Ever since tablets were first on the horizon (post-iPhone and Kindle but pre-everything else) I always felt that one the size of a paperback would be great. When the iPad came out at 10", I wasn't sure if I'd like that size. My first thought would be a good size for looking at but kind of big to hold. I checked it out (played with friends', had a loaner from work, etc.) and yes, I didn't care for it much. I bought one to do a bit of testing and development on and I figured I'd try to use it and see if I grew to like it. I didn't, and sold it a few months later. (I bought a refurbished iPad 1 shortly after the 2 came out, so it was cheap, and I sold it for not much of a loss -- basically I rented it for like $8 a month, which wasn't bad since it was for work.) It's just big enough that it really takes up some space whenever you set it down, and while it is amazing, overall, that you can get so much power into 1.5 lbs, that's just a bit much to hold and look at for any amount of time.
I ordered the Mini as soon as I could and it arrived this morning and it's great. It's a great size and very light. The screen, while not retina, is still good. We were all happy with our original iPhones before the 4 came along, right?
The bezel on the sides are indeed thin but the whole thing is so light and thin (not referring to the overall thickness -- I mean, not wide, side-to-side) you just let it rest on your fingers (which easily reach about 2/3 the way across the back) and then you just need a bit of pressure from your thumb to hold it in place. It's not like the full-size iPad that you really need a firm grip on so thumb coverage isn't a huge problem.
Speaking of width, thumb typing in portrait is great. On a full-size iPad, the only way I could ever type was by holding it flat with one hand and stabbing the screen with a couple fingers of the other hand, which causes the whole thing to wobble around. When holding the Mini in portrait mode, your thumbs can easily touch each other so it's a cinch to hit every key. (Holding it in landscape, it is again a bit of a stretch.) The split keyboard is a good solution but I'm personally not a fan -- if I were typing a word like 'stew' I might use my right thumb for the 't' -- so I like to have it undocked but merged. (It has 3 modes: docked (stuck to the bottom), floating and split, or floating and merged.) I just hold the tablet in a way that's comfortable and then adjust the keyboard height so it's in just the right spot. My one complaint is I wish Apple would just put a damn number row at the top of the thing, at least in portrait mode. There's plenty of room for one more row of buttons.
The weight is fantastic. The iPad 2 and iPad (4) are right about double the Mini's weight: 0.69 pounds versus 1.33 and 1.44. (0.69 x 2 = 1.38.) The iPhone 4S is 0.306 pounds and the iPhone 5 is 0.247 pounds. So the iPad mini is, in fact, closer in weight to an iPhone than a full-sized iPad. Holding an iPhone in one hand and the Mini in the other isn't drastically different -- you're talking a about a difference of about 3-4oz between those two versus an 8-ounce difference between the Mini and its big brother.
Apple products aren't for everyone. Tablets aren't for everyone. Of the people that like tablets, 7- or 8-inch models aren't for all of them. That's fine with me. I'm just happy to finally have the tablet I want, in the size that I want, at a price that -- while not what I was hoping for -- is not unworkable.