- Features Feature rich device that can fulfill a variety of tasks.
- Display Great pixel density, aspect ratio and DisplayMate's claims about colour accuracy are unnoticable.
- Battery life Lasts me all day with power usage.
- Ease of use iOS is really straightforward and easy to understand.
- Storage capacity I would have preferred to see a 256GB option.
- Design and form factor Lovely unibody design, flush screen and bezel in addition to feeling solid.
- Portability (size / weight) Does not tire me holding this up for long periods of time.
- Durability Solid product, dropped it once and nothing happened to it thankfully.
Apple’s Retina Mini offering arrived on the Apple Store quietly on the 12th of November, with an initial five to ten day wait in addition to sluggish shipping times for higher end models. Having received my iPad Mini 2 and had substantial time to play with the device and figure out all of its nuances, I am bringing you my iPad Mini 2 review a month later.
I think it’s fair to assume that most devices from reputable technology manufacturers are very zippy - unlike with the last generation Minis where you paid exorbitant rates to get a two year old product, you now have the peace of mind that your Mini isn’t outdated as soon as you buy it. It sports the latest generation A7 processor that’s clocked slightly slower although this struggles to show in real world usage situations, however the M7 coprocessor I feel is a puzzling choice for a tablet form factor and its unfortunate that there’s no real benefit for it in a tablet. The primary function for this additional chip is saving battery life - it’s like switching between integrated and dedicated GPUs depending on the scenario, while it’s second use is easily seen in the fitness industry, where the M7 can control the accelerometer without any extra grunt from the main CPU. While this is all positive, the fitness benefits are only seen in more portable devices and the battery life improvements appear to be minute - still, I’m glad to have them. The API is always open to developers so it may have some unknown usage in the future that significantly improves a certain aspect of using the tablet. Lastly, the 64-bit stuff is just marketing jargon. The two major benefits to a 64 bit architecture are support for more than 4GB of RAM and being able to do math with higher integers, both of which aren’t going to be utilised by the average joe as well as not even being near the RAM limit for it to matter. Where this would be good is Android where we are approaching 3GB of RAM in most devices, but even then the usage scenariors for 5GB+ are so limited at this stage. RAM needs will evolve to match the needs of software put out by developers, until there is a need for it the 64-bit architecture is irrelevant.
Apple is marketing its MiMo tech. I tried testing it out with synthetic benchmark and even those represented what I saw in real life - no WiFi performance increase compared to 802.11ac. What I did see however, was tremendously better coverage than my other devices. To test this, I went to the furthermost room in my house with an older iPad and noticed an extra bar on the iPad Mini. Perhaps those multiple antennae are good for something. Depending on your usage, storage options are still limited. I would have preferred to see a 256GB option as I use this as a primary media consumption device, although 128GB, while I feel that it is a baby step, is a fair improvement over the previous 64GB highest tier option. The storage options are a bit of a misnomer considering that the iOS system install does take a few gigabytes of storage space by default, it is not too intrusive. The screen has now been upgraded to retina quality, and it’s just about as crisp as the iPhone 5S with the added benefit of greater screen real estate. I find it very difficult to notice the difference in pixel density unless I pitch two devices together - like the bigger Air and the Mini side-by-side. The difference in screen size is easily noticeable though, although the target audience for the Mini are people for whom portability is more of a priority than screen real estate. The final nuance of the iPad line in general is the non-widescreen aspect ratio. Both 16:9, which is found on more narrow tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX, and 4:3, which is what Apple uses, are sufficient for different tasks. On Apple’s offering, the 4:3 is wonderful when using apps like MangaReader, where the manga scanlations expand to fit the entire screen in portrait, and when web browsing, as when inputting username:passwords into websites or just using text entry in general, I find that on 16:9 tablets, a great deal of screen estate is wasted for the keyboard. (Although this can easily be rectified with a keyboard case, a la Clamshell Pro for iPad Mini which is coming soon) 16:9 is awesome for watching high definition media, whereas you get black bars on a mini. I will leave you with food for thought here and say that while you can take away real estate, you can’t add it back. The Mini’s blacks are deep enough that if you get the black bezelled Mini, you can’t notice the black bars (if you do, pay more attention to your movie), while on 16:9 tablets, you can’t get back that 4:3 aspect ratio if you do want to read manga or browse the web in landscape orientation.
