For someone who’s always waffling on about how amazing the iPad mini is, I’ve never truly put it through its paces.

Apple’s smallest tablet is a wonder for consuming content and taking notes, but neither of those tasks exactly pushes the envelope of what’s possible with iPadOS (or the hardware powering it).

So, I thought, why not see what this little guy can really do? Why not take it away with me to a foreign country as my only computing device and see if it can handle the day-to-day tasks of a travelling content creator?

That’s exactly what I did last week and the results were fascinating.

And, no, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

The setup

I usually take way too much stuff with me while travelling for work. It was, therefore, rather refreshing to have such a light backpack during my trek to Brussels.

Within the confines of my Waterfield Pro Executive Backpack resided my iPad mini, a NuPhy Air60 keyboard (complete with wrap-around folio case-come-iPad-stand), a Logitech MX Master 3, a tech bag full of cables, and a pair of Bose QC45 headphones.

iPad mini

There was other stuff in there, which I’ll explain in a moment, but the actual ‘computer’ setup was the lightest I’ve experienced for a long time. It had three days of pretty solid work ahead of it, too.

During my time in the Belgian capital, I’d be writing my daily blogs, communicating with my team via Slack, keeping on top of email, topping up my social media content funnel, shooting a vlog-style video about my iPad mini-only experiment (and using the iPad mini as the camera), and recording a podcast with Patrick Rambles.


The biggest wins

Apple’s trusty little tablet spent most of its time clasped in my hand while I wandered the streets of Brussels. This was to aid the shooting of my vlog-style video, but also because it was such an easy thing to carry around.

iPad mini

I’m not used to this. Although I still had my iPhone with me for this trip, it’s usually joined by a MacBook Pro which has to be closed, encased, and stowed in my backpack after each session of use. Just the ability to carry around a small device which was both my camera and my computer was so liberating.

Battery life wasn’t an issue, either. I had packed one of the longest USB-C cables known to humanity in the fear of constantly needing to juice the thing up in coffee shops, but that never happened. I left with it charged to 100% at midday on the day of departure, and only charged it overnight during my two-night stay. When you bear in mind I was regularly shooting 4K video and using that thing constantly for other tasks, that’s pretty incredible.

My choice of keyboard and iPad stand (delivered beautifully by the NuPhy Air60 and NuFolio combo) was equally revelatory. Having access to a mechanical keyboard while on the road did wonders for my blog writing, and the setup never felt cumbersome, no matter where I parked myself. As for the MX Master 3 mouse, I didn’t unearth it from its protective case once; as it turns out, a mouse pointer is still a rarely required input method on iPadOS.

Put simply, I didn’t miss my MacBook very much at all.

However, there were the usual iPad-only niggles which are, I’m afraid, still very much present in 2023.

The downsides of an iPad-only life

There are still issues inherent with an iPad-only lifestyle which aren’t specific to the iPad mini.

As always, I found myself yearning for macOS when approaching certain tasks. Anything involving file management or multitasking always feels like a bigger deal than it should on the iPad. If I need to switch between several apps and move files between them for a single task, I’m always conscious that I could be doing the same thing far quicker on my MacBook.

I’m convinced that this has nothing to do with me being a long-term, old-fashioned user of the Mac. It’s because iPadOS is still at its best in single, full-screen app mode. That’s where it shines. Sure, you can combine a couple of windows on the same display for referencing (as I’m doing now while writing this blog post) but anything beyond that feels like shoehorning a process into a device for which it wasn’t designed.

This is undoubtedly why Apple has had such a hard time nailing multitasking on the iPad. Switching between apps still feels cumbersome and Stage Manager (although admittedly not present on the iPad mini) illustrates how lost Apple has become while trying to make the iPad more Mac-like.

The iPad mini is also a tricky device to use for vlogging. Although small in iPad terms, it’s still considerably larger than my iPhone 14 Pro Max, therefore shooting myself one-handed with the front-facing camera always felt a bit perilous. And while I’m on the subject of that front-facing camera, it is pretty atrocious in anything but ideal lighting conditions (the rear camera fares slightly better, thankfully).

These are niggles, though, and didn’t get in the way of the increasing joy I felt carrying around just one tiny device.

Unfortunately, the iPad mini did have one big slip-up during my trip.

The biggest failure

Apart from the battery life, the biggest concern I had for my iPad mini-only adventure was the task of recording the audio for my podcast interview with Patrick.

It was for this reason that I had ludicrously packed a Solid State Logic SSL2 audio interface into my backpack. The plan was to attach two of Patrick’s mics to the SSL2, then connect the latter to the iPad mini and record our creator industry ramblings into GarageBand.

iPad mini

I tested the setup before I left for Brussels. It worked, brilliantly. Thanks to a powered USB-C hub, I was able to get the SSL2 working perfectly with the iPad mini while keeping the latter connected to mains power. Immediately, I had a mobile multitrack recording rig. What a setup!

Alas, it would have been, if it had worked during the recording.

After setting everything up in Patrick’s studio and giving it a successful test, we sat down, hit record, and began chatting.

Within three minutes, I knew something was wrong.

Glancing to my left at the iPad mini, I noticed that the GarageBand record button was no longer active. The playhead had stopped and the two mic tracks were no longer making their way across the timeline. The recording had, for no obvious reason, stopped.

Patrick was mid-flow and the conversation was super engaging. I didn’t want to stop him or cancel what was already turning out to be a great episode of the forthcoming Solo Club podcast. Thankfully, we had enough combined experience to know that we might need backup audio, and the presence of DJI’s brilliant lav mics clipped to our shirts settled my mind.

But why on earth had GarageBand stopped recording? No one had touched the iPad mini after I’d hit record and it hadn’t run out of storage. There was seemingly no error, either; GarageBand didn’t throw up any messages to indicate that the recording had stopped.

This leads me to a brutal but fair conclusion about the iPad mini.


Is the iPad mini still my favourite iPad?


Can I rely on it to replace my MacBook while out on the road?

Absolutely – unless I need to undertake production work.

For writing, admin, email, and even vlog-style filming, the iPad mini punches well above its weight class. But I’m afraid when a device like this fails for something as significant as capturing audio, it’s a strike-and-you’re-out affair.

I still have no idea why GarageBand decided to stop recording my podcast. The lack of an error message, unfortunately, seals the deal – if I’m not informed as to what went wrong, I cannot rely on that setup ever again. Fellow content creators will know why; the one thing you never want to encounter is lost footage or audio. This is particularly the case with podcasting where the takes should always be once-only affairs. Had I stopped Patrick mid-flow and started everything again, we’d have ended up with a much worse piece of content.

This is a great shame, but it won’t force me to mark down the iPad mini significantly. For as capable as it might be, the iPad mini isn’t a mobile recording studio. The fact that it did everything else so effortlessly and saved my back in the process has only made me love it just that little bit more.

The video about my iPad mini-only adventure in Brussels will hit my YouTube channel later this month.

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