ipad mini retina review design 2

“Every inch an iPad” is how Apple marketed the original iPad mini (2012). That was mostly true. While the iPad mini (2012) did finally give consumers a smaller, more portable iPad, what they really got was essentially a miniaturized iPad 2 (2011). It didn’t have a Retina display and its processing power and gaming capabilities suffered because it was running on such old hardware. Not to mention, the iPad mini (2012) struggled to run iOS 7.

Alongside the iPad Air, Apple released the iPad mini with Retina display. Not only did its screen get upgraded to a Retina one, but Apple also brought brought processing parity to the smaller tablet. There is no longer a performance gap between the smaller and larger iPad — both became equal in everything but screen size.

Of course, the iPad mini with Retina display costs more than its predecessor — starting at $399 versus $299. Just as the iPad Air has competitors attacking it from all sides, so too does the iPad mini with Retina display. Let’s see if the iPad mini with Retina display is still the best mini tablet compared to its new rivals, shall we?

Context

I’m a multi-device user. I use a MacBook Air for doing all my “real” work. I use my iPhone 5 to perform short tasks such as sending quick emails, messaging and tweeting. For reading online articles I’ve saved in Feedly and Pocket, I prefer to use an iPad mostly because it’s a lean-back-on-the-sofa and sit-in-bed type of device that isn’t as as bulky as a laptop.

I’m still hanging onto my aging iPad 3 for my tablet needs, but hope to give it to my dad and upgrade to something newer, faster, and smaller — like the iPad mini.

Specifications

Product Name G Pad 8.3 Galaxy Tab S 8.4 iPad mini Retina
Brand LG Samsung Apple
Weight 11.92 Oz 10.37 Oz 11.68 Oz
Street Price $249.99 $399 $399
Resolution 1920×1200 2560×1600 2048×1536
Size (Diagonal, Inches) 8.3″ 8.4″ 7.9″
Processor Name Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 APQ8064T
4-core
1.7 MHz
Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5420
8-core
1.9 MHz
Apple A7
2-core
1.3 MHz
Operating System (OS) Android 4.2.2 Android 4.4 iOS 7.1.2
Memory Card Type MicroSD
(64 GB max)
MicroSD
(128 GB max)
None
Built-In Storage 16 GB 16,32 GB 16,32,64,128 GB
Megapixels 5 MP 8 MP 5 MP
Megapixels 1.3 MP 2.1 MP 1.2 MP
Battery Capacity (mAh) 4600 mAh 4900 mAh 6470 mAh

Design (Very good)

ipad mini retina review design 1

The iPad mini with Retina display is the spitting image of the iPad Air, only smaller. That’s a testament to both Apple’s top-notch design and engineering chops.

It has the same unibody aluminum design and diamond-cut chamfered edges which makes it sparkle like a high-quality watch when light reflects off it.

ipad mini retina review 1

Every button, speaker grille and port on the iPad mini with Retina display is in the exact same position as on the iPad mini (2012). The front panel remains as minimal as possible with only the 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera sitting on the top bezel, and the familiar home button on the bottom bezel.

There is one tiny change that may or may not be important to you. With the upgrade to a higher resolution screen, the iPad mini with Retina display became .02-inches (0.3mm) thicker and 23 grams heavier. To the naked eye, the thickness difference is insignificant. But if you own an iPad mini (2012) and use a skin-tight (and we do mean tight as hell) case, you may need to get a new one. And while you may think you won’t feel the difference in the weight, if you’re upgrading from the iPad mini (2012), you will feel the difference.

ipad mini retina review speaker

Whereas the iPad mini (2012) was originally released in White/Silver and Slate/Black, the iPad mini with Retina display is available in White/Silver and Space Gray. As always I prefer the white model because gradual scratches are less visible.

Display (Ultra sharp)

ipad mini retina review top

The iPad mini (2012) was almost perfect. It was small and had great battery life, but its screen — 1024 x 768 resolution — was terrible by 2012 standards. It looks even worse today.

Naturally, Apple bumped the iPad mini with Retina display’s 7.9-inch resolution up to 2048 x 1538 — same as the resolution on the 9.7-inch iPad Air (and iPad 3 and 4).

ipad mini retina review display 1

The screen on the iPad mini with Retina display is now perfect, especially when rendering the thinner font in iOS 7. Photos, iBooks, digital magazines, videos, and comics (the fonts aren’t blurry anymore!) look the way they do on the iPad Air — remarkably sharp and paper-like. Viewing angles are as wide as ever and color reproduction is mostly accurate.

ipad mini retina review display 2

In fact, I’d go as far and declare the iPad mini with Retina display’s screen better than the iPad Air’s. The 326 pixels per inch (ppi) on the smaller tablet renders everything sharper than the iPad Air’s 264 pixels per inch screen when I held them both 10-12 inches away from my face.

