iPad mini 2 with Retina display review

The iPad mini with Retina display, or iPad mini 2 to many, is Apple's latest entry into the 7in tablet market. It's the successor to the original iPad mini, which launched in 2012, and is now more than nine months old after being released in October 2013.

Competing with the likes of the Google Nexus 7, and most recently the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, the iPad mini 2 has a 7.9in Retina display, a speedy A7 processor, a gorgeous, slim and light design and will soon run iOS 8, Apple's upcoming mobile operating system update.

It's a big step up from the original iPad mini, as we explain in this review, with the main selling point being the stunning Retina display that brings it much closer to its 10in sibling, the iPad Air, when it comes to specs and hardware.

Here, we bring you all of our thoughts about the iPad mini 2, including how it compares with the original iPad mini and the iPad Air; benchmark tests for power, performance and battery life; features and specifications of the iPad mini and what they mean in daily use; and our opinion about whether it's worth waiting for the iPad mini 3. Read on for our full iPad mini 2 review.

iPad mini 2 review: iPad mini 2 vs iPad Air

When the iPad mini launched in 2012 the choice was simple. On one hand you had the full size iPad with its Retina display and faster processor, and on the other hand was the thinner, and crucially, lighter iPad mini. As long as you didn’t mind the smaller screen and the fact that the processor was inferior to the normal iPad, the mini was the clear choice for anyone put off by the extra bulk of the iPad 4.

All that changed with the launch of the iPad Air and the Retina iPad mini in October 2013. If you want smaller and lighter you might think that the iPad mini with Retina display is the obvious choice, but there is a less noticeable, though still significant, difference between the weight of the two models now that the iPad Air has arrived.

The iPad Air weighs 469g to the Retina iPad mini’s 331g (478g and 341g for the Cellular models) that 138g difference compares to a 184g difference between 2102’s iPad 4 (653g) and the original iPad mini (which at 308g was actually 23g lighter than the newer model).

It’s not just the weight difference, the iPad Air has slimmed down too. It’s now 7.5mm rather the iPad 4's 9.4mm. The iPad mini with Retina display is also 7.5mm thick (fatter than its predecessor's 7.2mm). So, there’s still a weight difference between the two devices, but it’s less pronounced than it was. The real distinction is now the size of the screen: 9.7-inch verses 7.9-inch. See: iPad mini 2 vs iPad Air

So if you're looking for a tablet to carry around with you on trips out and on the commute, the extra portability of the iPad mini 2 is likely to appeal. We also think it's better for gaming as it's easier to hold thanks to its smaller, lighter nature.

But for watching movies and TV shows that you've downloaded from iTunes or a catch up service like BBC iPlayer, we think the iPad Air is better. Plus, productivity apps such as Pages, Keynote and Numbers feel easier to use on the bigger screened iPad Air.

See also: iPad mini vs Retina iPad mini

iPad mini 2 review: design

At first glance the iPad mini of 2012 and the iPad mini of 2013 look very similar, despite the fact that the colours of the 2012 model are described as black and white by Apple, while the 2013 models are Space Grey and Silver, with just a slight tweak to the shade of the brushed aluminium on the back of the tablet.   

The difference this time is that, while the design of the mini is unchanged, the design of the 10in iPad has changed, and as a result the iPad Air looks much like the iPad mini, just bigger.

We love the design of the iPad mini 2 though. We think it's the best-looking 7in tablet available, with top-notch build quality and a sleek, sophisticated look. 

Left: iPad mini 2012; Right: iPad mini with Retina display 2013

iPad mini 2 review: Retina display  

With the design, colour, weight and dimensions of the new iPad mini 2 being almost the same as last year’s iPad mini model, the only really visible difference between the two is the Retina display.

The new iPad mini offers double the resolution of the original iPad mini at 2,048x1,536 pixels. This is the same number of pixels as the iPad Air, but because the screen is smaller, there are more pixels per inch (324ppi, compared to 264ppi on the Air).

The 2012 iPad mini offered 163 pixels per inch (ppi) so the difference is clear when you look at the two devices together. You wouldn’t necessarily miss the Retina display if you didn’t have one, as the display of the original iPad mini is not bad at all. But it’s really a case of what you don’t know won’t hurt you, because once you start using a Retina display it’s hard to go back.

