iPad Mini With Retina Display Review

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Like everyone else, I was surprised to find Apple had put their iPad mini with Retina display on sale via their website when I awoke Tuesday morning. Reviews had yet to hit the web and the smart money had pegged a likely November 22nd launch. I had a 3rd generation iPad (iPad 3) that I was generally happy with but at the last minute I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. For a very small out of pocket price I could pick up Apple’s new iPad mini. I found a store in my area that had the model I wanted (16GB Space Gray) and never looked back.

If you want an iPad mini today, your only option is to order it online and choose personal pickup. Otherwise you are left to wait the 1-3 or 5-10 days until the configuration you desire is ready to ship.

Here are some observations from my first 24 hours with the iPad mini with Retina display:

The Good

  • Man is this thing light. I know it is ever so slightly heavier (.73 lbs vs. .68 lbs) than last year’s iPad mini, but coming from an iPad 3 (1.44 lbs) it is a big difference. It’s akin to what I felt when picking up an iPhone 5 for the first time after using an iPhone 4S. Holding the iPad mini one handed along its side bezels in portrait mode is very pleasant. Doing so with an iPad 3 my wrist quickly became tired. (I realize comparing an iPad mini to the larger full sized iPad isn’t exactly an apples to apples analogy)
  • The screen is great. It’s resolution is 2048X1536 for a whopping 326 PPI. Compare that to the 163 PPI of last year’s iPad mini and the 264 PPI in the iPad Air. No longer must you settle for an inferior screen with the mini.
  • Battery life seems on pace with the 10 hours Apple states on its website, but I won’t know for sure until I calibrate the battery.
  • One area I was a bit concerned about going in was the battery and the heat it gave off. The iPad 3 could get warm in the lower lefthand corner while being used. Considering that was the first iPad with a Retina display and this is the first iPad mini with one, I thought this might happen again. So far that is not the case, even when playing intensive games like Infinity Blade.
  • The A7 chip is great. It’s fast and responsive. While iOS7 still needs some refinement for the iPad, it’s no fault of this chip.
  • I, like others, were initially disappointed with the $399 starting price of the iPad mini. But now the iPad mini is every bit as good as the iPad Air. The mini has the same chip (clocked slightly lower) and same resolution (the mini’s screen is actually better). Basically the only questions you need to ask yourself anymore are, what size do you like better?, and, is the $100 cost of getting a bigger screen worth it to you?
  • Portability. While in the past I have used my iPad at home 95% of the time, the iPad mini is just small enough to fit almost anywhere. It is actually narrow enough to fit in the back pockets of my jeans, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Slipping it in your jacket pocket or your purse if you carry one, should be no problem for most people. Just be sure to protect your screen from loose change or keys.
  • It’s nice to be using only lightning chargers with all my iOS products. RIP 30 pin connector.
  • I would always have to prop up my iPad 3 while watching videos. With the iPad mini I’ve been holding it up on my own.
  • Typing is easier than on the full sized iPad, especially in portrait orientation. I can do it with the same general speed and accuracy as a smartphone. On the larger iPad, any letter that is in the middle of the keyboard is hard to reach which slows typing down considerably.
  • Future Proofing. If you are thinking about upgrading from an older iPad, I would recommend doing so if you can get a fair price. Any iPad running an A5x chip or older, which includes the original iPad, iPad 2, iPad 3, and iPad mini, are reaching the latter part of their shelf life. By no means does this mean that an iPad 3 or iPad mini won’t be usable in 2 years. It just means that you may have to forego upgrading to the newest software in that timeframe. iOS 7 can be a bit sluggish on these machines (iOS 7 isn’t available for the original iPad). On the other hand, if you have an iPad 4 it may be hard to justify an upgrade unless you can get top dollar.

The Not So Good

  • The speakers. This isn’t specific to the iPad mini, but to all iPads in general.The problem with rear facing speakers is that a lot of the volume is projected away from you while you are watching the screen. I pretty much have to keep the volume at its highest settings when I am watching Netflix. However, if you plug headphones in this problem is solved. If you need to amplify sound even more for a meeting or a classroom lesson, there are plenty of inexpensive 3.5mm stereo accessories out there to use.
  • Video. If you are coming from a full sized iPad, it is going to take some getting used to when watching videos. It’s not that the picture isn’t crisp, it is. It’s just that the video is going to be a little smaller than you are used to. If you don’t have an iPad or you have a smaller tablet like the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire HD this shouldn’t be a big problem.

Conclusion

So far I am loving the iPad mini with Retina display. It is far and away the best iPad I have used to date. At this point I feel any negatives with the decrease in screen size are outweighed by the wonderful form factor. That’s not to say that the iPad Air’s form factor isn’t also great. For those of you who plan on using the device strictly at home or solely for watching Netflix or Hulu+, the iPad Air might be the right choice for you. But at this point it’s hard for me to argue against getting the iPad mini if you want something more portable while still being able to perform all tasks extremely well.

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