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Apple iPad mini

Small Grows Up

Rating: 9/10 Nearly flawless

  • The iPad mini with Retina display is roughly the same size as the original. It’s ever-so-slightly thicker, and has a little bit more heft, weighing in at .75 pounds for the LTE model and .73 for Wi-Fi only.
  • WIRED

Gorgeous 2048 x 1536 pixel display. 10-plus hour battery life will more than serve your cross-country plane flight, or close to a week of casual daily use. A7 processor (with M7 co-processor) offers more power than you may ever need on a 7-inch tablet. Tons of Retina-optimized apps to choose from.

TIRED

Pricey — similar sized and specced tablets go for closer to $200. Stereo speakers both located on one end of the device. Would be nice if it had TouchID like the iPhone 5s, but with the problems cropping up related to that feature lately, we’re wondering if not including it was a smart move after all.

This is the iPad mini we’ve all been waiting for.

When the first generation iPad mini debuted last year, it was a terrific product. Apple’s first stab at a smaller tablet looked more far more elegant than the competition, managed to squeeze a larger 7.9-inch display in a traditionally 7-inch tablet form factor, and featured remarkable battery life. But its 1024 x 768 resolution display was a major let down compared to the Retina displays on the iPhone and full size iPad, as well as the growing number of HD screen-sporting Android tablets. And inside, a two-generations-old A5 chip powered the tablet — nothing too shabby, but not really impressive, either.

Apple stepped up its game for this year’s iPad mini. The new mini is essentially the same tablet as the 9.7-inch iPad Air, right down to its 2048 x 1536 resolution Retina display. It’s just packed into a smaller package. A new A7 processor meshes with iOS 7 to create a super-powerful slate that gets all-day battery life. The only real difference between the two is the pared-down size, and the $100 cheaper starting price.

The iPad mini with Retina display is roughly the same size as the original. It’s ever-so-slightly thicker, and has a little bit more heft, weighing in at .75 pounds for the LTE model and .73 for Wi-Fi only. Last year’s model weighed .68 pounds.

Compared to Google’s flagship 7-incher, the Nexus 7, the mini is about a tenth of a pound heavier, but marginally thinner, while squeezing in a larger 7.9 inch display. It’s comfortable to wield one-handed, but I feel less confident waving it around than I would a tablet with a slightly rubberized back. The aluminum is more attractive visually, but “soft touch”-type materials like you see on the Nexus 7 are, well, handy.

While the Nexus 7 sports an excellent 1920 x 1200 resolution display, the screen on the new mini looks even better. Side by side, there’s just no comparison. And the old iPad mini might as well be 8-bit compared to the pixel-packed Retina screen. It’s obvious in graphics — the icons in Safari, app icons on the homescreen — as well as in text, which doesn’t render nearly as well on the old iPad mini. On the Retina mini, text maintains crystal clarity even when zoomed in to a ridiculous level. In an HD Planet Earth video, the definition of pebbles on a beach and leaves on trees are razor sharp, creating a greater sense of depth than the old mini’s display.

At 100 percent brightness, I only lost about 10 percent battery life per hour while watching Netflix over Wi-Fi. Streaming a 1080p HD YouTube video over Wi-Fi ate up even less — more like 8 percent per hour. Streaming Rdio and other lower intensity tasks like reading and web surfing made a minimal dent in battery life. Apple’s 10-hour promise seems right on target, if not at the low end of what its 23.8 Watt-hour battery can deliver.

“The old iPad mini might as well be 8-bit compared to the new pixel-packed Retina screen.”

The device can get noticeably warm during CPU intensive activities like heavy gaming or HD playback, but not alarmingly so. And it handles those activities swimmingly. Situations where I noticed ever-so-slight stuttering on last year’s model, the 2013 iPad mini handled with aplomb. Again, it’s basically an iPad Air but packed into a smaller package, which is kind of mind blowing.

For a 7.9-inch tablet, the stereo speakers are exceptionally powerful, but they still don’t have the depth and bass you’d get from a pair of dedicated speakers — no surprises there. While stereo (each speaker is positioned on either side of the lightning port at the bottom of the device) they’re still located on the same end of the device, so if you’re watching a film in landscape mode, you only get sound from one end. I find this a bit irksome.

When I reviewed the iPad Air after getting my hands on the iPhone 5s, I was largely struck by its lack of TouchID. But between using the Air more regularly, and seeing some inconsistencies with TouchID arise, I’m far less affected by the Retina mini’s lack of a fingerprint sensor than I was before. Although, it would be convenient.

While the Retina mini doesn’t include 802.11ac Wi-Fi like Apple’s notebook offerings, the company did addMIMO to the mini (and the Air), which means it can share or receive more data in parallel, and maintain a strong Wi-Fi signal farther away from the base station. Indeed, videos loaded faster on the Retina mini than on the first gen model, and apps downloaded noticeably quicker.

The iPad mini is exactly the type of product we expect from Apple. Stunning good looks, a display so high resolution it’d take a magnifying glass to pick out the pixels, and unparalleled performance. This is the smaller iPad that should have debuted last year, but hey, better late than never.

Photos: Josh Valcarcel/WIRED

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