Apple uses 'Retina' as the term to describe a display that has a high enough pixel density that the human eye can't make out individual pixels at all. See: What is a Retina display?

Just how much clearer is the Retina display? The pages of a book in iBooks were significantly clearer on the newer device, with the text crisper and more defined. We took a screen shot of the same page, with the same size text, and zoomed in on the words. The iPad mini with Retina suffered very little blurring around the characters, while characters on the older iPad mini were very blurry.

Left: iPad mini 1; Right: iPad mini 2: iBook

Left: iPad mini 1; Right: iPad mini 2: zoomed in on iBook, in this example you can really see the difference

It’s not just the clarity of the Retina display image though. We also noticed that the screen of the new iPad mini with Retina display emits more light. The Retina display looks brighter and the white background of our page looked whiter. We’d say that there is a slightly blue tint to the older iPad mini.

We ran tests using a Datacolor Spyder4Elite and found that the new iPad mini with Retina display was indeed brighter than the old model. The iPad mini 1 measured 293 lumens, while the iPad mini with Retina display managed 315 lumens.

There have been reports of differences in the colour gamut of the two devices, as well, with the iPad mini with Retina display apparently not as good as its predecessor when it comes to colour accuracy. However, this will not be an issue for you if you aren’t performing colour sensitive work on your device, and it may be Apple’s strategy to maintain its claimed 10hour battery life on the iPad mini 2.

There have also been reports of image retention, or image burn, on some iPad mini with Retina display models. We are aware that Apple has exchanged some devices that experienced this problem, but we have never experienced it ourselves.

The Retina display certainly adds a lot to the new iPad mini so we would say that paying the extra £70 for the Retina display is a good move.

The Retina display of the iPad mini 2 is a huge selling point for the tablet. When Apple launched the iPad mini in 2012, many were disappointed about the lack of the high-res display, especially because they've been used to using one since the iPad 3. So when the iPad mini with Retina display was launched, it was met with a more positive reaction, with many potential iPad mini customers rushing out to buy the device they'd been waiting for since the original iPad mini's launch.

iPad mini 2 review: Camera

The rear-facing camera inside the iPad mini 2 offers 5-megapixels and 1080p video. The front-facing camera is 1.2-megapixel or 720p. This is exactly the same as the camera in the 2012 iPad mini, although the front-facing camera has had a bit of an upgrade for low-light so, along with the new dual microphones, you should find FaceTime video calling quality improved.

We're not keen on using a tablet to take photographs, but we have seen it happening out in the real world, so clearly it's happening. We think you'll be satisfied with the results of the iPad mini 2, but don't expect anything close to the results you'll get from Apple's iPhone 5s, or even the older iPhone 5.

You can see some example photographs taken with the iPad mini 2 below.

Left: iPad mini 1; Right: iPad mini 2: low ligh, notice the shelving is brighter in the iPad mini 2 picture

Left: iPad mini 1; Right: iPad mini 2: day time, notice the sky is a little less blown out in the iPad mini 2 picture

Left: iPad mini 1; Right: iPad mini 2: detail, notice how the iPad mini 2 caught the patchwork detail in the screen

In the case of video footage we did find that video shot on the new iPad mini appeared to be sharper (when viewed on our iMac screen) than those taken on our first generation iPad mini.

iPad mini 2 review: Battery life

Apple claims that the new iPad mini offers 10 hours battery life, which is the same as every other iPad. Apple tests battery life in terms of how much web surfing over Wi-Fi, video watching and music playing can be managed. Surfing the web over a mobile connection will reduce the battery life to 9 hours, according to Apple.

Our tests are a little more challenging and involve looping high-definition videos at specific volume and screen-brightness levels until the iPad turns itself off. We found that the iPad mini with Retina lasted an impressive 10 hours, 42 minutes. That’s actually longer than the iPad Air lasted in the same test (the Air shut down a couple of minutes shy of 10 hours). In comparison, in the same tests last year the iPad mini lasted 9 hours and twelve minutes, compared to 9 hours and 21 minutes for the fourth-generation iPad.

