Those who have been following my DIY articles might remember that I got a dummy phone for my Samsung Galaxy S II last year. I’ve referred to it a few times since then, as it’s one of the tools I have at my disposal for making DIY accessories, something I do a lot of. A dummy device is a cheap, “fake” version of a device, originally intended to be a display model in stores. However, they’re very practical for DIY use, as they’re size-accurate versions of the devices they mimic. That means that every time you need to make something that requires you to expose your device to danger, you can just use the dummy instead.

Having a dummy is something I’ve missed with the iPad mini, so I went on eBay and found one for about $15. These dummy devices tend to vary in price depending on their actual size, almost like a “pay per pound” system, so $15 isn’t bad for something the size of an iPad mini. It’s important that the dummy is as accurate as possible, so I don’t mind shelling out that much for a fake device if it’s a good fake.

I just got the dummy, and have been checking it out to see how it holds up to the real deal. Right away I noticed that this dummy is of better quality than the Galaxy S II dummy I have. Most noticeable is the home, power, and volume buttons, and orientation switch. These are all “functional” in that they are separate pieces that move, and they’re properly aligned compared to the original. This is important for situations where you need to make accessories that line up with ports.

The back of the device is practically indistinguishable from an actual iPad mini. It is however made of plastic, which is to be expected from a dummy. Ironically, the plastic back of this dummy has some advantages over the aluminum back of the actual iPad mini, giving less of a quality feel but being easier to grip. A slightly recessed camera and Apple logo- like on the original- are nice touches.

The front is what’s most off from the real deal. The screen is soft plastic, with a ridiculously inaccurate print of the iPad home screen hiding behind a piece of plastic. This doesn’t matter for DIY use, but I find it ironic that the least accurate piece of an item designed for in-store presentation is the front.

I tried the dummy with a couple of cases, and the alignment of all the ports and pieces seems to be spot on with my iPad mini. Size-wise it’s also the same, and the cases worked identically as on the real thing.

The biggest downside is that the Lightning and 3.5mm audio jack ports aren’t deep enough to actually fit the plugs for them. This is to be expected since this isn’t designed as a DIY tool, but it would have been nice to be able to make Lightning accessories. I’m thinking things like docks, where you could keep a Lightning cable plugged into the dummy as a reference when making things like wood docks, or lube up said combination and simply shape something around it, using Sugru or other materials.

In fact, one of my favorite DIY tricks- and uses for a dummy- is the combination of some sort of lubrication and shapeable material. I tend to use olive oil as the lube, and either Sugru or black hot glue as the material. My Galaxy S II tiltpod adapter and my iPad mini stylus bands are examples of things I’ve made using this method. Simply cover what you don’t want sticking to the material with lube, pour on the material, and let it dry/harden/whatever. When you pull it off, you have a perfectly formed accessory. Those are the cases when you’d definitely want a dummy, as you don’t want your device covered in oil, and the whole plastic wrap method isn’t all that practical (not safe for anything hot, like hot glue, and leaves you without your device for a while, not to mention the chance it will leak).

I also wish that there were magnets in this thing to make the Smart Cover work with it, but again I have to be realistic when using something for a purpose it wasn’t made for. All in all, it’s a great little dummy, and it’s going to make making accessories for the mini a lot easier. I got mine from this “auction,” which still has some left.