The media have been giving Apple a lot of free publicity, although negative, by referencing DisplayMate’s test results that concluded the Mini’s display was washed out. I want to dedicate this paragraph to disputing that claim. While I admit that the brightness and color accuracy (crispness? Brighter colors aren’t always more accurate, sRGB monitors I’ve used make human faces look orange) are in deficit compared to Apple’s other offerings and competition, I would never have noticed the dryness in the Mini’s screen had it not been pointed out, and even with knowledge of the inferior screen, I still love the screen, playing San Andreas is amazing and the attention to detail on the new car models certainly pop. Ignorance sure is bliss, huh?
The camera is nothing special, it doesn’t perform too well in either light extreme but when it’s just right the image comes out pretty decently. If these requirements are not met, the image is grainy, and appear even more so on such a large display. An ability to adjust the ISO setting is still something Apple needs to catch up in for photography nerds like myself to fully embrace Apple’s mobile facebook snapper. A common argument is that nobody will take photos with an iPad. This is highly subjective, for some people, like myself, using the camera won’t be so bad. For others, it will feel embarrassing. That is a personal decision and perspective only the buyer can make for themselves. For me, it holds practical use like taking pictures directly with my iPad when making an eBay listing, or playing a collectible card game over factime. Overall, the camera is practical and a welcome addition. Would you rather Apple sold the iPad for the same price without the camera? The camera lacks a flash, but even then I wouldn’t bother with a camera even if it had a flash if I was in a situation where I needed a flash. Flash is overbearing, and I openly express my hate for flash. Instead, I prefer an umbrella to reflect the flash off of, which can’t be done in a portable form factor.
The screen has a fingerprint resistant coating (oleophobic) which makes it easy to wipe down with a cloth. Touchscreens are a hit or miss for sometimes - imagine a mouse which automatically speeds up or slows down depending on how sweaty your hands are, and how dirty the screen is. Regardless, Apple’s coating is king and I wouldn’t really bother with a screen protector because then you lose the feature and the display is sturdy enough in any case. On the back, while a mute point if you use a case and certainly unimportant in the scheme of things, is the change to a grey color option rather than the dark black seen on the earlier iPad Mini. While space grey is easier to manufacture and anodise, the dark black just looked so much better in my respective opinion. The device lacks touch-ID, which I feel is a feature much better abused on the iPad. On a device where your thumb doesn’t reach to the center to punch in a pin code, the ability to simply rest your finger to unlock your device is a great function, certainly a gimmick that was underestimated in its launch on the iPhone 5. With regards to the charging block, it isn’t the same petit block as the iPhone, although it isn’t a deal breaker. The block is still a little clunky though so depending on your outlet positions it might be difficult to connect other stuff close to it.
In terms of the physical dimensions of the unit, it’s ultra-portable as the name and common sense implies. I have no qualms about sitting in bed holding it up to read or play San Andreas with my elbows propped on my desk - typically with a larger device I’d have to rest it on my lap. One thing I’d like to make a note of is just how dense the device feels - it’s light, but it feels like all of that weight is concentrated into one tiny space. Certainly not a deal breaker though, or even a disadvantage at that, it is just an initial feeling you’ll have when first handling the device. On the note of portability, it’s actually slightly pocketable. I can fit it into my shorts and trackpants pockets (Lonsdale, LFX range, totally not free advertising) as well as being able to slip it comfortably into my coat’s pockets and backpack.
Rounding up the last of the hardware discussion, the Mini’s battery life is wonderful. It tends to last me a full day of no life usage which includes heavy web browsing, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, playing Avicii's “Hey Brother” quietly in the background and playing a healthy selection of YouTube video playthroughs. I put it on the charger every night and it charges quicky for those times when I forget to charge it a day in advance, I’d say maybe 2 hours from 0-100%. One disadvantage is still the short cable, with a phone it’s OK, but the cable is not long enough to reach the comfortable part of my bed. I’d like to see Apple embrace a longer, more MacBook type cable without forcing me to buy their $20 option. The speakers are decent enough for someone who isn’t an audiophile, and when plugging in my Audio Technica AD700s, the iPad is enough to power them to expectation. It’s certainly nothing to brag about though, and if you are expecting audiophile music quality, I’d recommend a portable amplifier such as the Fiio E17 which is a great piece of kit for portable music audiophiles. On that note, the speakers are on the bottom of the device, which irks me a lot. I’d much prefer to have them over on the front so that they aren’t blasting my sounds to the side. Front facing speakers are so much better, but I can imagine Apple is too proud of their bezel design that they refuse to do it. Performance over aesthetics, guys. It’s got a great, solid feel in the hand, although this is not necessarily an advantage over Android tablets, because neither will break on you simply for being made out of plastic. The lock-rotation button is so good for laying on your side in bed and still reading in portrait in agreeance with your head position. I use it really often and it has always been a favorite button of mine on every iOS device released. Finally, I am very pleased to see Apple switch to the thunderbolt connector. Coming from Android’s typical one sided Micro-USB, the double sided feature is a life-saver in the dark. While Apple may have ticked off some fans by making them repurchase their accessories, the double sided connector is an intelligent idea and something that I hope Androids will embrace soon with Micro-USB 3.0.
