Apple's original iPad Mini, first introduced on Oct. 23, 2012, could never seem to step out of the shadow of the company's full-sized iPad.
While a strong seller, it was essentially a shrunken iPad 2—complete with the same 1024 x 768 resolution. It trailed behind the more powerful fourth-generation iPad and its pixel-packed Retina touchscreen from the get-go.
The Mini was a compromise in every sense of the word. Its saving grace: one-handed portability.
This year, buyers will find that it stands toe-to-toe with its big brother and gives hold-outs (this writer included) reason to consider passing up some on-screen real estate, that is if they can get their hands on one.
The search for the new Mini is more of a hunt, at least in New York City. Sure, shoppers can place an order with Apple's online store and wait 5 to 10 days, but half the fun of buying the latest wireless devices is taking in the scene. Venturing into the glitzy Fifth Avenue Apple Store flagship or touristy locations in SoHo and the Meatpacking district, is usually an adventure in and of itself.
Available in Silver and Space Gray, prices start at $399 for the 16 GB WiFi model. The bill can climb to a hefty $829 for the 128 GB version of the iPad Mini Retina with cellular connectivity. Shoppers will have to choose between AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile at the time of purchase since the units are locked to their respective networks.
The Upper West Side location was the only store offering the silver 32 GB model with LTE (AT&T) in Manhattan. After placing an order with in-store pickup and a subway ride later, the Retina iPad Mini was in hand.
When first unboxed, the iPad Mini with Retina Display (the non-Retina Mini is still offered for sale) makes a good first impression. It's a hefty handful, signaling that Apple is making the most out of every millimeter of the tablet's slim enclosure. It's a solid little slate with none of the flex that often accompanies most Android tablets with plastic cases.
The device measures 5.3 inches by 7.87 inches and is slightly thicker than last year's model at 0.29 inches (a difference of 0.01 inches). The WiFi Mini weighs 0.73 lbs while the WiFi + Cellular model is slightly heavier at 0.75 lbs. As before, the touch screen measures 7.9 inches diagonally, but that's where the similarity ends.
The LED-backlit, IPS display has a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels, resulting in an eye-popping 326 pixels per inch. By comparison, the iPad Air's Retina display, which is no slouch, is rated at 264 pixels per inch.
These specifications translate into impeccably crisp text and images with sharp detail. Users will need to hold the iPad very close, and risk eye strain, to discern individual pixels. Typical of Apple displays, the Mini's touchscreen can get blindingly bright, especially when you turn it on in the dark, while still delivering vibrant and saturated colors.
The new A7 processor, a big step up from the previous A5, provides snappy performance. The 64-bit chip, the same as in the iPad Air, delivers a lag-free experience in most apps. Netflix delivers silky smooth video and Safari renders web pages quickly (provided there is a good network connection). Gestures register instantly and apps generally launch within a second or two, although it can take longer depending on the size of the app.
All told, the first day with the iPad Mini Retina is an eye-opener, in more ways than one. The screen is a stunner, certainly, but the tablet also breezes through every iOS app that it has been subjected to thus far. In the white-hot market for sub-8-inch tablets, the new iPad Mini is the new champ.