iPad Mini with Retina Display review

3 Jul 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
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Better in every way, the new iPad Mini drops all of the compromises of its predecessor and is the best small tablet


Processor: Dual-core 1.3GHz Apple A7, Screen size: 7.9in, Screen resolution: 2,048x1,536, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage: 16/32/64/128GB, Wireless data: 4G (optional), Size: 200x135x7.5mm, Weight: 331g, Operating system: iOS 7.1

As good as the original iPad Mini was, it was a product that made compromises when compared to its big brother, the iPad 4. If you wanted the smaller tablet, you had to be prepared to take a lower resolution and a slower processor, partially combatted by the lower price. This time around, Apple's back without the compromises, as the iPad Mini with Retina Display has the same specs as the iPad Air. This is brilliant news, as you can now choose the type of iPad you want on price, size and comfort, without worrying that you've had to lose out along the way.

iPad Mini with Retina Display build quality

It's no surprise to see that the iPad Mini with Retina Display has the same design as its predecessor. In fact, Apple has taken this style and rolled it out to the iPad Air, so the two tablets, bar the size, look the same. This design still looks remarkably fresh, making the most of the screen space, with the thin side bezel making the 7.9in screen look a lot bigger than it is. This is exactly what you want from a tablet, as the touchscreen is the main way of interacting with it, so everything should be focussed here.

iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display side-by-side

Once again, Apple has pulled out all of the stops, making this tablet one of the most attractive. Its full glass front looks gorgeous, whether you opt for the Silver (white) or Space Grey models. As usual, the aluminium unibody is fantastic, simultaneously being beautiful and giving the reassuring feeling that the iPad Mini with Retina Display is incredibly tough.

The only minor difference is that this model is 0.3mm thicker than its predecessor. It's a difference you'd never notice and, given the faster processor and better screen on show here, it's impressive that the tablet is still so thin. When it comes to design and build quality, it's fair to say that no tablet from any other manufacturer comes close.

The real beauty of the iPad Mini's design is that it fits so comfortably in one hand. Although the iPad Air slimmed down a lot from the previous full-size iPad, it's still really a two-handed device. If you primarily use the iPad on commutes or other places where two-handed operation isn't so comfortable, this is definitely the model for you.

iPad Mini with Retina Display rear

The only thing 'missing' from the tablet is the TouchID fingerprint reader, which was launched with the iPhone 5S. When we first saw TouchID, we thought that Apple would be keen to roll it out to all of its products, but that isn't the case, as neither the iPad Mini with Retina Display nor the iPad Air have this sensor. Instead, there's just the usual Home button. Not having the fingerprint reader isn't a huge loss, but it's rather just a bit of tech that we thought we'd see.

iPad Mini with Retina Display home button

iPad Mini with Retina Display screen

Pushing the resolution up to 2,048x1,536, Apple has quadrupled the resolution from the original iPad Mini's 1,024x768. That's quite a staggering improvement and, due to the slightly smaller screen, the iPad Mini with Retina Display has a higher pixel density than the iPad Air (326ppi vs 264ppi). Strictly speaking, we'd have to say that this resolution is probably higher than is required, going by Apple's Retina Display definition. According to this, Retina is the point at which you can no longer see individual pixels when you hold the device at a normal viewing distance. Given that the iPad Air is Retina, this new iPad Mini is more than Retina.

iPad Mini with Retina Display screen

We can see why Apple went down this route, though. By keeping its iPad range with the same screen resolution (or an easy scaling option from the low-res versions), it makes things simple for developers and consumers. In other words, you can rest assured that all of the apps that worked so well on the full-size iPad will work well here.

Of course, it helps that the screen quality is so good. It's bright, contrast is fantastic and viewing angles are superb. There's little more you could possibly want from a tablet screen. The improvement over the original iPad Mini's screen is incredible. Apps used to look a little blurred, but now they're clearer and sharper, making text and icons easier to see. From the screenshot below, you can see the difference in quality. We're displaying each screenshot at the same physical size, to demonstrate how they would look if you had both iPad Mini tablets side-by-side. On the top is the original iPad Mini, while the bottom image shows the super-sharp iPad Mini with Retina Display.

iPad Mini maps
Astell & Kern AK100II

Compared to the iPad Air, the smaller screen size here means that text and icons are smaller, but not to the point where anything is difficult to read. Apple has picked a high-quality IPS panel, as we've come to expect, which is bright, with vibrant colours. The screen didn’t perform as well in our calibration tests as the iPad Air, however; whereas the Air could display 90.7% of the sRGB colour gamut in our tests, the Mini could only manage 68.8%.

When we put the tablets side by side, the Air's screen was plainly superior, with darker text and whiter whites. The Mini's screen is still excellent, and you're unlikely to notice the difference in everyday use, but some compromises have been made to cram this many pixels into this few screen inches. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, which is a similarly-sized tablet again with an ultra-high-res screen, wipes the floor with both of them, with the most beautifully saturated and accurate colours.

Compared to other small-screen tablets, such as the Nexus 7, the iPad Mini with Retina Display has the advantage. While 7in is a typical screen size on other tablets, the 4:3 aspect ratio and 7.9in screen size on the iPad Mini means there's quite a bit more display on view and it feels less cramped. In terms of size and resolution, while maintaining a tablet that's handheld, we have to say that Apple has got the balance bang on. Stiff competition is going to come from the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, which has an 8.4in screen and a higher-resolution Super AMOLED display, but tough competition doesn't take away from the fact that Apple got it right first.

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