Both Mossberg and New York Times columnist David Pogue offered kudos for cramming most of its full-sized cousin's functions onto a smaller device, as advertised.
But the iPad mini's 1024 x 768 resolution was a big step backwards from the iPad's much-touted Retina display, and underperformed the rival Kindle and Nexus, the two reviewers agreed.
Mossberg said Apple chose to go with a lower-quality display because the existing 250,000-plus iPad applications could only run unmodified in two resolutions - and the higher level would have sapped too much power.
"The lack of true HD gives the Nexus and Fire HD an advantage for video fans. In my tests, video looked just fine, but not as good as on the regular iPad," Mossberg wrote.
The original iPad was launched in 2010 and went on to upend the personal computer industry, spawning a raft of similar devices. The iPad mini marks Apple's first foray into a smaller 7-inch segment that Amazon's Kindle Fire now dominates, demonstrating demand exists for such a device.
Apple, making its boldest consumer hardware move since Tim Cook took the helm from late co-founder Steve Jobs, hopes the smaller tablet can beat back incursions onto its home turf of consumer electronics.
"In shrinking the iconic iPad, Apple has pulled off an impressive feat," Mossberg wrote. "It has managed to create a tablet that's notably thinner and lighter than the leading small competitors with 7-inch screens, while squeezing in a significantly roomier 7.9-inch display.
"And it has shunned the plastic construction used in its smaller rivals to retain the iPad's sturdier aluminum and glass body."
Mossberg, whose reviews are followed closely by consumers and tech companies alike, wrote that the iPad mini did as advertised by bringing the full-sized iPad experience onto a smaller screen.
He noted, however, that the device was too large to fit easily into pockets. It exhibited battery life of about 10 hours and 27 minutes, an hour more than the Kindle Fire at the same settings, but about 17 minutes less than the Nexus 7.
"By pricing the Mini so high, Apple allows the $200 class of seven-inch Android tablets and readers to live," Pogue wrote.
"But the iPad Mini is a far classier, more attractive, thinner machine. It has two cameras instead of one. Its fit and finish are far more refined. And above all, it offers that colossal app catalog, which Android tablet owners can only dream about."