Performance (Crazy fast)

ipad mini retina review performance

Another problem I (and most people) had with the iPad mini (2012) aside from its non-Retina display was its computing performance. As I said earlier, the iPad mini (2012) was essentially a shrunken iPad 2. No joke. Underneath, the iPad mini (2012) and iPad 2 both were powered by the 1GHz A5 processor, PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU and 512MB of RAM. iOS 6 ran just fine with that hardware, but running iOS 7 was a nightmare. Almost all of iOS 7′s eye candy features were cut or reduced, and performance lagged terribly.

The iPad mini with Retina display has no such performance problems. Like its iPhone 5s and iPad Air siblings, it runs the lightning fast Apple A7 processor with 64-bit architecture and 1GB of RAM. And just like its other companions, the iPad mini with Retina display also has an M7 motion coprocessor which handles all of the data processing from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass.

I tested the iPad mini with Retina display simultaneously while testing the iPad Air and didn’t notice any perceivable performance difference. Both tablets are virtually equal in power. The iPad mini with Retina display was able to power through dozens of open browser tabs in Safari and Chrome, and all of the social media apps I threw at it. FaceTime video conferencing was considerably smoother and lagged less compared to a friend’s iPad mini and my iPad 3.

I don’t do a ton of gaming on my iPad, but I’m always a sucker for the latest Asphalt game. I usually use the newest version of Asphalt or Infinity Blade as a way to gauge an iPad’s performance because both of these games are graphic-intensive and push the GPU to its limits rendering objects and environments in 3D. As expected, both Asphalt 8: Airborne and Infinity Blade III ran smoothly without any hiccups. Loading times for Asphalt were speedier than on my iPad 3.

Most people won’t care about benchmarks, but only that the iPad mini with Retina display feels faster than its predecessor. For the geeks, we ran a few benchmarks to see how it stacks up against the latest “mini” tablets.

Using Geekbench 3 to get an overall picture of the iPad mini with Retina display’s performance, we can see the A7 chip is a serious beast, besting the Nexus 7 (2013), LG G Pad 8.3 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

ipad mini retina geekbench3 single1

Testing with GFX Bench, the iPad mini with Retina display crushed its closest competitors by a huge margin. Below you can see the iPad mini with Retina display destroyed the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 in both the Manhattan (measures Open GL ES 3) and T-Rex FPS test (measures Open GL ES 2). The LG G pad, Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and Nexus 7 (2013) didn’t even come close.

ipad mini retina gfxbench manhattan

ipad mini retina gfxbench trex

Battery (Excellent)

ipad mini retina review battery

The one feature the iPad mini (2012) got right was battery life. It may have been a smaller iPad, but it still managed to get up to 10 hours on a single charge in most cases.

Just like the iPad Air, Apple shrank the battery in the iPad mini with Retina display. It uses a 16.3Whr battery versus the 24.3 Whr in the iPad mini (2012). The smaller battery didn’t decrease the battery life, though — it remained the same.

To really test the iPad mini with Retina display, I put it under my “real-world” test. How do I test that? Well, I’m of the belief that very few people use their iPads as a single-purpose device. Looping a video continuously is a great way to get an idea of how much battery time you’ll get if you want to take the iPad mini with Retina display on, say, a long flight, but it’s not useful at all to gauge day-to-day battery life.

ipad mini retina battery capacity

In my tests, the iPad mini with Retina display was able to power through 10-11 hours throughout a serious day of heavy emailing, social media engagement, web browsing, watching a couple of HD YouTube videos and playing a few casual games.

I was able to stretch that figure to 12 hours by cutting out gaming and watching videos, and not connecting to Wi-Fi as much. A solid average of 10-11 hours of media consumption with Wi-Fi on and brightness at 50-75 percent is super impressive.

Compared to other Android tablets in its class, the iPad mini remains the king, mainly because its battery is so big:

Camera (Average)

ipad mini retina review camera 1

As I mentioned in my iPad Air review, the rear and front-facing cameras on it and the iPad mini with Retina display are identical. On the front is a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera capable of 720p HD video recording. On the back is a 5-megapixel iSight camera with f/2.4 aperture capable of 1080p Full HD video recording.

