Review: Apple iPad mini with Retina display (16GB/32GB/64GB/128GB)
Pros: Nearly identical in size but significantly evolved inside, this 7.9”-screened tablet is five times as powerful as the original iPad mini, and only around 10% behind the iPad Air in overall performance. Retina display enables fine-detail reading, web browsing, and game playing that were markedly less impressive before; display quality appears to be consistent between units. Delivers roughly one hour better battery life than first mini under most conditions, even during cellular use, and now includes 10W adapter for faster recharging. Dual-microphone system offers sonic improvements under some circumstances. Offered in a wide range of capacities, as well as improved cellular models that are more usable internationally. Now bundled with free iLife and iWork applications, and compatible with over 1 million iOS apps, including 450,000 designed specifically for iPads.
Cons: New 326 PPI Retina display matches past iPads in resolution but falls noticeably short in color performance; some screens also have image retention issues. Larger battery adds slightly to thickness and weight of original iPad mini. A7 processor speed matches the iPhone 5s rather than the iPad Air, while lacking the enhanced camera features and Touch ID functionality introduced with the new iPhone. Rear camera is noticeably inferior to the iPhone 5s and 5c. Cellular premium remains steep, and most users will find 16GB models underequipped for their needs. Entry price has jumped $70 from prior model, which was already markedly more expensive than direct rivals.
The iPad mini with Retina display ($399-$829) became inevitable the day its predecessor was announced in October 2012: legions of people explicitly skipped the excellent first-generation iPad mini because they wanted a version with a high-resolution 2048x1536 display, rather than the iPad 2-like 1024x768 screen Apple initially offered. One year later, Apple announced exactly that product, and less than one month later, it began to arrive in stores. In short, the Retina iPad mini is nearly as great as we hoped it would be, but just like past iPads, it arrives with some small caveats of its own.
Over the past year, Apple figured out how to mass-manufacture an iPad mini-sized device with the screen resolution, capabilities and battery life of a full-sized Retina iPad — a process that isn’t as simple as it might have seemed when customers began asking for it last year. A brand-new high-resolution display was needed, as were a processor that ran cooler than prior iPad chips, and a more powerful battery that could fit into such a small enclosure. Simultaneous work on the iPhone 5s and iPad Air helped Apple put together all of the pieces it needed for the Retina iPad mini, ultimately requiring only the slightest bumps in thickness and weight over its predecessor. Much as the first iPad mini directly paralleled the iPad 2 with a little DNA from the iPhone 4S, the Retina iPad mini parallels the iPad Air with a little influence from the iPhone 5s.
“Parallels” turns out to be the key word here, as initial optimism that the Retina iPad mini would be a “no compromise” little brother to the iPad Air has now been replaced with a more realistic understanding of its capabilities. For $100 more than the first-generation mini and $100 less than the iPad Air, you can expect screen, battery, and processor improvements that are collectively around five times better than the former, and only 10% behind the latter, though the importance of each difference will vary from person to person. While the Retina mini’s recharging time, weight, and price have all increased from the original mini, it’s still faster, lighter, and more affordable than the Air. So the new iPad mini most certainly is a compromise, but it’s still a great product, and the only question our editors debated was whether it was roughly equal to or better than its larger sibling.
Since the iPad mini with Retina display has so much in common with the iPad Air, there’s some overlap between our reviews of these devices, but you’ll find plenty of new detail on the differences between them in the pages that follow. Initially published on November 14, 2013, this review is based upon testing of four separate Retina iPad minis, and was updated on November 22 and 23 to include additional details on the Wi-Fi + Cellular model that lagged behind the Wi-Fi-only version in availability. We hope you enjoy all of the details we’ve compiled for you; click on the navigation drop-down to see our comprehensive nine-page review in digestible pieces.