The iPad mini 2 was a great little tablet – but it's well past its prime
- Sleek design
- Stunning Retina display
- Works on iOS 11
- No Touch ID fingerprint reader
- Poor camera quality
First released in 2013, the iPad mini 2 is now over five years old – in tech terms, that’s downright ancient. Nowadays, neither the iPad mini 2 nor its successor, the iPad mini 3, can be purchased unused. As such, if you’re looking to buy a small tablet, you’re better off with the iPad mini 4.
Having said that, the iPad mini 4 itself is nearly three years old, and it’s possible that an iPad mini 5 could be on its way to replace it soon. What’s more, the 128GB version of the all-new 9.7″ iPad is only £10 more expensive than the mini 4, despite being the much newer and faster device.
Read our 2018 iPad review for more details.
Our original review continues below.
iPad mini 2 review: Build quality
It’s no surprise to see that the iPad mini 2 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 focused here.
Once again, Apple has pulled out all of the stops, making this tablet one of the most attractive in its range. Its full glass front looks gorgeous, whether you opt for the silver or space grey models. As usual, the aluminium unibody is fantastic, simultaneously being beautiful and giving the reassuring feeling that the iPad mini 2 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, though, 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 other tablet from any 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-sized 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.
The only thing “missing” from the tablet is the Touch ID fingerprint reader, which was launched with the iPhone 5S. When we first saw Touch ID, we thought that Apple would be keen to roll it out to all of its products, but neither the iPad mini 2 nor the iPad Air have this sensor. In fact, it’s only just appeared on the newly announced iPad mini 3 and iPad Air 2, which launched in October 2014. The iPad mini 2, meanwhile, makes do with just the usual home button. A fingerprint is a nice bit of tech to have, and not just because it makes it quicker to unlock the tablet.
With the launch of iOS 8.2, Apple opened up Touch ID to all app developers. So, rather than typing your password into an app, such as Amazon’s shop, you can use your fingerprint to unlock it. This is not only more convenient, but it also means that you can pick really secure passwords, safe in the knowledge you’ll only have to enter them once. While not having a fingerprint reader isn’t the biggest loss, and wouldn’t dissuade us from buying this tablet, it’s a bit of shame that it took Apple another generation of iPad to include Touch ID.
iPad mini 2 review: Display
Pushing the resolution up to 2,048 x 1,536, Apple has quadrupled the resolution from the original iPad mini’s 1,024 x 768. That’s quite a staggering improvement and, due to the slightly smaller screen, the iPad mini 2 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.
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-sized 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 2.
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 2 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.
iPad mini 2 review: Performance
Inside is the same 64-bit 1.3GHz dual-core A7 SoC used in the iPad mini 3. With a BaseMark OS II score of 1,158, the iPad mini 2 sailed past the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, but tablets such as the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact have now closed the performance gap, so it doesn’t feel quite as special as it once was.
The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact has also caught up when it comes to gaming performance, as the iPad mini 2’s score of 26,285 in our BaseMark X 1.1 graphics benchmark (the iOS version doesn’t give an exact frame rate breakdown, unfortunately) is just in front of the Z3 Tablet Compact, which scored 25,585. However, the mini 2 is still more than fast enough to run any current title without any slowdown, so you shouldn’t have any trouble playing your favourite games.
iPad mini 2 review: M7 co-processor
Alongside the A7 sits the Apple M7 motion coprocessor, which was introduced with the iPhone 5s. This low-power part monitors the sensors on the iPad, which lets it do some pretty clever things. For example, place the iPad flat on a desk and it knows that it’s no longer moving, so there’s no point hunting for Wi-Fi or mobile signals, which can help it save power. It can also detect if you move from driving to walking, which means Maps can switch its directions to suit. With this ability built into the iPad, other apps can start to make use of the M7 and we doubt that we’ve seen it used to its maximum ability yet.
iPad mini 2 review: Battery life
As with the iPad mini 3, the mini 2 has a 6,471mAh battery. In our video-playback battery test, the tablet lasted for 11hrs 4mins. That’s pretty impressive and means you’ll get a typical day’s worth of heavy use and around a week’s worth of light use in between charges. We’ve seen small tablets from other manufacturers last a few hours longer, but it’s not enough to count significantly against the iPad mini 2.
iPad mini 2 review: Camera
Apple hasn’t upgraded the camera in the iPad mini 2, sticking with the same 5-megapixel model as used in the iPad Air and previous iPad mini. Considering the resolution, the camera’s not too bad, but it is starting to show its age now, as shots are decidedly low-res. The quality of our test photos wasn’t too bad in the sunshine, with the camera producing well-exposed shots, but they lacked detail.