This extra battery life is thanks to the bigger battery inside the Retina iPad mini. It's a 23.8Wh battery that can be charged via the Lightning cable connected either to your computer or directly to a power outlet using the adapter.

iPad mini 2 review: Speed and processor power

2012’s iPads had significant differences in terms of processor. Where the iPad 4 featured an A6X processor the iPad mini made do with the A5 chip also found in the iPad 2. The 2013 iPads both feature the same A7 chip, along with its 64-bit architecture, and the accompanying M7 motion coprocessor. This breaks from Apple’s tradition of featuring a superior chip in the full-sized iPad, and removes one of the obvious differentiators between the two devices.

It’s curious that Apple didn’t choose to feature the lower spec A6 chip in the Retina iPad mini (or a variant of that chip). This would have made a clear distinction between the two devices and helped Apple sell more iPad Airs (on which the company will make bigger margins due to its higher cost). As it is, the new iPad mini appears to offer exactly the same specifications as its more expensive, and larger sibling, for £80 less. But Apple doesn't want to sell a less than perfect product, of course, so it's no surprise really that Apple is willing to cannibalise its own product to offer the best device it can.

Additionally, the processor in the iPad mini with Retina display is actually clocked at a lower speed than the iPad Air, which is clocked at 1.39GHz, according to Geekbench 3. Incidentally, the A7 chip in the iPhone 5s is clocked at 1.30GHz.

Apple claimed that the iPad mini 2 is up to four times faster than its predecessor, and up to eight times faster when it comes to graphics performance. Our tests found that it is indeed faster, but it doesn't quite live up to Apple's claims.

The iPad mini 2 managed an average of 2222 in Geekbench 2, which is roughly three times faster than the original iPad.

The new mini’s Geekbench 3 score was 1395 for a single core and 2521 in multi-core mode, which is not much slower than the speedy iPad Air, which returned a score of 1480 points for a single core and 2683 points in multi-core mode.

[Read our iPad Air Review here]

Both the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display feature 1GB RAM. The original iPad mini featured 512MB RAM. The extra RAM will make application switching much quicker and smoother, and in our experience you will experience fewer app crashes due to low memory. The extra RAM is another great reason to pay the extra for the Retina iPad mini.

When it comes to graphics the iPad mini 2 is superior to its predecessor, though not quite the eight times faster Apple claims. In our graphics tests (the Egypt HD test - a game test featuring a complex scene) the iPad mini with Retina display managed 48fps, twice as fast as the original iPad mini. In the Egypt HD graphics test the iPad Air also played at an average framerate of 48 fps. We can't imagine anyone being disappointed by these gaming capabilities.

In SunSpider 1.0.2 (a browser speed test) the new iPad mini completed the test in 397ms, compared to the 1300ms taken by the original iPad mini, which is a very impressive result.

Read our alternatives to the iPad with Retina display, 4th generation iPad

iPad mini 2 review: Connectivity

The Retina iPad mini has dual-antenna WiFi and support for MIMO, which makes the transfer speed of the newer iPad mini much faster than its predecessor, at 300Mbps rather than the original mini's 150Mbps. You'll get Bluetooth 4.0 with the iPad mini 2, and that aforementioned Lightning connector for charging and syncing.

If you choose the cellular option, you'll get access to 3G and 4G LTE bands, and you'll also get a GPS receiver. We talk more about whether you should opt for Apple's cellular iPad mini 2 below.

iPad operating system, iOS 7

If you already own an iPad mini the fact that the new iPad mini with Retina display runs iOS 7 will be no matter, as your existing iPad mini is quite capable of running iOS 7. However, if you own an original first generation iPad your experience of iOS 7 may be limited. Original iPads from 2010 cannot run iOS 7, and the iPad 2 is feature limited when it comes to iOS 7. For example, AirDrop and Siri are not available on the older model. There is no additional iOS 7 functionality offered by the iPad Air compared with the iPad mini 2.

If you have never owned an iPad, but own an iPhone that is capable of running iOS 7 you will be able to enjoy many of the features that you are used to on your Apple device and all the music, movies and apps you’ve purchased from Apple will be available to download again onto your iPad for free. Already owning an iPhone is a very good reason to buy an iPad.

It’s not only iOS 7 that helps sell the iPad. There is also free software available to download directly from Apple as soon as you register your device. Apple now offers Pages, Numbers and Keynote, as well as iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband, as free downloads to owners of new devices. You’ll also find a wealth of software on the App Store as well as iTunes music to download, movies to watch, and electric versions of books to read or listen to.