With that all wrapped up, I want to ramble on about accessory choice, in particular the Smart Case since that’s the one I’m expecting most unaware buyers to purchase. Firstly, the iPad Mini 2 is ever so slightly thicker than its predecessor, and Apple has not compensated for this change in their Smart Case. I’ve got the iPad Mini smart case and the silver lining around the bezel is visible where it should not be. As a result of being thicker, while seated in the case the lip is not as pronounced, offering significantly less screen protection as the screen bulges out. In Addition, I thoroughly hate the faux leather it is constructed from. It feels smooth and silky; for the first few minutes with the device. It is difficult to clean, picks up dirt really easily, and wrinkles where you fold the cover. As someone who is a perfectionist, I hate seeing those ugly wrinkles on my leather case. I would have much preferred the soft touch material of the cover and previous smart cases, although this is all very preferential. Another interesting design choice is the 3 fold smart cover rather than the traditional 4 fold. While the smart cover has ALWAYS been prone to falling down, at least it fell down due to balance. Here, the thing falls because the magnet slips. One thin line is not enough to hold it together, and the fact it can fall so easily when in movie mode is irritating. Lastly, the case’s 3 prongs gives it a slightly more tilted shape compared to previous iPads. Overall, I highly regret purchasing this case and am expecting to get the Clamshell Pro when it comes out for the Mini. I would steer away, but if my complaints seem like they won’t be an issue to you, purchase ahead. If you live in the U.S, you got a free smart case if you ordered an LTE model anyway.
Let’s discuss iOS 7, I honestly feel it’s a much needed advancement in iOS and while my first impressions were that its design was childish, I quickly came to like the device. I’m going to spend a fair amount of time discussing the software in a hardware review because we are at the point where the mobile market has matured and the main selling point of a technological device is now a refined user experience and interface. I am however, still disappointed at some things in iOS. While the new quick toggles are amazing for quickly turning off Wi-Fi to conserve battery life when leaving the house, turning off LTE when you come back home is impossible with the smart toggles. The ability to edit those smart toggles to more than just WiFi, Bluetooth and some other irrelevant toggles is still a lacking feature of iOS where Android pulls ahead. Secondly, the keyboard is nicely spaced out on iOS, making fulll use of the 4:3 aspect ratio and tablet screen size. However, Apple chose to make all the characters on it always capital, reflecting a real keyboard. The reason why this is bad is because on a real keyboard, you have a physical indicator of whether or not the shift key is depressed. On iOS, all you have is a faint little highlighted arrow, so previously the lower and upper case text dynamically switching was a big indicator for whether my next word was going to start with a capital or not.
Parallax is a huge gimmick on iOS 7 and Apple is really obscure on how to disable it. All it does is give sensitive people motion sickness and is really only cool for three seconds, then you don’t notice it. I would recommend going into Settings > General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion (On) to turn it off. Coming from an Android device, where I once thought that being a google OS it would offer the best integration amongst google services, the Google apps are actually more refined and aesthetically pleasing than, ironically, on Android itself. The buttons and swiping motions are overall more fluid and the integration in terms of function is not lacking anything at all. Apple’s got a metric ton of apps on offer compared to Android, but that is just a worthless statistic. All the relevant apps are on both devices so if you’re buying an iPad for the ecosystem, don’t, the main deciding factor should be to which DRM you’re more invested in. Finally, the multitasking gestures are amazingly fluid in iOS 7, 5 finger swipes to close apps, expand videos, photos and more is amazing. I can only hope that in future, the three finger swipe to change between apps easily is integrated, like on the Macbooks.
Apple’s new Mini offering packs up to date hardware in a tiny package that’s the perfect gift for anyone special this holiday season. While pricing is steep, I feel that Apple have gone to additional effort to make the Mini a worthwhile contender for your wallet. While it is up to you to decide from reading through this review, I thoroughly recommend the iPad Mini with Retina display for people in the market for a new tablet.
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