Compared side by side with the iPad mini, with both photos taken at the same time, the iPad mini 2 (bottom image) produces the slightly better shot. Colours are marginally better and there’s more dynamic range. The photo is also a little sharper throughout. In both cases, the resolution means there isn’t much detail when you zoom in, although the photos are fine for sharing on YouTube. Pictures start to get much noisier in low light, and there’s no flash to help illuminate things.
The improved camera was shown again in our still-life photography tests. Here, we shoot our scene in a light tent under controlled lighting, letting us compare the results from any camera or tablet that we get in for review.
Under bright lighting, the iPad mini 2 does a really good job. The shot is well exposed, colours are natural and there’s very little sign of noise. With a resolution of just five megapixels, there’s a little less detail on the duck’s yellow fur compared to the latest high-resolution smartphones. That said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the shot, and it’s more than good enough for sharing online.
Next we turn off the main lights, leaving a pair of side lights to illuminate the scene. Here, the iPad mini 2 still performed well. Some of the colour detail has been reduced, but detail is still there and there’s still very little noise. This is quite an improvement over the old iPad mini, which struggled in this situation.
Our final test shot cuts all of the lighting, bar the LEDs integrated into the scene. This is a tough shot for any camera to deal with and the iPad mini 2 struggles here. It’s hard to see the train, while the duck’s feathers have become a blur. It’s also much noisier. As we said, this kind of shot is incredibly tough for anything to deal with and we weren’t expecting the new iPad mini to deal with it. As such, this tablet is better for taking photos in moderately to well-lit situations.
Video can be shot at a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 with a Full HD resolution. Quality is pretty good in brightly lit areas, with a decent amount of detail in the frame. In darker conditions, the sensor’s limitations show up and noise creeps into the picture. Still, for occasional use, the mini is perfectly acceptable.
On the front is 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, which can shoot footage at 720p for video calls. For its intended purpose, it’s pretty good and the resolution means that the person you’re talking to can easily work out what’s going on.
iPad mini 2 review: iOS
Apple originally shipped the iPad mini 2 with iOS 7, but now it’s available with the latest iOS 11.
The new operating system brings forward lots of great new features and we’re glad that Apple is still maintaining the mini 2. With iOS 10, the iPad flies through intensive tasks and is a joy for multitasking. Over iOS 7, the ability to simply change your stock keyboard or even put Spotlight search to better use, all add up to a fantastic experience.
We have no complaints in the software department but do remember that at Apple will at some point stop its software support for the mini 2. This isn’t a major cause for concern, but worth knowing.
iPad mini 2 review: 4G and wireless
If you use your iPad out and about a lot, there’s a 4G Wi-Fi + Cellular version, which costs around £100 more than the standard Wi-Fi-only model. The 4G chip has been upgraded from the previous version, so the iPad mini will work on all 4G networks in the UK. When 4G roaming comes in, the iPad mini 2 will work on networks around Europe, too.
Wi-Fi is provided by a dual-band 802.11n adapter, rather than the newer 802.11ac standard. However, that shouldn’t be much of a problem, as 802.11ac requires a really fast internet connection to make the most of it and, even then, you’d only really notice if you were downloading lots of big files. Given how most of us use an iPad, the faster wireless networking standard wouldn’t really add a lot.
iPad mini 2 review: Storage
Apple’s refurbished mini 2 has four capacities listed: 16-, 32-, 64- and 128GB. We feel 16GB is little limiting these days, and since the 32GB version can be found for just a little more, we’d say the 32GB model offers the best balance between price and storage space.
iPad mini 2 review: Verdict
There’s no doubt in our mind that the iPad mini 2 is the best small, handheld tablet that you can buy now for not a lot of money. It perfectly balances screen resolution and size with portability. It’s also a tablet that fits perfectly into one hand, so you can use it comfortably wherever you are. Build quality is excellent too, a notch or two above its rivals. Most importantly, Apple has removed any compromise between this and the iPad Air, so if you want something portable then the iPad mini 2 is the way to go. If you don’t need the performance increase and slight size decrease of the iPad mini 4, you could save yourself a considerable amount of money.
As an alternative, there’s the larger iPad Air, or the iPad Air 2. We slightly prefer the larger display, as we think it makes it easier to use the tablet and it’s a little easier to read on, but it really comes down to how much you want to spend. You’ll need to pay more for the larger screen on the iPad Air and even more money for the iPad Air 2, but we think for a lot of people it’s worth it, particularly if you’ll mostly use your tablet around the home.
That’s not to say that the iPad mini 2 is a bad choice: it’s superbly well made, comparatively great value and has an excellent screen. If you value portability over everything else, this is the right choice.
|Dual-core 1.3GHz Apple A7
|Yes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
|Yes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
|Memory card slot (supplied)
|Apple Mini 2