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.
Apple’s Retina iPad mini is almost identical to both the first-generation iPad mini and the subsequent iPad Air. The first iPad mini measured 7.87” tall by 5.3” wide by 0.28” deep, and the Retina model measures 7.87” by 5.3” by 0.29”, a hair-thin difference in thickness that can hardly be seen. A white first-generation mini sits next to a Space Gray Retina mini in the shot below.
Unlike the third-generation iPad, which grew by 0.03” from the iPad 2, most original mini cases will fit the Retina mini, albeit just a little too snugly. Weight takes a tiny jump from the first mini’s 0.68/0.69 pounds to the Retina mini’s 0.73/0.75 pounds, a gain of 23 grams for the Retina Wi-Fi model and 29 grams for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version. Users familiar with the first iPad mini’s weight will notice the slightest added heft in the Retina Wi-Fi version, but after a few back-and-forths — perhaps less — the difference will probably feel next to meaningless. Users stepping up from the original Wi-Fi to the Retina Wi-Fi + Cellular version will be most likely to notice the difference.
While the changes are small from the mini to Retina mini, the gap between the Retina mini and iPad Air is somewhat more substantial. At 9.4” tall by 6.6” wide with a depth of 0.29”, the Air is 1.53” taller, 1.3” wider, and identical in thickness, with an added 0.27 pounds of Wi-Fi weight or 0.3 pounds of Wi-Fi + Cellular weight. Depending on your perspective, these differences will mean that the Air is only modestly larger given its noticeably bigger screen size and slightly better capabilities, or that the mini is delivering a remarkably similar experience in a far more purse-friendly package. Like its predecessor, the Retina mini’s body fits almost completely within the footprint of the iPad Air’s screen, even though the 7.9” and 9.7” tablets otherwise contain very similar parts. Describing the mini as an uncompromised smaller Air is partially inaccurate, but for the average person, the compromises will be on the fine edge of triviality.
For instance, the Air has more holes on the bottom to ventilate its larger speakers — 40 holes per speaker versus 28 on the mini, for trivia fans — but that’s the sort of seriously minor distinction we’re talking about here. Just like the Air got a dual-microphone echo-canceling system, the Retina mini got one in the exact same location. And also like the Air, Apple has cut the regulatory information from three lines of text down to two on the Retina iPad mini. If you look really carefully at the backs of original and Retina silver minis, you’ll notice that the metal ring around the camera now matches the rest of the rear shell rather than the shinier Apple logo. This change was telegraphed with the iPad Air, and was just as easy to miss there.
Weight aside, the Retina iPad mini hasn’t changed much in feel from the prior model, and is quite like the Air in that its front glass feels thin, “plinking” with a tap versus the “plunk” of earlier iPads’ heavier glass. Similarly, the chamfered metal edges are attractive yet warn against tossing the mini around like a toy — unless you have it inside of a very resilient case. On that note, we have had two first-generation minis inside splash-resistant Hard Candy ShockDrop and Griffin Survivor cases for nearly a year, each without a single scratch or dent despite active use by two young children. New and old iPad mini models alike are light enough to carry anywhere and hold even for extended periods of time without fatigue, but they both benefit from supportive rear stands for full-length movie viewing.
Despite the iPad Air’s considerable size and weight reductions, the iPad mini remains far better-suited to two-thumbed typing while being held, particularly in portrait orientation. There’s only one negative to the mini’s smaller size, and that’s the challenge developers have faced in developing mini-matching physical keyboard accessories. Unlike the full-sized iPad or iPad Air, which are wide enough to pair with only lightly compromised keyboard cases, not a single mini-sized keyboard has been great due to key cramping and relocation compromises. Apart from that difference, the iPad mini and Air are so similar to one another that Apple could easily drop the “mini” moniker altogether in favor of inch designations, as it uses for its computers.
On a related note, it’s interesting that the iPad mini’s box hasn’t been changed to reflect the full “iPad mini with Retina display” name. Made from predominantly white cardboard for each of the two device color schemes, the box’s sides still read just “iPad mini,” with the Retina display indication hiding on a hastily-attached rear sticker, unlike the seemingly permanent change to the side box markings of the iPad Air. The front of the box still has a sharply-angled mini positioned such that its cellular antenna compartment (or lack thereof) isn’t visible, reducing the number of different boxes Apple needs to make, while the screenshot has shifted from a watery surface with iOS 6 icons to a cosmic backdrop with iOS 7’s UI.
While the iPad Air’s box was conspicuously narrower than the prior iPad’s, the Retina iPad mini’s box is actually taller than the original mini’s, but with the same footprint — the growth is a surprise given how near-imperceptibly thicker the Retina model is. Once again, we discovered that it wasn’t the tablet that was consuming so much space, but rather the power adapter: Apple’s 10W USB Power Adapter is bigger than the 5W version shipped with the first iPad mini, and identical in size and shape to the 12W version shipped with the iPad Air, becoming the only impediment to shrinking the rest of the box. Since both the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini draw only 10 Watts/2.1 Amps of power at maximum, and this adapter alone has made the thinness-obsessive Apple waste untold space in bulk shipments, we’d have to imagine that it’s working on a smaller charger.
All of the other pack-ins are predictable. Each Retina iPad mini comes with a Lightning to USB Cable identical to ones shipped with other Apple devices, a very basic instruction card, warranty information, and two Apple logo stickers. Cellular versions of the Retina iPad mini generally also include a nano-SIM card and SIM tray removal tool, the latter inside the instruction packet. The cellular instruction card and information envelope are ever so slightly different to explain the added pieces.