iPad Mini with Retina Display review

The 2013 iPad Mini comes with a “Retina” display, and upgraded processor. It’s a great tablet — but not an inexpensive one.

iPad Mini with Retina Display: On the plus side

Apple held off for a very long time on introducing a small tablet, apparently because the late Steve Jobs really didn’t like the idea. Still, last year’s iPad Mini was a roaring success for the company; a cheaper, lighter and somewhat technically left behind version of the premium iPad product.
This year’s version takes a big leap forwards in the technology stakes, matching the iPad Air and iPhone 5s‘ A7 processor and M7 motion co-processor, as well as its use of MIMO antennae for improved Wi-Fi coverage. If you opt for the “cellular” version of the iPad Mini with Retina Display, there’s now no difference between models sold internationally, which means that (roaming charges notwithstanding) you should be able to get the fastest possible speeds no matter where you are on the planet.

It’s not as much of a radical redesign as the iPad Air is to the iPad, so that powered down an iPad Mini with Retina Display still looks much like an iPad Mini. The Retina display is clearly a selling point, and when you power on an iPad Mini next to an iPad Mini with Retina Display that quickly becomes apparent, especially if you’re reading lots of text.
The iPad Mini with Retina display presents as though it’s a tiny sibling of the iPad Air in terms of its internal components, so I was a little surprised by its benchmark results. It managed a multi-core score of 2519 to the iPad Air’s score of 2683. Comparatively, the iPhone 5s manages a score of 2234, and last year’s iPad Mini only manages a score of 493.
The iPad Mini with Retina Display is undeniably fast, but it’s pipped by the iPad Air, and that’s because while they’ve got the same processors, Apple clocks the processor in the iPad Mini with Retina Display at 1.29GHz, while the iPad Air’s A7 runs at 1.39GHz. At a pure guess, the larger rear panel of the iPad Air allows for more heat dissipation, and so they’re more comfortable running it a little bit faster. The differences in real-world applications are, to my eye, imperceptible.

iPad Mini with Retina Display: On the minus side

The iPad Mini’s Retina display is quite nice, but as many have noted, it’s not quite the equal of the display on the iPad Air, and this isn’t just a matter of size.
As DisplayMate notes, the iPad Mini with Retina Display doesn’t just inherit its predecessor’s shape and size, but also the colour gamut that it can represent. In some ways that’s a technical argument at its finest; put an iPad Mini with Retina Display in front of someone and they’ll most likely enjoy the experience; tell them that it’s washed out compared to the Air and they’ll naturally be a little miffed.
It’s only if you put them side by side that it’s particularly apparent, but it’s still undeniably a drawback.
Like the iPad Air, the iPad Mini with Retina Display has a camera. In some ways it’s more tolerable on a smaller tablet, because you can hold it and frame more naturally, but I still fervently wish that people wouldn’t. I’m fighting a losing battle here, aren’t I?
Apple’s quite consistent on its storage strategy. You can have your iPad in a fixed storage mode, and (save for using external drives such as the Seagate Wireless Plus) that’s all you’re going to get. Again, with microSD storage being so cheap and iOS itself being essentially a cracked egg when it comes to accessing what’s inside, I do wish Apple would relax and allow for expanded storage.

iPad Mini with Retina Display: Pricing

Then again, if Apple did that, it couldn’t present a whopping eight different variants on the iPad Mini with Retina Display, because anyone sane would buy the 16GB version and upscale its storage themselves according to their needs.
Like the past couple of generations of iPad, you can have the iPad Mini with Retina Display in a straight Wi-Fi configuration, or what Apple calls “Wi-Fi+Cellular”, which in the Australian context means 3G/4G LTE. Pricing on the 16/32/64/128GB Wi-Fi models runs to $479/$598/$699/$799, while the Cellular+Wi-Fi models in the same space cost $629/$749/$849/$949.

iPad Mini with Retina Display: Fat Duck verdict

As with the iPad Air, or indeed any tablet purchase, whether or not the iPad Mini with Retina Display makes sense comes down to what you’re coming to it from, and also what you want it for.
When I reviewed the iPad Air, I wanted to reserve my judgement on that tablet until I’d been able to test out the iPad Mini with Retina Display, because the lower asking price and lighter weight had mental appeal to me. Putting them side by side, I’d say if you’ve got the cash, buy the iPad Air. The screen is a little better, it’s only a fraction heavier, and the larger screen gives it more productivity potential.

I thought I'd prefer the Mini to the Air, but I've changed my mind (budget permitting).
I thought I’d prefer the Mini to the Air, but I’ve changed my mind (budget permitting).

If you were coming to this as an absolute tablet newcomer, it’s worth bearing in mind that the iPad Mini with Retina Display isn’t the only small tablet you can buy, either. There’s the recently announced Kindle Fire HDX, which sports a better screen for a lower asking price; the same is true of the Nexus 7.
Where I’d score the iPad Mini with Retina Display ahead of those options is in the maturity of its tablet ecosystem. The Kindle tablet uses a subset of Android, and while things have improved there, Android’s still a way behind iOS when it comes to true tablet applications.
There’s also the allure of Windows 8 tablets such as the Dell Venue or Toshiba Encore to consider. They’re fine options if you’re of a more productivity mindset, but again in the cross productivity/consumption space I’d have to give the nod to iOS overall.

What about existing iPad Mini owners? Your tablet is only a year old, and it’s most likely still running just fine. The iPad Mini with Retina Display is indeed a huge leap forwards for the smaller iOS tablet, but I’d only upgrade if you’ve got the cash to spare and a good plan for what to do with your existing Mini.

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