I’ve spent the last few weeks using the new iPad mini with Retina every day. I wanted to spend more time than usual on this review to see if the upgrades from the previous model were really worth the price hike. Before we took delivery of it, I used the previous generation iPad mini as my go to tablet and before that the iPad 3 so I’ve been looking forward to testing this new model for some time.
I changed to the last generation iPad mini from its bigger brother mainly down to size. The bigger iPad I found got tiresome to hold when you spent long hours reading through articles or watching movies. The mini is a featherweight compared to it but there was a harsh trade off in changing. The loss of the Retina display. Things start to look pretty horrible when you half the amount of pixels you had become used to seeing.
While this is an incremental update as such and not a major redesign, the upgrade in specs does make this feel like a brand new device.
The unit we are reviewing is the 16GB Wifi only model. Apart from a few minor changes, the latest model in nearly identical to the last. There is a more pronounced chamfer where the body meets the edge of the screen and overall the thickness of the device has increased slightly to 7.5mm. The unit has also gained 23 grams in weight which strangely enough is noticeable if you were used to holding the last model, but overall it makes no difference at all. It now comes in two new colours, Space Grey and Silver.
The mini now sports the same 2048 x 1536 resolution screen as the iPad Air but obviously fits all those pixels into a smaller 7.9″ screen, giving it an impressive 326ppi. As you’d fully expect with such a high resolution, the screen offers a fantastic viewing experience. Everything looks razor sharp and it’s a massive improvement over the last model. Brightness levels are also excellent and while there has been a lot written about the mini’s screen being inferior to the Air’s for colour reproduction, for me it has been blown out of proportion. If you want to judge a screen by using instrumentation to get accurate readings of colour reproduction that’s fine, but for me, the real test is how it looks with your eyes. At this size point, for me, this is the best screen available at the moment. There is a valid argument that the screen on the Nexus 7 offers a better all round package when you take the lower price of the device into account but I find that the aspect ratio and the extra 25% screen area available on the mini allows for a much better viewing and on screen typing experience. You won’t type as fast as you can on a full sized keyboard or even as fast as you could if you were using a 10 inch tablet but it’s not far behind and the aspect ratio allow for more visible text above the keyboard than you get on 16:9 screens.
Even with the higher density screen, the mini offers great battery life. The 23.8 watt-hour battery now included means you’ll easily get through most days without needing to charge it. I use the mini as my main device quite a lot so from fully charged in the morning I’m using it for feed reading, social media, web browsing, YouTube, Spotify and writing articles. I’ve consistently been getting over 10 hours screen on time which Apple rates it for. The mini also uses very little energy when the screen is off so if you just use it every now and again you can leave it in your bag or sitting on the desk turned on and it will easily last a few days between charges.
The mini comes with a slightly lower clocked version of the same A7 processor that is in the Air. “Most” of the stutters and lags of the last model are a thing of the past. iOS7 took a toll on the previous model but now the whole system feels much more fluid. Animations and transitions are smooth. Multi-touch gestures produce results near instantly and you never feel like you are pushing the device to its limits, as was the case with the first gen model. There are still some cases where things aren’t perfect in iOS7 though. The parallax effect on the home screen still jumps as you tilt the device for example and when you four finger swipe up for the multitasking window there’s something that just isn’t right with the animation when zooming back into an App. They are small issues that take away from the experience somewhat but will hopefully be fixed when Apple get around to fixing all the bugs in iOS7 for iPads. App load times have been reduced considerably and in general most things feel snappy.
RAM has doubled to 1GB which may seem small compared to other devices but Apple has always done a good job of keeping iOS as lean as possible when it comes to memory usage.
The mini comes with storage options ranging from 16GB to 128GB but for each jump in size, you’ll have to shell out and extra €90! Considering the extra storage only costs Apple a few dollars it is a heavy premium to pay but this type of storage pricing it is not just unique to Apple in fairness.
Dual channel 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi with MIMO is included and during our tests we were able to achieve speeds roughly twice what we could with the previous model on the same network. Multiple LTE bands are now also covered with all of the bands used by the Irish networks being compatible. Bluetooth version 4.0 is also on board.
Since the introduction of iOS7 Apple has made its core Apps free to download on their latest devices. These include Apps such as Pages, Keynote, Numbers and iMovie. It is with Apps in general though that Apple has another trump card with the iPad range. With over 475K Apps available in the App Store that were designed specifically for the tablet format, it is still a street ahead of all the other platforms combined. While Android is catching up slowly, many of the tablet Apps available are still blown up phone Apps which ruins one of the purposes of having a device with a larger screen for me.
There are some excellent alternatives starting to come on the market now and at lower prices but for me the iPad mini with Retina offers the best overall tablet experience available at present and unless you really need a larger screen, it is the model I’d go for over all others.
The upgrades over the previous model have added to the cost substantially but after using the device for sometime now, the majority of the reasons that were an annoyance and that prevented me from using the last model more are gone.
So is the price hike worth it? I think it will be too much for some but if you can get over it, it turns what was an average tablet into probably the best.