pocket or backpack while using the iPod as a phone. Fongo, a Waterloo Ontario company involved with Dell until recently, provides a voicemail service for missed calls, so the VoIP telephone experience is rather complete, and free. What I don't understand is why it isn't Apple providing this kind of service.
  • Renee, this is very off topic, but where can I find your mini's wallpaper? I really dig that.
  • re: "And that makes the whole 5-inch iPhone line of speculation even more interesting..."
    Except that Canadian winter coats are FAR less fun in the SUMMER!!!
    Not only do I need to be able to hang onto it, it needs to fit in my pocket as well. As for Google Voice, it's just a VoIP type system out of many. Just sign up with some service like Callcentric, one of many SIP based VoIP apps, and you're good to go if you can find WiFi. Skype is nice to have in a pinch as it can sometimes negotiate network firewalls and such, but most other VoIP plans are more flexible and cheaper. And, I'd LOVE the iPad mini as well, except that I don't think I could handle typing on it as much as I do on my iPad 2. And, on some UI's I feel it's hard to hit some of the targets on a regular iPad. How do you folks feel about those aspects? Thanks.
  • I might get one when they get a retina display and at least 1 gig of memory.
  • I dumped my phone in October in favor of an iPod Touch, a pocket modem and Skype. Almost a seemless transition. Even better now with the 5th gen. Touch and much easier to pocket than a mini.
  • I am fascinated to know how that's working out. I really like using my ipad to browse and wouldnt mind using it as a phone 100% of the time.
  • Apps GV Phone and Mo+ both from same developer gave me free excellent call quality calling to US phone numbets from London over google voice and google talk service. I recommend those apps. Talkatone was horrible, Skype wanted money for what GV Phone and Mo+ apps gave free.
  • Renee, your wallpaper is most awesome! Where can i find it?
  • For those asking about the image - it's the artwork from the apple invitation to the announcement of the iPad Mimi. Here is a Google image search (size: large) for you...
  • I recently got me myself a telephone number for my iPad Mini and signed up for a voip service here in Canada the cost is $15 a month unlimited calls to US and Canada and my data plan is $5 to 35 flex plan so my sweet spot is $15.00 so total cost is $30 a month I also downloaded the Bria app on the iPad and bought myself a Bluetooth head set so I wouldn't have to bring the mini to my ear and have to say it works really well.For me to do all this on my iPhone using my Bell carrier it would cost me $95 a month so I'm saving $65 a month.
  • I've been using Fongo app on my iPad and Android tablet, to make and receive calls in Canada, for a few months. You get a local Canadian number for the app and I've been very happy with the quality of the calls. Also, I use Bobsled app to call any number in the US and Canada, from anywhere in the world.
  • I tried that also but I can't get a local number for my area
  • The Lumia 920 is tooo big already. Phoning with a 5" phone, a Galaxy note, or even a "small" tablet is just ridiculous.
  • You can use it as a full-featured phone if you get google voice: It's actually pretty nice, as long as you have jacket pockets large enough.
  • Hello,
    in our school we are looking at a replacement for our pbx system and I was thinking to use iPad mini as a phone on the teacher desk, because let's face it. Your phone on the desk is no longer smarter as it was in the 2000's-ish. an iPhone or iPad mini can do even more than any softphone on the computer; (think that if a computer is down, the softphone can't be used to call for help). So my idea is to use:
    -- iPad 2 wifi only
    -- iPad dock
    -- Lightning to 30-pin Adapter if you choose an iPad mini instead.
    -- bluetooth earbud with microphone. -Software:
    -- SIP client or
    -- Switchvox mobile for iphone, what do you think
  • Yeah, the ipad mini is a fantastic device along with the iphone.
  • How cool it was to hear someone else had done this, thought I was crazy for doing it.
    Happy for iMore to post this. Thanks Rene
  • Still can't decide between a full size iPad or a mini. I bought my first Apple desktop (27" iMac) and can't stand it. It is just way to clunky to carry around...
  • I have ipad mini ifi only I use magicjack app to call canada and us free anytime has free voice mail Also I use fongo app for Canada only any time both apps can call land line and cell phone
  • I was aware of Fongo but not Magicjack. Thanks for the tip.
  • You welcome also if you like free texting anywhere in Canada I use textplus app it's amazing totally free
  • WHY!!!! apple does not release the software to give the capability to Ipad 4g to make calls... the IPad 1 3g can handle calls, with a sw, not IP, NOT skype, regular calls, if you review Ifix it, is the sam hw, so WHY apple does not release the software, or at least let the iphoneislam to deliver it, they paid to avoid distribution... dig a little bit and you will find out, any Ipad 3g or 4g, has the hw to make calls, that is why samsung is kicking ass... you can make standard calls, is just a matter of software, not HW
  • i would do this in a heart beat if i had a mini.
  • Install magic jack application and you will have a complete free phone even with voicemail.
  • Hi, just to provide more recent info...I have successfully been able to receive calls on my iPod Touch by using Google Voice. This was accomplished by calling my Sprint phone number from a land line. (I was very surprised considering the problems Google and Apple have displayed toward to each other!) This is great since I don't have to change the number I have had for a VERY LONG time (and I'm sort of attached to!). I will try to keep using that for a while to get a feeler on ....moving on to committing to an iPad mini with LTE, and dropping my current cellular plan. So yes, it's possible...I just won't get the chance to test the LTE convenience until I commit to the iPad mini. I'm anticipating getting a minimal 100 MB plan for $10 from Sprint and depend on Wifi for the most part. My only concern is that if I move to an area that is more rural, my access will be minimal. But, I'm already used to that regardless (I've had Sprint for a long time and haven't really run into any actual problems having them as my carrier).