Review: Apple's second-generation iPad mini with Retina display

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
Apple's second-generation iPad mini squeezes a high-resolution Retina display -- one with an even greater pixel density than the iPad Air -- into its diminutive form factor. It's an impressive technical achievement, but one that comes at a greater cost to customers.

Retina iPad mini review


Released this week in time for the holiday shopping season, the new iPad mini with Retina display starts at $400 for the 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi only model. Capacity can be doubled, all the way up to 128 gigabytes, at $100 increments, while cellular-capable models carry a $130 premium.

Those prices are $70 more than Apple sold the first-generation iPad mini for when it debuted a year ago. But the extra cost is attributed to the device's new high-resolution display, which features the same number of pixels as the iPad Air screen, while packing them into a much smaller 7.9-inch size.

The Retina iPad mini also comes in two color options: a "space gray" aluminum back with a black front, and a "silver" model with white front. For this review, our test model was the entry-level, Wi-Fi-only 16-gigabyte model in white and silver.

Retina iPad mini

Retina display

The addition of the Retina display to Apple's iPad mini is not unlike when the company first introduced a Retina display in the full-size third-generation iPad. The design remains the same, though Apple has had to sacrifice some weight and thickness to drive a much greater pixel count.

The Retina display in the iPad mini is a much greater technical achievement, though. Apple has managed to retain the same resolution as the full-size iPad Air, allowing developers to create applications at one screen resolution and have them instantly compatible with both the iPad Air and iPad mini.

Retina iPad mini review
Left: First-gen iPad mini. Right: iPad mini with Retina display.


One look at the iPad mini's display is all it takes. This is a truly impressive screen that makes text much easier to read and general usage far more pleasant.

Comparing the Retina iPad mini side-by-side with Apple's first-generation model only emphasizes the improvements even more. While text on the first iPad mini is muddy and pixelated, it's crisp and clear on the Retina iPad mini.

Retina iPad mini review
Left: First-gen iPad mini. Right: iPad mini with Retina display.


The Retina display alone makes the second-generation iPad mini a worthy successor. It addresses the one major failing of Apple's introduction to the smaller tablet market in 2012, and it does so impressively.

But while the Retina display is the only significantly noticeable outward-facing change with the second-generation iPad mini, Apple has also made significant improvements on the inside with its 2013 refresh.

Performance

Apple is once again flexing its chipmaking muscles with the new iPad mini, bringing the same A7 chip the company has already offered in this year's iPhone 5s and iPad Air. And once again the A7 manages to impress, driving the device's high-resolution screen and running gorgeous applications without so much as a hiccup.

It's worth noting that the inclusion of the A7 chip in the second-generation iPad mini is an even more significant upgrade than this year's iPhone and full-size iPad saw. That's because last year's iPad mini was driven by the two-generations-old A5 chip, meaning the inclusion of the A7 chip offers an even larger performance boost.

Tests show that the new iPad mini's processor gives it 5 times more power than last year's first-generation iPad mini. In comparison, the iPad Air is twice as powerful as the fourth-generation iPad.

Retina iPad mini review


Of course, the A7 chip is somewhat of a necessity in this year's iPad mini simply because of the Retina display. Driving that many pixels is taxing on a processor, as evidenced by the sometimes sluggish A5X chip performance seen with Apple's third-generation full-size iPad -- the first iPad to have a Retina display.

Thankfully, Apple didn't skimp out on this year's model, and gave the iPad mini a processor that's powerful enough to push those more than 3 million pixels displaying iOS 7, and presumably future software updates from the company for years to come.

The 64-bit A7 CPU in the new iPad mini is clocked in at 1.3 gigahertz, which is slightly slower than the iPad Air's 1.4 gigahertz, to conserve battery life. In our comparisons, any performance differences between the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini were negligible, with apps launching at about the same speed and websites loading around the same time.

Design

The power of the new iPad mini has necessitated some subtle design changes. The new model is ever-so-slightly thicker and heavier than last year's model, but frankly these changes will be unnoticeable to most users.

The Retina iPad mini is 7.5 millimeters thick, which is 0.3 millimeters thicker than the first-generation model. The new iPad mini also weighs in at 331 grams, which is an increase from the 312 grams of last year's version.

Retina iPad mini
Retina iPad mini (top) is just slightly thicker than the first-gen tablet.


Unless a user is holding a first- and second-generation iPad mini in their hands simultaneously, these changes will not be readily apparent. We view the added heft to ensure long battery life as perfectly acceptable, given the inclusion of the powerful A7 chip and beautiful Retina display.

The only other noteworthy change to the external design of the iPad mini is the inclusion of dual microphones. Like the iPad Air, the new iPad mini features one microphone on the rear of the device, for better sound when recording video, and one up top, for hearing a user's voice when using FaceTime video chat.

Retina iPad mini review


The cameras on the iPad mini remain the same: a 5-megapixel rear facing iSight camera, and a 1.2-megapixel forward facing FaceTime HD lens.