The 5-megapixel iSight camera (rear) can produce sharp photos in places with good to great lighting such as in an office or outdoors. It’s not the highest-resolution camera, but it’s fine for simple snapshots.

Where the iSight camera really shows its weakness is low-light performance. Take a look at the comparison below between an iPhone 5 (2012), iPad mini with Retina display (2013), and LG G3 (2014):

iPad mini retina review camera low light comparison

From left to right: iPhone 5 (2012), iPad mini with Retina display (2013), and LG G3 (2014)

You can clearly see the two-year old iPhone 5 holds its own, the iPad mini with Retina display struggles to produce an image with detail without significant image noise, and the LG G3 smokes them both with its incredible 13-megapixel camera.

Long story short: the iPad mini with Retina display’s rear camera is fine if you’re taking pictures outdoor photos for Instagram or Facebook, but don’t try to use it to take pictures of your food in dimly lit restaurants or nighttime shots. They’re guaranteed to be filled with image noise.

iOS 7 / App Store: (Excellent)

ipad mini retina review appstore

It’s no surprise that iOS 7 runs like a champ on the iPad mini with Retina display. Unlike on the iPad mini (2012), iOS 7 is crazy smooth. Comparing the two is like comparing PC game graphics settings at medium versus ultra high. Every transition, animation, parallax wallpaper, etc is super responsive without slowdown. It’s a true showcase of the iPad mini with Retina display’s powerful hardware and how well it works with the new OS.

Arguably, the best reason to go with an iPad or iPhone is its massive iOS App Store. The iPad mini with Retina display has access to over 1.2 million apps and over 500,000 iPad-optimized apps.

Every single iPad app that runs in native resolution on the iPad Air runs flawlessly on the iPad mini with Retina display; even better than before because both the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display share the same screen resolution.

ipad mini retina review web browsing with air comparison

iPad mini with Retina display (left) vs. iPad Air (right)

Every pixel you would see on the iPad Air is present on the iPad mini with Retina display. The only real difference is the iPad mini with Retina display’s screen is smaller. But otherwise, there is no compromise of the amount of content displayed on the iPad mini with Retina display compared to the iPad Air.

On iPad, you don’t have any of the fragmentation problems you have with apps on Google Play. While things have certainly improved over the last year, it’s still hard for me to find lots of great tablet-optimized apps on Android. Developers are less likely to build a tablet version on Android and other platforms because there are so many screen sizes and resolutions to create them for. With iPad, every iPhone app can be blown up at 2x to fill up the iPad mini with Retina display’s screen and every full-size iPad app can run on the it without any need for scaling. On Android, I mostly end up using blown-up smartphone apps, and that sucks.

Conclusion (Excellent)

ipad mini retina review conclusion

Steve Jobs famously said that Apple would never ship a 7-inch tablet because it would need to include sandpaper for users to sand down their fingers in order to tap on the screen icons. Jobs was obviously wrong. Google’s popular Nexus 7 paved the way for 7-inch tablets, and in 2012, Apple followed suit with its first-gen iPad mini (2012).

The iPad mini (2012) was an iPad 2 experience in a smaller form; unable to run iOS 7 properly with all of the animations and transparency effects smoothly and fluidly. But even, so it sold millions. People clearly wanted a smaller iPad.

The iPad mini with Retina display improves upon the iPad mini (2012) in every way. It’s now equally as fast as the iPhone 5s and iPad Air with the same A7 processor, M7 motion coprocessor, 1GB of RAM. It’s so fast, it’s obvious that Apple designed this device with the future and iOS 8 in mind.

In my opinion, the iPad mini with Retina display is the best tablet under 10-inches. It has all the makings of a winner: a stunning premium design, a tack-sharp display, long battery life, blazing fast performance, and most importantly — access to the App Store which has a ton of polished tablet-optimized apps. If you want a so-so tablet, any of the ones from LG, Samsung and Google mentioned above are fine and cheaper for casual tasks, but nowhere near as powerful.

With Apple, you always pay a premium. There’s no escaping that. Whereas the iPad mini (2012) felt like a scam because you were essentially buying old hardware in a smaller package, the iPad mini with Retina display is the real deal — faster than its closets competitors by miles — and worth the extra $100.

With the iPad mini with Retina display, Apple can now rightfully call its smaller tablet “Every inch an iPad.” There really is no compromise this time around.

Overall product rating: 9/10

Filed in Apple >Reviews >Tablets. Read more about , iPad mini, and Tablet Reviews.

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