Review updated: 16th December 2013
When the original iPad mini launched, plenty of people were chuffed to bits. Here was a smaller, lightweight tablet which, in Apple’s own words, was “every inch an iPad”.
Never mind that Steve Jobs had pooh-poohed the idea of Apple making a smaller tablet: the iPad mini was more affordable than the 9.7in version and had exactly the same interface and ran the same apps.
There were two troublesome things about the mini, however. One was the ‘low’ screen resolution. Launched against an updated 9.7in iPad with a Retina screen and faster processor, the mini looked a bit outmoded with its 1024x768 display and A5 chip. These specifications were no better than the iPad 2.
Most people didn’t care, and rightly so. The mini was a great tablet that did everything they wanted it to.
It’s been a long time coming, but the Retina version is finally with us, albeit in relatively limited quantities at launch.
For more information check out our other stories Apple iPad mini Retina price in the UK, Apple iPad mini with Retina display: specs and release date UK and Apple unveils iPad Air and iPad mini 2.
iPad mini 2 review: Screen
The first-generation iPad mini's display was a bit of an embarrassment for Apple, considering that the company likes to market itself as a premium tech brand. The all-important pixels per inch is simply way too small by modern terms, at just 162ppi. Especially when you consider that budget tablets such as the Nexus 7, Tesco Hudl and Kindle Fire HD all boast better pixel specs.
The iPad mini with Retina display takes care of this issue. The resolution matches the iPad Air (and other Retina iPads) at 2048x1536 pixels. That's a quadrupling of the original iPad mini's resolution, and as it's the same 7.9-inch size as before, that equates to a healthy pixel density of 326ppi.
Keeping the resolution the same as other iPad Retina displays means apps can be identical across the iPad 3, 4, new Air and new iPad mini. It's an impressive upgrade.
Holding old and new iPad minis side by side, the difference in clarity is easy to appreciate. Whether you’re looking at the home screen, a website, reading an ebook or running the Auto CAD app, there’s simply loads more detail. Characters and lines are no longer fuzzy and, since the display is smaller than the iPad Air’s, everything looks even sharper. In short, it’s the best iPad screen we’ve seen to date.
Colours are superb and with the extra resolution, photos look amazing. Using the iPad’s photo frame mode provides that wow factor which, of course, is important when you buy an new tablet. Obviously it helps if you’re showing off the best quality photos.
iPad mini 2 review: Design
Not much has changed in terms of dimensions or design. Why mess with a winning formula? But the new iPad mini with Retina display is very slightly thicker than the original mini, at 7.5mm versus 7.2mm. That's understandable. The weight gain, not so much. And I write as one who knows a thing or two about weight gain.
The Wi-Fi iPad mini with Retina display weighs 331g (23g heavier) while the Wi-Fi + Cellular model gains 29g over the previous equivalent iPad mini.
The extra mass is barely noticeable, but viewed against the iPad Air's weight-loss regime, it seems the team couldn't shave off any tenths of a millimetre here and there to even retain the same weight as before.
Subjectively, holding the new iPad mini in one hand for long periods of reading really isn’t that difficult. Just bear in mind that it’s a lot wider than a Nexus 7, so you might find that clamping it between your thumb and forefinger is the best way: the mini is intelligent enough to work out when you’re doing this and ignores your thumb pressing against the screen.
In line with the new iPhone 5s, the iPad mini with Retina display is available in white or Space Grey. A new Smart Cover and Smart Case has been launched in various colours - both fit the old and new iPad mini models.
Apart from the colours, the new iPad mini looks much like its predecessor so only iPad experts will know you’ve splashed the cash on the latest model.
iPad mini 2 review: Performance and specifications
As we’ve said, the original iPad mini was underpowered, but the iPad mini with Retina display shares the same A7 chip that's also inside the new iPad Air. That means it's a 64-bit device, which makes it more future-proof than if it had stuck with a 32-bit processor. It also gets the M7 motion coprocessor, which should help prolong battery life when you’re using fitness or activity tracking apps.
We’re hoping other apps will make use of the M7, since you’re unlikely to take the mini running with you. However, for more casual fitness apps such as The Walk or Zombies, Run! it might be useful for keeping tabs on your movements when in a bag.
As usual, Apple hasn’t disclosed the amount of RAM but this is of little consequence: the second-gen iPad mini is a LOT faster.
It doesn’t live up to Apple’s claims, mind. In our graphics tests, for example, the Retina-equipped mini managed 48fps in the Egypt HD test. That’s a great result, but it’s merely twice as fast as the original iPad mini. Apple says the new tablet is up to 8x faster.
Similarly, general 2D performance is impressive. In Geekbench 2, the iPad mini 2 managed 2222 (on average). This is roughly 3x faster than the first mini, but falls short of the “up to four times faster” claim.
In SunSpider 1.0.2, the new model completed the test in just 397ms – a stunning result. The original iPad mini took an average of 1300ms in the same test, again meaning the Retina iPad mini doesn’t quite live up to the claim.
Don’t get us wrong though: the new iPad is very quick and feels slick in general use.
There's good news if you like to keep vast libraries of music, videos and photos on your iPad as capacities range from 16GB to 128GB. As ever, this isn't expandable. All you can do is buy a wireless hard drive if that's not enough (or use cloud storage and stream content).
You get new dual-antenna Wi-Fi and support for MIMO which Apple says doubles the theoretical transfer speed compared to the original iPad mini (300Mbps versus 150Mbps). There's also Bluetooth 4.0 and only the cellular version (which supports more LTE bands than ever) has a GPS receiver.
iPad mini 2 review: Cameras and battery life
There's no major change in the camera department, with a 5Mp iSight snapper on the rear (capable of 1080p video) and an improved FaceTime HD webcam on the front - likely the same unit that the iPhone 5C received.
In our tests, we found precious little difference between shots taken on the original mini and the new version, and you can judge for yourself by checking out the photos of St Pancras below.
In low light, using the front webcam, the slightly updated camera in the new iPad mini meant there was less noise in photos. Overall, there's hardly any difference, but when you zoom in and examine images you can see the small improvement.
The rear cameras are seemingly identical, resolving roughly the same amount of detail. Slight differences in automatic exposure explain why the Retina’s photo looks a little brighter.
Looking at the photos on the iPads themselves (as opposed to a PC monitor) shows up a huge difference in detail, just as you’d expect. The Retina screen displays four times more detail, making photos looks much sharper than they do on the original iPad mini.
First, the full (but resized) photo from the Retina iPad mini:
Now here's the same shot from the original iPad mini:
Look at the two 100% crops and there's almost no perceptible difference in detail and overall quality (ignore the different exposures):
iPad mini Retina:
Original iPad mini:
The same isn’t true for videos: videos shot on the new iPad mini did appear to be sharper (when viewed on a PC monitor) than those taken on the first-gen mini. Overall, video quality was impressive and – thanks to the new second back-mounted mic – audio quality was also much improved over the original iPad mini. As well as being clearer, sound recording was much more directional: this means the new mini should record what your subjects are saying rather than the general ambient noise around you.
We’ve not yet had a chance to run our battery tests, but we fully expect Apple’s 10-hour claim to be true, since it has been with every other iPad.
iPad mini 2 review: Software
Like the iPad Air, the new mini comes with iOS 7. It also entitles you to download a selection of Apple’s apps, including iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand and Pages for free, which is a real bonus.
Unfortunately, also as with the Air, you don’t get the slo-mo video mode in the camera app, nor the burst mode for taking photos quickly. Both features remain exclusive to the iPhone 5s, despite the iPads seemingly having the same hardware.