Apple unveils mini iPad, priced starting at $329

(CNN) -- The full-sized iPad is like a hardback book. The new iPad Mini is the paperback version many tablet users have been waiting for. Following Tuesday's press conference, Apple ushered reporters into a crowded, narrow room in San Jose's restored California Theater for some chaperoned hands-on time with the new devices.

Of course, the most important impressions come later, after proper battery and speed testing. And it's not until masses of people start field-testing a device that the most memorable (and often overblown) issues come to light. That was the case with the iPhone 5's Maps mishaps, body scratches and camera quirks.

But since the iPad Mini's specs are similar to the iPad 2, its primary selling point is its mini-ness. So physically putting your hands on the device tells you a lot.

In the hands-on demo space, people took turns testing out various grips on the smaller iPad, attempting to hold it in one hand while navigating through apps with just a thumb. The device is 5.3 inches (or 2.3 iPhones) across, so the single-handed approach won't work for some petite paws.

The tablet is light, 312 grams, but still feels substantial and sturdy in your hand. Apple's thinness obsession has touched nearly every one of its product lines this past year, and the iPad Mini could conceivably have been a slip of a gadget. The iPad Mini is just barely thinner than the iPhone 5, and a bit thicker than the iPod Touch.

The 9.8-inch iPad's screen is big and beautiful, but getting comfortable with the device can require creative positioning. Apple's own cases for the iPad addressed this by adding options for propping the iPad up. The new iPad won't have this problem. As Kindle users can attest, the smaller size is perfect for curling up on a couch or in bed.

Apple is in the unusual position (for Apple) of being the new kid in an already crowded market. It will go against the well-received Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet and Google's Nexus 7 tablet. There are some nice external design touches that Apple hopes will set its product apart. What's most striking is how wide the screen is, with an ultra-thin bezel (that's the frame around the screen) along the left and right sides.

Even though it went smaller, Apple didn't go as small as its biggest competitors, allowing it to still dangle that "size matters" specification over Amazon and Google's heads.

During the presentation, Phil Schiller. Apple's senior vice president of marketing, compared the iPad Mini to what looked like a Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 has received good reviews and has a few advantages over the iPad Mini, including a non-proprietary micro-USB charging port (the iPad uses Apple's new Lightning connector), and its screen packs in more pixels per inch. The iPad Mini does not have a Retina Display -- something Apple is no doubt saving for a future version.

Those details may not end up mattering to consumers. The iPad Mini's biggest advantage is its simple operating system and well-stocked App Store. If someone opts to pay the higher price for an iPad Mini, they will do it for the brand and the ecosystem.