In our review of Apple's original iPad mini last year, we remarked that its exceptional iOS app catalogue, outstanding build quality and super light weight were only let down by a mediocre screen. Fast forward almost 12 months later, and Apple has delivered what everybody was waiting for: a retina display. While the screen can't reproduce colours with the same punch as Apple's larger iPad Air, the high resolution display and excellent performance make the second generation iPad mini a hugely enticing option for any tablet buyer.
Familiar design, superb construction
The meticulous attention to detail doesn't go unnoticed.
Apple has kept an almost identical design to the original iPad mini. The iPad mini with Retina display uses the same bevelled, laser cut edges, the same smooth, rounded corners, and the same well positioned volume buttons. Like its predecessor, the meticulous attention to detail doesn't go unnoticed. There's no other small tablet on the market that comes close to this kind of excellent craftsmanship.
The iPad mini with with Retina display is actually slightly thicker and heavier than the original mini. It measures 7.5mm thick compared to 7.2mm, and the Wi-Fi only version weighs 331g compared to the previous model's 308g. The Wi-Fi+LTE model we reviewed tips the scales at 341g compared to 312g. The figures don't make too much of a difference in day-to-day use. This is still a superbly constructed tablet that is thin and light, and you'd be hard pressed telling the difference even if you're holding both models side-by-side.
The only other change is the available colours. Last year's "black & slate" model has been replaced by "space grey", a slightly lighter take on what is a dark colour. The other option is the traditional silver model, which features the same white front.
One significant disappointment is the lack of a Touch ID-equipped home button.
The rest of the iPad mini with Retina display is virtually identical to the original mini. Separated volume up and down buttons are located on the left side, just below a mute switch, a well positioned power button is on the top, next to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and the Lightning connector is flanked by dual-speaker grills on the bottom. The speakers pump out reasonable sound for a small tablet but it's too easy to muffle them with your hand when you're holding the mini in landscape orientation.
One significant disappointment is the lack of a Touch ID-equipped home button, which was first introduced on the iPhone 5s. The iPad mini with Retina display includes Apple's regular home button instead. While a fingerprint sensor would be more often utilised on a smartphone, we feel it would certainly be useful on any iPad, especially as it negates the need to continuously enter your Apple ID password.
It's all about retina
The display can't quite match the iPad Air.
The iPad mini's retina display is obviously the star of the show, hence the name. The screen has a resolution of 2048x1536, the same as the larger iPad Air. It's a huge upgrade from the original iPad mini's 1024x768 resolution, and gives the new tablet a pixel density of 326ppi.
The significant boost in resolution is immediately noticeable, especially if you're upgrading directly from the original mini. The biggest advantage is crisp and clear text, which makes the iPad mini with Retina display a superb reading device. The screen is also bright, clear and possesses reasonably good sunlight legibility. We long for a screen coating that's less reflective, but the iPad mini with Retina is no worse than most other tablets on the market in this area.
The iPad mini's screen isn't perfect, however. When viewed directly alongside the iPad Air, the mini produces colours that are less vivid. This is particularly evident when viewing the colours of Apple's bright, default wallpapers — with both screens set to full brightness, the iPad Air is able to display brighter reds, pinks and greens. Most everyday users won't be able to notice the difference unless they're comparing the two side-by-side, but users who simply demand the absolute best screen technology should be aware that the new iPad mini's display can't quite match the iPad Air.
A smaller iPad, not a slower one
The iPad mini with Retina display comes with the newest version of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 7. New features include a completely revamped user interface, AirDrop wireless sharing, and an all-new Control Centre. iOS 7 has received mixed reviews but we think it's a significant and welcome upgrade overall. The bright colours and light menus do take some getting used to, and some of Apple's icons are just strange but overall, it's a significant improvement from iOS 6.
The control centre, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, is without a doubt the most useful new feature. It eliminates the need to delve through the settings menu to access commonly used functions like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allows you to quickly adjust the brightness, and has shortcuts for the camera, timer, do not disturb mode, and orientation lock. The latter is very handy, particularly when using the iPad mini with Retina display while lying in bed.
A new addition to the iPad mini with Retina display is Apple's decision to make its iWork and iLife apps available for free. The list includes Pages, Numbers, Keynote, GarageBand, iPhoto and iMovie. iCloud integration in the iWork apps will certainly benefit Mac users switching between these apps from an iMac or MacBook, while the apps themselves have all been revamped for iOS 7. Given these apps would normally cost over AU$42, they're certainly a nice bonus for new iPad mini owners.
Everything just happens that split second faster.
The iPad mini with Retina display has the same internals as the iPad Air, and therefore runs the A7 processor first introduced in the iPhone 5s. It's certainly fast — apps open almost instantly, games are smooth and general performance feels snappy. Graphically intense game titles like Infinity Blade III and Real Racing 3 in particular are a nice showcase for what the iPad mini with Retina display is capable of. If you've been using the original iPad mini, you'll immediately notice the difference in performance. While it doesn't completely transform the user experience, everything just happens that split second faster.
The iPad mini with Retina display has a 5-megapixel rear facing camera that doubles as a full HD 1080p video recorder, while the front-facing FaceTime HD camera has a 1.2-megapixel sensor and can record 720p HD video. Photos captured with the rear camera are of poor quality when compared to most current smartphones, though we suspect most users of the iPad mini with Retina display won't be too concerned. The front-facing camera offers decent quality video for use in a variety of apps like Skype.
Apple claims the iPad mini with Retina display is good enough for 10 hours of Web browsing over Wi-Fi or 10 hours of video playback, the same as the previous model. In our testing we found these claims pretty close to the mark and generally experienced over nine hours of battery life. Even with heavy use consisting of Web browsing, video watching, music listening, the odd game and constant email, the iPad mini with Retina display easily pushed through a day and a half of use. Considering the upgrades to the screen and the internals, this is a very impressive result.
The iPad mini with Retina Display is available now in both Australia and New Zealand, though its slightly more expensive than the previous model, as follows:
|iPad mini with Retina Display 16GB Wi-Fi||$479||$599|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 32GB Wi-Fi||$598||$749|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 64GB Wi-Fi||$699||$899|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 128GB Wi-Fi||$799||$1049|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 16GB Wi-Fi + 4G||$629||$799|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 32GB Wi-Fi + 4G||$749||$949|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 64GB Wi-Fi + 4G||$849||$1099|
|iPad mini with Retina Display 128GB Wi-Fi + 4G||$949||$1249|