Can the new iPad Mini with Retina display take on its bigger sibling, the iPad Air?

When we first clutched last year’s Apple iPad Mini, we were instantly sold. The compact and featherlight body was a dream compared with the 4th-generation iPad’s bulky, heavy build, making it friendly on our puny biceps. The iPad Mini wasn’t perfect, however - it made do with the iPad 2’s A5 processor, while the screen lacked the crispness and responsiveness of the full iPad’s Retina display.

Apple has mercifully addressed all of these issues with the new iPad Mini with Retina display. Packing a sharper screen and the latest A7 processor found in the brilliant full-sized iPad Air, it promises a full and fantastic miniaturised experience when playing with apps and games, or kicking back with your movies and music. But is it really all that, and how does it compare to the five-star iPad Air?

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

 

Apple iPad MIni design: Small but satisfying

Compare the iPad Mini with Retina display to last year’s model and you’ll be struggling to pick out any differences. Size-wise the pair are basically identical, although this updated model has gained a little weight over the first iPad Mini, bulking up from 312g to 341g. Of course, the difference is barely noticeable, and even more impressive considering the extra tech packed away in that gorgeous body.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

As before, the tablet can be comfortably clutched in one hand thanks to the narrow bezels, while your free hand taps and swipes the gorgeous new screen. The front of the new iPad Mini is pure gloss, but flip it over and the trademark Apple brushed metal takes over. You can get either a Silver model or Space Grey, our preferred version. Ports are all in the usual places, with a keyhole SIM card slot on the right edge if you opt for a cellular model.

Once again the Mini comes in two flavours, Wi-Fi only, and Wi-Fi with cellular. The cellular version supports 4G LTE, so you can enjoy super-speedy browsing in supported regions, but it also costs an extra hundred quid (not including data costs). You can also bag the iPad Mini with Retina display in four different sizes: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. Considering many of the latest games and movies take up over a gig in space, we’d recommend opting for the 32GB model as a minimum. That’ll set you back £399 if you go for Wi-Fi only - check out our full iPad pricing guide to see the various options.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

Above is the iPad Mini with Retina display, side-by-side with the original iPad Mini. If you didn't know the Retina model was on the left, chances are you wouldn't be able to pick it out.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

The size difference is practically non-existent: the Retina model is just a couple of mm thicker, impressively

 

Apple iPad MIni Retina screen: sharpest on show

The first obvious upgrade is the display, and the name of this tablet kind of gives it away. That Retina screen is the same size and shape as the original iPad Mini’s, but the resolution has been massively boosted, from 1024 x 768 to 2048 x 1536. That’s doubled the pixels-per-inch (ppi) count, jumping from 163ppi to 326ppi.

You can notice the difference immediately, simply by comparing the desktops. Icon text on the original Mini looks decidedly grainy, while on the new tablet it’s perfectly sharp - stick your nose on the glass and stare real hard, and you still won’t make out an individual pixel. Images are also beautifully rendered on the Retina screen, with perfectly round contours in place of jaggedy edges. It’s a real step up for picture quality.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

An example of the Retina display (left) proving much sharper than the original Mini screen (right)

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

The iOS desktop also looks much crisper on the Retina screen (left).

 

As well as being sharper than a thousand Stephen Frys, the Retina display is also awesomely bright, cancelling out any kind of irritating glare. Viewing angles are wide, contrast levels are strong, and all in all it’s one of the very best tablet screens out there.

 

Apple iPad Mini Performance: A7 for the win

Another area where the first iPad Mini fell down was performance. The dual-core A5 processor, previously found in the old iPad 2, was fine for simple tasks such as web browsing, but started to struggle when intensive apps were introduced. Thankfully the new iPad Mini with Retina display vastly improves with the latest A7 chip, also found in the iPad Air and iPhone 5s.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

The extra power is immediately apparent when loading up processor-pounding games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. On the original iPad Mini, the game’s loading screen hung around for almost half a minute, and the game proceeded to crash every time we played the first mission. Loading on the Mini with Retina display was much faster, taking just five seconds to throw us into the game. Best of all, we only saw a couple of stutters in several hours’ worth of gameplay.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

We didn’t notice any performance difference between the iPad Mini with Retina display and the iPad Air, quite an incredible feat considering the same architecture has been packed into a dinky little compact frame.

Apple’s A7 processor is also 64-bit, and while that doesn’t mean a whole heap right now, we’re expecting to see some impressive 64-bit apps and games trickling into the App Store soon. You’ll need the latest tech to take advantage, so the Mini with Retina display is reassuringly future-proof.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

 

Apple iPad Mini cameras: Deja Vu

The new iPad Mini might have boosted the original’s screen and brains, but the dual cameras are identical to the first Mini’s, as well as the iPad Air’s. At the front you get a 1.2-megapixel lens which shoots 720p video. It more than does the job for Facetime chats, adapting well to different lighting conditions and capturing your beautiful mug with crystal clarity. If anything it’s a little too good, as it picks up every wrinkle and blackhead, plus any crisp/biscuit fragments lingering inside beards. We spent a solid hour in the bathroom before we plucked up the courage to get online.

‘Round the back, you’ll find the iSight camera. This is a 5-megapixel lens with f/2.4-aperture, and it’s dependable as always. In bright conditions you’ll find your photos pack in plenty of detail, with realistic colouring, although things get grainy when the lights dim and there’s no flash to compensate. You also get the bare minimum of features: HDR mode is pretty much your whack.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

 

Apple iPad Mini battery life: Longer than a sperm whale’s squishy bits

Apple has always nailed battery life on its portable devices, and once again the iPad Mini proves its mettle, despite that power boost. If you’re simply browsing the web and messing around with apps, you can comfortably expect a full day of life between charges. Even on full screen brightness, the Mini drained just 15% after three hours of fiddling.

Battery life takes an expected dip when you introduce power-hungry games or video streaming. We still managed an impressive eight hours of YouTube action on a single charge, although games that push the A7 processor really have an impact. We didn’t quite get four hours of constant play with the likes of San Andreas.

Apple iPad Mini with Retina display review

 

Apple iPad Mini verdict

The new iPad Mini with Retina display is a serious step up from the original tablet. The vastly improved screen and welcome boost in performance make it a more enjoyable affair than the original iPad Mini, and that slim and light frame is still a joy to clutch and carry. Of course, you’ll pay a premium for that excellent user experience - check out our handy iPad Air vs iPad Mini with Retina Display vs iPad Mini pricing chart to see how the different models stack up.