And the rest of the iPad mini's design remains the same, with stereo speakers and a Lightning port on the bottom, volume buttons and a mute/rotation lock switch on the right side, and a lock button and 3.5-millimeter headphone jack up top.

Like the iPad Air, the Retina iPad mini also lacks the Touch ID fingerprint sensor Apple introduced on the iPhone 5s. This feature will likely appear in a future iPad mini update, but we believe it would be better aided on the iPad lineup by the addition of multi-user support in iOS.

Finally, because the design is largely unchanged, any of Apple's Smart Cover and Smart Case accessories work perfectly fine with the second-generation tablet. Accordingly, third-party cases and accessories should also continue to fit the new model.

Conclusion

While Apple got almost everything right with the Retina iPad mini, there is a catch: The cost for every model has increased by $70 from last year's prices. The starting price for the iPad mini with Retina display is now $400.

And while Apple's iOS ecosystem is unparalleled, the cost for hardware does not compare favorably with the iPad mini's chief competition. For example, Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX sports a comparable high-resolution display, though it's smaller at just 7 inches diagonally in a 16:9 ratio.

Retina iPad mini review


Amazon's offering starts at just $229 for a 16-gigabyte model with "special offers." Removing ads from the entry-level Kindle Fire HDX puts the price at $244, or still more than $150 cheaper than Apple's cheapest iPad mini.

Google's latest Nexus 7 also has a high-resolution display at a smaller 7-inch 16:9 screen size than the iPad mini. It starts at $229 for the 16-gigabyte model, and a maxed-out 32-gigabyte Nexus 7 with 4G LTE connectivity can be had for $349 -- $50 cheaper than Apple's Wi-Fi-only 16-gigabyte Retina iPad mini.

To counter this, Apple continues to offer the first-generation 16-gigabyte iPad mini for $299. This is a compelling option, but the lack of a high-resolution Retina display makes this tablet difficult to recommend.

Frankly, we feel the relatively premium pricing on the Retina iPad mini is worth it, though Apple does get dinged for being considerably more expensive than the competition.

Retina iPad mini


But with a form factor ever so slightly thicker and heavier than last year's model, the new iPad mini does not feel like a revelation in your hands -- unlike the drastically redesigned, thinner and lighter iPad Air. In the current marketplace, the iPad Air is clearly head and shoulders above every other tablet in its class, while the iPad mini faces more aggressive competition with cheaper prices in its market segment.

That said, Apple's iPad mini with Retina display remains an easy recommendation. It features best-in-class software and hardware, and is backed by the strongest mobile ecosystem available.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

image

Pros:

  • Apple's Retina display standard once again lives up to the hype
  • The 64-bit A7 chip's performance impresses, just as it did on the iPad Air & iPhone 5s
  • Same great lightweight, ultraportable design as last year

Cons:

  • Though lower-priced competition continues to improve, Apple has increased the iPad mini price by $70
  • Limited supply could make the Retina iPad mini hard to get for the holidays
  • Some may want to wait for Touch ID in a future model

Where to Buy

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 148

    The almost perfect tablet. Next year it will be perfect with TouchID. Still, it will sell tens of millions

  • Reply 2 of 148
    Both google and amazon lose money on every tablet they sell. This is not a business model Apple is about to compete with in pricing.
  • Reply 3 of 148
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,449member

    Limited supply => high price

  • Reply 4 of 148
    "While text on the first iPad mini is muddy and pixelated, it's crisp and clear on the Retina iPad mini."

    Something tells me that if I look up the review of the first iPad mini. the words "muddy and pixelated" will appear nowhere within...

    Ok, went back to the [URL=http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/11/06/review-apples-ipad-mini/page/2]original review[/URL] and found this:

    [QUOTE]To achieve this light and thin design at a reasonable cost, Apple didn't include a Retina Display. However, because the screen is reduced in size,[I] it delivers better screen sharpness and less obvious pixelation than iPad 2[/I], which shares the same resolution at a lower pixel density (iPad mini is 163 ppi vs iPad 2's 132 ppi).

    The result is that, while the iPad mini doesn't have the razor sharp, "electronic glossy magazine" appearance of the Retina display iPad, it's also [I]noticeably less pixelated looking than the original iPad[/I]. It's hard to accurately capture this in a photograph without minimizing or exaggerating the difference, but below you can see the difference between a standard iPad (top), Retina display iPad (middle) and the iPad mini. [/QUOTE]

    Things that make you go hmmm....
  • Reply 5 of 148
    I do wish Apple would price the memory jumps in $50 increments rather then $100.
  • Reply 6 of 148
    enzosenzos Posts: 344member
    An 8" iPad Mini is 30% larger your el cheapo comparisons. And it is over twice and fast and infinitely better looking. Why make such pointless comparisons?
  • Reply 7 of 148
    Good to see a review that doesn't simply cover the good things and not the bad things which isn't uncommon at AI.

    To me an integrated SD card feature would be more valuable than say a touch ID.
  • Reply 8 of 148
    poksipoksi Posts: 481member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by enzos View Post



    An 8" iPad Mini is 30% larger your el cheapo comparisons. And it is over twice and fast and infinitely better looking. Why make such pointless comparisons?