If you have yet to own an iPhone, the iPad is a much cheaper way to get the iOS experience. With an iPad mini with Retina display starting at £319 (or £249 in the case of the original iPad mini) that’s £150 less than the iPhone 5c at £469. iPhone pricing is complicated though, with various discounts available depending on the network you sign up to, and the length of your contract, of course you also have to account for the monthly fee for your contract. If you choose the Wi-Fi only iPad mini these extra costs will never come into play.

Later this year, iPad mini 2 owners will get iOS 8, too. It's a new version of the mobile operating system that comes with Apple's devices, and it'll bring lots of new features to the device. You can find out more about iOS 8 and what you can expect when it arrives in September in our iOS 8 preview.

Should I get a Wi-Fi or Cellular iPad mini?

In the case of every iPad there is an option, at point of purchase, to pay £100 more and get an iPad that can take a SIM card so you can access the web via 3G or 4G networks. The ability to connect to the web while on the move is something that will be a matter of personal choice, but is a real boon for commuters who enjoy using the iPad on their journey to and from work.

In our experience a Wi-Fi model is adequate. You will discover that you can join a number of Wi-Fi networks on the go. In fact BT has announced that anyone running iOS will be able to automatically connect to its UK public WiFi hotspots, as long as they have a BT Broadband account. There is a BT Wi-fi iOS app that can be downloaded here (free to existing broadband subscribers).

You can also share your connection from your iPhone if you have one and if your contract allows it, although in our experience sharing a connection (via General > Cellular > Personal Hotspot) can make your iPhone get hot very quickly. Of course, if you haven't got unlimited data on your iPhone contract, it'll eat up your data quicker too.

There is also the option of purchasing a separate mobile broadband dongle like the MiFi from Three. You can share a mobile connection from that device to access the internet on your iPad mini 2 while out and about.

You can read more about sharing a mobile connection to your iPad here.

How much storage space do I need for my iPad mini?

Aside from the choice of colour (Silver or Space Grey) and the Wi-Fi or Cellular options, there is a choice of four storage capacities for the Retina iPad mini. The choices include 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. The iPad Air has exactly the same storage options, while the original iPad mini and the iPad 2 are only available with 16GB of storage.

For many people 16GB will be enough. Thanks to iCloud many of the files that could be cluttering up your device are actually stored on Apple’s servers. Apple will store the following in iCloud: Pages, Keynote and Numbers documents, and the last 30 days of your photos (though this will change with iOS 8 to be even better). You can also download any apps, music, or movies you have purchased from the App Store on any of your devices. Should you delete anything to save space, you will be able to re-download it for free at a later date.

However, we would still recommend getting more storage if you can afford to as you are likely to quickly fill up your device with photos, videos, music and movies. After a year’s use our 64GB iPad mini has 23.9GB left. Despite having a capacity of 64GB, the device reports a capacity of 57.3GB (due to operating system requirements), so we are using just over 33GB of space which suggests that a 32GB iPad might not have been sufficient for our needs. A 128GB device on the other hand would have been over kill for us, but might suit the needs of people that use their iPad mini 2 as their main device, has an enormous media collection or likes to keep all of their apps on the device at all times.

The move from 16GB to 32GB costs an extra £80, as does the move from 32GB to 64GB and the move from 64GB to 128GB. If we were prepared to up our budget we’d probably opt for the extra storage over the cellular option, too.

Should I wait for the iPad mini 3?

If you're considering buying a Retina iPad mini now, it's worth noting that we expect to see a new model of the 7in Apple tablet in October, alongside a new iPad Air. There's not much information about the new tablet yet, but you can expect a processor upgrade, possible camera improvements and also a Touch ID fingerprint sensor like the one found in the iPhone 5S. See: iPad mini 3

With just over three months left until we can expect the new iPad mini, you might feel disappointed that you didn't wait for the latest model, so we'd advise you to seriously consider whether you need a new iPad right now, or whether you can wait for the new one.

[Read more iPad reviews here]

OUR VERDICT

If it’s a smaller, lighter iPad you are after you can’t go wrong with the new iPad mini with Retina display. It’s better than last year’s model in all the ways that really matter, especially in terms of the screen and the speed. While the iPad mini costs slightly more this year than the original iPad mini did at launch, we think the increased cost isa small price to pay for the updated technology. While it would be nice if the iPad mini 2 had slimmed down, it’s hardly fat, and the iPad Air is practically the same thickness.

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