Apple iPad mini with Retina Display (iPad mini 2) review

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When Apple first came out with the Apple iPad mini we loved it's better design as the slimmer bezels and narrower look made it awesome to handle. However, while the 7.9-inch screen was still very good in itself, we wondered why Apple didn't put in a Retina Display like it had with the most recent version (at the time) of the Apple iPad. Turns out, they were waiting for the next generation Apple iPad mini 2 or as Apple wants to call it, the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display. The smaller Apple tablet that could is now a lot more capable as Apple have not only added on the expected (and much wanted) Retina Display, but have also included a very capable hardware upgrade. Read on to see our full review of the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display.

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Design - Thicker and heavier but more or less the same

At 7.5mm thin and 331g, the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display is both heavier and thicker than before but the differences are hardly noticeable even if you put both tablets side by side. The slim bezel and narrow profile remain the same while the new 7.9-inch Retina Display looks very sharp with it's 1536 x 2048 pixel resolution. Images and Movies simply pop on this screen and to top it all off, the smaller sized screen also means it has a 324 ppi pixel density which is one of the highest in the 7-inch tablet market, rivalling that of the latest Google Nexus 7 which is 323 ppi. Thankfully, the iPad mini with Retina Display retains the same solid feel and tough rigidity as it's previous version. Despite being very thin and light, it is also very solid, perhaps thanks to the aluminum unibody chassis and very good build quality. In short, it looks as good as it used to and should get second glances with ease. Like the original iPad mini, the extra 0.9-inch screen real estate makes the iPad mini with Retina Display look more natural in Landscape, matching up with notebook screens. Try doing that with a standard 7-inch tablet and you'll think that it is more of a cramped wide-screen mini TV. The new space grey colour option is nice but we'd have liked a champagne gold option even better.

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Tech specs and Features - Future proofed and ready to rock

The Apple iPad mini with Retina Display does more than just add on a Retina Display (which looks awesome by the way). It also adds on the latest 1.3GHz dual-core 64-bit A7 processor, complete with M7 coprocessor for motion detection. The graphics chips has been upgraded to the PowerVR G643D which supports OpenGL ES 3.0 and a bigger 23.8 Wh battery has been included as well. Other new tech specs and features include more LTE bands and a spruced up dual-antenna MIMO WiFi. You also get 1GB of RAM and storage options from 16GB to 128GB. Unfortunately, everything else remains the same as the 5MP iSight rear camera and audio are the same as before. There is a new feature with the camera in that it has 3X zoom but this is more due to firmware updates than anything else. Like other new Apple products, the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display comes packing iOS 7.

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While most features remain the same, the features that are new offer more functionality and performance

Performance - Outperforms practically everything else

If you had to wait minutes for an app to load on the original iPad mini, you only have to wait seconds on the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display. This is probably the most noticeable part about the performance of the 64-bit A7 chip. While there are still very few 64-bit apps or games on the App store that take advantage of the OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics on the tablet, those that do allow for more realism as you get better particle effects, more moving objects on the screen and better overall graphics. Games with these features look much nicer than those without as you have armor and swords with actual textures and blades of grass that actually look like they are naturally moving in the wind as opposed to a static animation. Will you find the same graphics performance anywhere else?

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The newer hardware Apple iPad mini with Retina Display is more than double the performance of the Apple iPad mini

Perhaps with tablets that sport the NVIDIA Tegra 4 but you won't find any other 7-inch tablet with a 64-bit processor, future proofing your apps for the next couple of years. According to Apple, the dual-antenna MIMO hardware makes for even faster and more reliable connectivity but while it is good or perhaps better than the WiFi on the original iPad mini, it isn't as noticeable as the other hardware upgrades. While the battery is larger on the iPad mini with Retina Display, bear in mind that the Retina Display and better hardware do use more energy. Thankfully, battery life remains the same more or less with about 10 to 11 hours on a single charge. Camera performance remains more or less the same though but this isn't a bad thing as you can still record 1080p video at 30 frames per second and get reasonable autofocused pictures with geo-tagging and face detection. You do get FaceTime over cellular with the 1.2MP FaceTime front camera but this is only good if you're a mobile FaceTime user.

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Infinity Blade III is one of the few games to support OpenGL ES 3.0 and as you can see above, looks like a desktop game on the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display

Price - Higher than before

It is an unfortunate truth but Apple products are usually pricier than others. This wasn't so bad with the original Apple iPad mini which was priced at RM999 for the basic 16GB WiFi only version when it first came out but the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display looks to up the price to either RM1249 or RM1299 based on the US pricing of the tablet. With the coming of the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display, the basic 16GB WiFi version of the Apple iPad mini has been discounted down to RM949 so we could expect a nearly RM350 price gap between the two 7.9-inch Apple iPad mini tablets. So far, US prices have usually matched up with Malaysian prices but recently pricing has gone up due to the drop in Malaysian currency value. Bear in mind that these are only estimates as the local Malaysian pricing has yet to arrive. We should know more by the November or December 2013 when the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display is said to be available but for now these are our best pricing estimates.

Conclusion - Tiny but Mighty (and Pricey) Tablet

When the Apple iPad mini first came out it was largely seen as the entry-level or 'cheap' Apple iPad tablet to get. Despite that it still managed to pack in literally the same hardware as the Apple iPad 2, but in a smaller package. The Apple iPad mini 2 or iPad mini with Retina Display does the same with the Apple iPad Air, it packs in the same Retina Display and 64-bit hardware into a smaller, more lightweight package, but unlike the original iPad mini, this gives it the advantage of a much higher pixel density and relatively lighter weight. The higher price of the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display compared to the Apple iPad mini means it is no longer the entry-level Apple iPad tablet in this range but it is still less expensive than both the Apple iPad 2 and Apple iPad Air. In addition, it packs in the same performance as the Apple iPad Air and future proofs all of your apps for the next couple of years making it (in our opinion), the better Apple iPad tablet to get in the whole bunch. If you're looking to get an Apple iPad tablet and don't care about the size of the screen, then the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display is the perfect one to pick and offers performance and build quality much higher than other touchscreen tablets in the same size range. You will have to pay a bit more for this though, but then Apple has always been about premium price and performance anyways. While you can do work with the original Apple iPad mini, the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display makes the whole experience a lot nicer, and it should be an awesome computing companion tablet for the student or exec looking for a lighter and more portable computing device.

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The Apple iPad mini with Retina Display not only looks good but delivers working performance on par with a notebook