     

    Good point!

  • Reply 9 of 148
    poksipoksi Posts: 481member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by GadgetCanadaV2 View Post

     

    The almost perfect tablet. Next year it will be perfect with TouchID. Still, it will sell tens of millions


     

    I don't see any special need for that. It will be included when technology will be cheap enough and used mainly for unlocking the device. Touch ID on iPhone is totally different story. It is starting point for making iPhone as perfect shopping/payment/identification device. iPad is perhaps generally to big device for that.

  • Reply 10 of 148
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    I rather get a MacBook Air with a full OS inside instead the iOS toy!
  • Reply 11 of 148
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,116member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppeX View Post



    I rather get a MacBook Air with a full OS inside instead the iOS toy!

     

    What an insightful post. Do you have a newsletter I can subscribe to? Next time you decide to post something so moronic, at least try to string together a few words without massacring the grammar. 

  • Reply 12 of 148
    As much as I like the mini format I was sold by the reduced weight of the Air
  • Reply 13 of 148
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by enzos View Post



    An 8" iPad Mini is 30% larger your el cheapo comparisons. And it is over twice and fast and infinitely better looking. Why make such pointless comparisons?

    Exactly. I don't get why the iPad Mini is always compared to inferior competition. Besides being over twice as fast and better looking, I prefer tablet optimized apps. Not stretched out phone apps on tablets you see with Android. Plus, you have an unmatched eco system and don't forget resell value.  

  • Reply 14 of 148
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,498member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by vaporland View Post



    "While text on the first iPad mini is muddy and pixelated, it's crisp and clear on the Retina iPad mini."



    Something tells me that if I look up the review of the first iPad mini. the words "muddy and pixelated" will appear nowhere within...



    Ok, went back to the original review and found this:

    Things that make you go hmmm....



    That's what really irks me about reviewers.  I suppose the reviewers hope that no one will go back on call them on their prior reviews.  The 1st-gen Mini was fine.  Sure, the retina looks nicer as we all expected, but the original was no slouch on the eyes.  "Muddy and pixelated" is not how I describe it, and certainly they did not say anything near to that when the first one came out.



    Idiots.

  • Reply 15 of 148

    Why do you guys come into the forum and bitch about the story? If you hate this website so much go somewhere else. The comments are supposed to be for discussion on the topic, not fact-checking and ripping the article. They have editors for that.

  • Reply 16 of 148

    To be fair, a year has passed so standards are much higher.  The reviewer of the first iPad mini mentioned that it was not as good as the retina iPad3 but better than the non retina iPad2.  Which is true.  In terms of the adjectives used, it really depends on the standard.

     

    If you ever read graphics card reviews, most new GPUs are 'super fast, very smooth, high-end' at release.  One year later, the same GPU is basically repackages and it is described as 'good for value, mid- level' card.  It doesn't really mean the reviewers are dishonest, the standard is just different.

     

    If you read the original iPhone reviews, you would see it was raved for its large display.

  • Reply 17 of 148
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

     

    Limited supply => high price


    They have the EXACT same pricing as they've always had for the same amount of storage and WiFi or Cellular models. 

     

    They are just limited in supply of certain models due to demand and production levels.  

  • Reply 18 of 148
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppeX View Post



    I rather get a MacBook Air with a full OS inside instead the iOS toy!

    And a MacBookAir isn't a tablet and they are more expensive.   It's a totally different product.   There are certain things that one would use a laptop and some things a person would use a tablet.

  • Reply 19 of 148
    Wow, you spend a quarter of the review describing what it's like to look at a retina display. Is it really necessary anymore to review a something as consistent as a retina display?

    It doesn't come as a surprise to anyone on this website anymore that the addition of a retina screen would make text crisper, the old model look blurry in a side-by-side comparison, require more battery and processing power etc. etc. Since 4 years ago with the iPhone 4, Apple's been adding the retina display to its devices as it's become affordable. Each time, with the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro, it's been a consistent upgrade. When did battery size or processor power not increase for the sake of retina, or when did Apple change resolutions that you need to report these mundane and exhausted details in a hands-on review?

    The Retina Screen really doesn't need a hands on review anymore at this point, even if you're struggling to write a full review on an incrementally upgraded product.

    Also, you only mention the retina screen as the main reason for the price increase, in the price segment of the article,

    "the extra cost is attributed to the device's new high-resolution display"

    It's worth noting that the previous generation iPad mini was aimed to be an economical iPad and was released with a 2 generation old processor while the iPad mini retina comes with the latest chip. That's going to make the product just a little more expensive to manufacture.

    The dozens of rumor sites, hundreds of self-proclaimed online product reviewers, and various tech bloggers are diluting the quality of tech journalism. Stick to following rumors and leave the reviewing to the big boys.
  • Reply 20 of 148
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member

    I went to my local Apple Store after work today to buy one and there was a sign by the entrance saying the iPad Mini with Retina Display was only available with online booking first. So I went home and found the booking page and my local store was out of stock. Oh well, maybe next week.

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