Last year, Apple (AAPL) was forced to do something it hates — react to market demand. The tablet pioneer had maintained that its full-sized, 9.7-inch Apple iPad was the ideal size, and that smaller 7-inch tablets made for an inferior experience.
Consumers voted with their wallets, though, and 7-inch Android tablets began to erode the dominance AAPL, offering a cheaper and more portable experience.
So in 2012, the company conceded (sort of) and released the Apple iPad Mini — a smaller, cheaper iPad. It was still bigger than rivals with a 7.9-inch display and carried a premium price tag at $329. But it became the best-selling Apple tablet.
The main complaints about the original Apple iPad Mini? Its low resolution display and price.
The new Mini is an iPad with Retina Display, rectifying the resolution with a 2048 x 1536 “Retina” display that offers a sharp 326 PPI density. But Apple also defied expectations by raising the price of the iPad Mini with Retina Display instead of lowering it.
Is the newest iPad with Retina Display the best small tablet and worth the $399 Apple is asking? I ordered one the day AAPL put the new tablet on sale. Rumors of launch shortages notwithstanding, I received it within a week and have spent the past few days putting the Apple tablet through its paces in preparation for my iPad Mini with Retina Display review.
iPad Mini with Retina Display Review – Ideal for Casual Use
Click to EnlargeTo get a better idea of how the Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display stacks up size-wise compared to other tablets, I put it in a mugshot line-up. From left to right, are a typical 7-inch Android tablet (in this case it’s a Kobo Arc), the iPad Mini with Retina Display, the full-sized new Apple iPad Air and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows 8 RT-powered Surface 2.
Apple tablets use a 4:3 display aspect ratio, while the other two are 16:9. That means a 7-inch Android tablet like Google’s (GOOG) popular Nexus 7 is easier to grasp in one hand, while the Surface 2 offers a laptop-like display when used in landscape mode. Plus, the 16:9 tablets don’t have the black bars across the top and bottom of the display like an iPad does when you watch HD movies in landscape mode.
But that 4:3 aspect ratio on this iPad with Retina Display makes for more readable web pages. And if you hold the tablet in portrait mode while reading or surfing, it’s more balanced than a 16:9 tablet — especially a larger one like that Surface 2. With the new iPad Mini with Retina display, Apple might just have the best small tablet for typical use. It’s small enough and light enough that holding it in one hand is a breeze, while the display is crisp enough that most text doesn’t require zooming, despite the smaller screen size.
On the downside, the iPad Mini with Retina Display remains decidedly previous generation when it comes to color gamut, or how many colors it can accurately show. Displaymate put it well behind the Nexus 7, Amazon (AMZN) Kindle Fire HDX and Apple’s own iPad Air in a recent iPad Mini with Retina Display review, calling its color performance “disappointing.”
iPad Mini with Retina Display Review – Packs a Punch
Another important thing to note about the small iPad with Retina display: Apple didn’t just fix the display resolution problem from last year.
It also seriously beefed up the iPad Mini with Retina Display, putting in the same new 64-bit A7 processor (and M7 motion coprocessor) found in the Apple iPhone 5S and iPad Air. (Although in the new iPad Mini, the CPU is clocked slightly slower.) Benchmarks in a technical iPad Mini with Retina Display review will tell you this little tablet is significantly faster than last year’s model and keeps up to the iPad Air.
That makes it possibly the best small tablet when it comes to performance too; there’s nothing you can currently do using the iPad Mini with Retina Display that’s going to leave you wishing for a little more power. Everything from video games to movies is fast and free of stuttering. That goes for streaming video too, thanks to the AAPL adoption of MIMO antenna technology for faster Wi-Fi.
Battery life holds up to Apple’s 10 hour claims, too — enough to get through a day of mobile use.
I’m not sure you’d want to work on the iPad Mini with Retina Display, except in a pinch. But if you do, Apple has you covered there too. Its iWork apps like Pages and Numbers (Apple’s take on Microsoft Word and Excel) are included for free.
iPad Mini with Retina Display Review – Specs
- Slightly bigger than most 7-in tablets, with a 7.9-inch IPS multitouch LED Retina display at 2048 x 1536 pixels (326 PPI)
- 64-bit A7 Processor, dual-cores at 1.3 GHz
- 16GB/32GB/64GB or 128GB built-in storage (no expansion)
- Lightning port
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 1.2 MP 720p fixed focus FaceTime Camera, 5MP iSight camera
- Dual microphones, dual speakers
- Dual channel 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with MIMO technology
- 23.8 Watt-hour lithium polymer battery rated for 10 hours of mixed use
- LTE available
- 5.3 inches x 7.87 inches x 0.29 inch, 0.73 lbs
- Runs AAPL iOS 7 (inc. Siri)
- Available in Space Gray or Silver
- Pricing starts at $399
* iPad Mini with Retina Display review model was 16GB Wi-Fi model in Space Gray
iPad Mini with Retina Display Review – Conclusion
The new Retina display and A7 processor make the iPad Mini with Retina Display a formidable tablet, and possibly the best small tablet there is if you’re willing to pay the premium. I didn’t notice the color issues. If you intend to use this tablet primarily for reviewing photos or some other purpose where color accuracy is important, I’d suggest you check one out in person before buying. But for typical situations (and without a superior display to compare it to), I doubt you’d notice any difference.
As a casual use tablet, I think AAPL nailed it with the iPad Mini with Retina Display. I prefer the nearly 7-inch tablet over a full-sized iPad, the display is wonderfully crisp and it gets excellent battery life and great Wi-Fi performance. Plus, despite the bigger screen (7.9-inches translates into 35% more screen real estate than a 7-inch display) the smaller iPad with Retina Display is incredibly comfortable to hold.
The bottom line for this iPad Mini with Retina Display Review? If you’re looking for an Apple tablet on the cheap, buy the iPad Mini with Retina Display before even considering the iPad 2 at the same price. The smaller iPad is still large enough for daily use and blows away the older iPad 2 in screen resolution and power. Same deal with last year’s iPad Mini, although the new version is a $100 premium. The iPad Mini with Retina Display also performs just as well as the iPad Air, is much more portable and is $100 less than Apple’s flagship tablet.
If you’re shopping for Windows or Android tablets, if $399 is too steep or you want something small enough to be pocketable, then the iPad Mini with Retina Display isn’t your tablet. But for any iPad owner looking for an upgrade, or any first-time tablet user looking for a solid all-round device with a thriving app ecosystem, the iPad Mini with Retina Display is tough to beat.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.