The 'iPad Mini phone' has been my only smartphone for the past three months. Here are my overall impressions, and how using the iPad Mini as my primary portable computing device has changed my idea of what the ideal smartphone should be. See this post for info on how to set up your iPad into an iPad phone to make and receive calls and texts. It just requires a few free apps, then you can make free calls and texts as long as you have a cellular data connection or are on WiFi. This also works on Android tablets and smartphones and iPhones and can greatly reduce your wireless bill.
The iPad Mini Phone - too big, right? right?
I've grown accustomed to using the iPad Mini as my smartphone. I really like the screen size – it doesn't feel nearly as cramped as a smartphone does at times, yet it's still easy to hold in one hand. The Mini is much thinner and lighter than the full-sized iPad, and cheaper too. I can see why people like the Galaxy Note and other huge phones. Of course, the larger size also makes it very difficult to fit in a normally sized pocket. Over the winter, I would slip it into a large jacket pocket, but now that warmer weather is coming to the northeast I may find myself wishing I had something smaller to carry with me. However, I'm not really looking forward to going back to a 4-5" smartphone screen.
Sometimes though I just leave the iPad phone in the car or at home. It's actually nice to disconnect every now and then.
Call quality and app stability
I found the apps to be very stable and the voice quality solid. I'm not aware of any calls or texts that didn't go through, and most people have no idea that I'm not calling or texting them from a phone. I really like the features Google Voice gives you. This isn't specific to the iPad, and I wish I had started using Google Voice much earlier. Google Voice allows you to access your texts and voicemails on any device with the app installed or on a laptop through a web browser. I can view and respond to texts on my laptop and Google Voice also transcribes your voicemails, which I use all the time. One notable downside is that picture messages don't work with Google Voice. I did have a few times when friends had sent a picture message and I never received it. Hopefully they remember to iMessage me or email me next time.
One other important note... Using these apps will not allow you to make 911 calls, so beware.
Finally, all day battery life!
This is what smartphone battery life should be like. I used to charge my iPhone 3GS and 4S every day without fail. I usually couldn't make it through a full day away from an outlet with normal use. Thanks to the larger tablet battery, the iPad Mini phone easily lasts a full day even with heavy use. I routinely get 2 days of battery life out of it. I should note that I'm mostly on wifi and don't make a lot of phone calls, both of which reduce battery drain.
How does a $20 cell phone bill sound?
Another major benefit for me is the monthly bill, or lack thereof. A typical smartphone contract will run you at least $70 a month (and probably more like $100.) Part of the reason is that they force you to have a voice and data plan, and most people also have a texting plan these days. I don't have to pay for voice or texting plans, just the data I use on my iPad Mini phone when I'm not on WiFi. I pay $20 for 1GB of prepaid data from Verizon per month. I'm usually on WiFi - don't we all have WiFi at home and work these days? I also try to refrain from data-intensive things like streaming video when I'm not on WiFi. If I know I'll be traveling a lot, I bump up to the $30/2GB or $50/5GB plan for a month. These are prepaid data plans from Verizon, so you can adjust them at anytime or cancel right from the iPad without any penalty. There are also no 'overages.' If I use up my 1GB of data before the month is up, a new 1GB just starts automatically. I much prefer this setup to a traditional smartphone plan.
You don't hold that thing up to your ear do you?
Every cell phone has an earpiece speaker, but the iPad doesn't, so it wouldn't do much good to hold an iPad Mini phone up to your ear. I thought this would be annoying, but I didn't really notice it at all. The Mini makes a great speakerphone, and my old iPhone headset usually isn't too far away if I need it. You can also use a bluetooth headset if you'd like. The iPad Mini phone also works well in speakerphone mode in my car when plugged into my car stereo's auxiliary jack.
It's hard to beat Verizon
In the original post about setting up an iPad Mini phone I went over my decision to pick Verizon as my carrier. So far I have no regrets. I drove across the country and had LTE coverage even in smaller cities and towns where AT&T does not. The LTE speed was great, especially when I used the Mini as a hotspot for my laptop.
After 3 months, I'm not rushing back to a smartphone. The iPad Mini phone has made me rethink what I really want in a smartphone. Part of me wants the largest pocketable phone possible, and hopefully that would alleviate the need for a separate tablet. But another part of me wants to keep using the Mini for most everything and then have a small, cheap phone with great battery life to toss in my pocket when I need it. It would be nice if that small phone could share the same data plan, but that's probably a pipe dream. Either way, I'll definitely keep using Google Voice on my next device. And you can't beat a $20 cell phone bill.